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History - Ann Glanville

In 1796, a remarkable character was born in Saltash. Ann Glanville (nee Whitten) came from a waterman's family, and is said to have been over six feet tall. She married young, and bore fourteen children. Ann and her husband operated the ferry between Saltash and St Budeaux, but her husband fell ill and became unable to work. From then on, Ann had to support the whole family. She worked from early to late, running the ferry by herself and carrying goods by water, regularly rowing between Sutton Pool (on the far side of Plymouth) and Budshead Mill (two miles above Saltash), a distance of some ten miles.

As light relief this amazing woman organised a crew of female rowers, herself rowing as stroke woman. She and her Saltash Women's crew took second prize in a four-oared gig race at the 1833 Plymouth Regatta, and for the next fifteen years they dominated the women's racing at Plymouth. Ann's crew were taken by financial backers to regattas in other parts of Britain, and once to France. They made a career as professional rowers, and were seldom beaten in four-oared gig races, even against male competitors.

One of their backers was Mr Waterman, and another was Captain Russell, of the steamer Brunswick. Their motivation for sponsorship was probably advertisement for boats and steamship services, plus excellent betting opportunities at venues where the women's prowess was as yet unknown. This was evident at Portsmouth regatta in 1842, where Ann's crew raced in a Waterman boat, first against a local womens' team, then against a number of amateur male crews, winning both races. One bet, however, did not go according to plan. On arrival at Portsmouth their sponsors accepted a challenge from officers of the 36th Regiment to race for a purse of £100, but after seeing the women row the officers withdrew their challenge.

At Le Havre in 1842, a French crew also refused to race against the Saltash Women, excusing themselves on the grounds of chivalry! So as not to disappoint the 20,000 spectators, another crew was hastily formed from volunteers among the seamen on the British paddle-steamer which had brought Ann and her crew to Le Havre. Needless to say, Ann's crew won the race.

In 1847 Ann and her crew made an expedition to the North, including Fleetwood, Hull, and Newcastle. At the Hull Regatta they first raced and beat five teams of English sailors in jolly boats, then fought a very dirty race against a picked team of watermen, their male counterparts, which the women won on a technicality. Afterwards they were posed on stage at the Hull Theatre, in a boat, in full costume of white dresses, caps, and ribbons. They received a standing ovation from a crowded house, while the band played 'See the conquering heroes come' followed by 'Rule Britannia'. This appearance was followed by another in 1848, when they rowed at Plymouth Regatta to win a new boat donated by Mr Newcombe of the Theatre Royal. Mr Newcombe got full publicity value out of his donation when crew and boat were carried on to the stage of the Theatre at a Regatta performance attended by the Commodore and Members of the Royal Western Yacht Club. Wine was handed to the gallant heroines, and Ann rose up and gave, with the utmost nonchalance, "Here's to the health of the ladies and gentlemen of the Royal Western Yacht Club". The band struck up 'Rule Britannia' and general applause followed. Ann was to move yet higher in 1849 when, after a win at Fleetwood Royal Regatta, she was presented to Queen Victoria; an event which it gave her much pleasure to recall in later life.

Possibly the greatest triumph for Ann and her crew came in 1850. They had started last against six French male crews at Le Havre, having actually rowed over to France in the first place to compete in this race. During the race Ann was heard to yell, "Bend your backs to it, maidens - and hoorah for old England!" They must indeed have bent their backs to it, because they won, and by an astonishing 100 yards!

There is no record of how much sponsors and oarswomen profited from these races, but Anne herself made a considerable amount of money, and saved enough of it to spend a long, healthy, and happy retirement among her family at Saltash. Ann was regularly introduced to distinguished visitors to the town, becoming something of a local lion in her old age. When in her 60s, she refused a request to row a demonstration match for £1, saying the fee was so small that it was an insult to a rower of her standing. In 1879, when the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh (the two eldest sons of Queen Victoria) came to Plymouth in connection with the building of the new Eddystone Lighthouse, Ann was specially sent for to dine aboard the Royal Yacht. Taking this honour in her stride, she cracked jokes with the two princes and, in her own words, "had a hearty good laugh with them"!

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