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Exhibition looks at turbulent history of Njord rowing club

Antique wooden oars, hard-fought medals and iconic photos from rowing history. An exhibition at Oude UB spotlights key figures and moments from the 145-year history of Njord Royal Student Rowing Club.

Some of Njord’s historic medals.

Njord’s rich history begins in 1874 when Leiden student James Cohen Student drums up the support of his friends for a student rowing club. This would be the first student rowing club in the Netherlands – the first public rowing club was founded in 1847. The exhibition looks back at key moments from the club’s past, such as its foundation, the second world war, historic victories and its recent membership boom. 

Six Varsity wins

Lacking funds and decent kit, the club didn’t exactly get off to a flying start. But this changed with the arrival of legendary – for the Njord members at least – trainer P. Damsté. The serious discipline that he introduced paid off, and his rowers won the Varsity, the most important student rowing race in the Netherlands, six times successively in the 1880s. The team’s boat, the Sans Nom, still hangs in Zwanenzaal, the bar at the Njord clubhouse.

Photos of famous races.

Nazi Germany

The exhibition also looks at Nazi Germany and the second world war. Two Njord rowers took part in the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936 and told their rowing mates all about Hitler’s Germany on their return home. After the Nazis closed Leiden University during the second world war, many students joined the resistance, including Njord members, some of whom crossed the North Sea to join the Allies in England.


A century after its foundation was a turbulent time for Njord. To join the club, students no longer had to be a member of Minerva student association, and this previously all-male bastion opened its doors to women. In 1974, Njord received the designation ‘Royal’ from Queen Juliana, and remains to this day the only royal student club.

Increased membership and performance

Both Njord’s membership and its performance have increased dramatically over the past 25 years. With almost 1,000 members today, its membership has nearly doubled in the last five years. And its rowers have won various national titles and Olympic medals – Nicole Beukers, for instance, who won silver in the women’s quadruple sculls at the 2016 Olympic Games.

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