Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tim Koch: Four Famous Scullers 1931 New Year's Greetings

A Happy New Year from the four greatest scullers of their age!

Caricatures from a 1931 report on a Christmas / New Year Dinner for some of the most popular sportsmen of the day. In those days, top scullers were well known public figures and references to 'The Diamonds' needed no explanation!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Marlow RC Gets £500,000

Yesterday, the Maidenhead Advertiser website wrote that Marlow Rowing Club, which was badly damaged by fire on 3 August, 2011, has received an insurance settlement of nearly £500,000. The website states, “the fire was caused by bungling burglars who twisted a powerful floodlight so that it was facing the wooden clubhouse while they broke into a shed to steal power tools. It is thought the heat from the powerful lamp ignited the wood.”

The club’s chairman Peter Hunt said that the club will be “back to normal” in about 18 months’ time. Read more here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012 Rowing Calendars

If you need a rowing calendar for 2012, HTBS has gathered some different ones below:

2012 Power & Grace - US Women’s Rowing Team
(Support US women rowers!)

The Rowing Store’s Calendars
('Vintage' rowing calendars)

Rock the Boat Calendar
(Practical calendar for rowers)

2012 Art of Rowing Wall Calendar
(Nice pictures)

Row2k Calendar
(Calendar from the world's most famous rowing site)

The impression rowing wall calendar 2012
(Swiss beautiful calendar)

(A rowing calendar from Germany - schöne Bilder)

Leander Club’s Calendar 2012
(This year the men of Leander keep the underwear on!)

Warwick Rowing’s Senior Men Calendar
(Watch out - the Full Monty!)

Nichole de Carle 2012 London Calendar
(No rowing women in this group, but eleven Team GB hopefuls have stripped down to lingerie for a charity calendar intended to raise funds for the charity Wellbeing of Women.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Olympic Rowing Stamp

British designer Paul Smith has produced a collection of beautiful stamps for the Isle of Man Post Office to commemorate the London 2012 Olympic. I would especially like to point out how lovely the rowing stamp looks. Take a peek here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Eyes In The Boat!"

So let's see one of R.E. Swartwout's light poems that HTBS wrote about the other day. Swartwout, who was a constant contributor to The Granta, the Cambridge undergraduate's magazine, published his Rhymes of the River in 1927. Here is one of his poems,

The Bicycle

From age to age we change our ways;
We must turn History's course back
If we would seek the nobler days
When coaches rode on horseback.

Of course, we may at any time
Observe at our discretion
Sir Henry* riding by sublime,
Head of a proud procession;

But riding prancing, snorting bays
Is not much the liking
Of those who coach in Lents or Mays-
The mostly stick to biking.

O push-bike, what a help are you
In tow-path demonstrations,
Explaining to each budding Blue
The coach's inculcations!

"Observe how with a rapid poke
I keep this bike-wheel spinning;
That's what I mean, my worthy stroke,
By getting the beginning."

And if he has a proper lack
Of feeling, he'll exclaim,
"Bow, the roundness of your back
Would put this wheel to shame!"

A certain coach one time I knew
Who was forever shouting,
"Eyes in the boat!" until his crew
Dreaded the daily outing;

His really thoughtful two-wheeled steed
Threw him, by Baitsbite Locks;
When he emerged, all mud and week,
"Eyes in the boat!" cried cox.

* Sir Henry Howard, the well-known Trail Eight and lady Margaret coach. It is perhaps unnecessary to explain that "Eyes in the boat" as a means of attracting attention to something on the bank is a venerable joke on the Cam.

R.E. Swartwout
(Cox in Cambridge's winning 1930 crew)

See also No. 15 on the following link.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sir Steve Honoured

Just before Christmas, on 22 December, Sir Steve Redgrave, Britain’s greatest Olympian, was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Ceremony. Read more here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Alan Campbell: "I Do An Hour Of Sawing..."

Alan Campbell when he is not sawing... Photo: Tim Koch.

Do you want to know how sculler Alan Campbell and some other top British athletes spend their Christmas Day? The Guardian let you know here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!

to all the readers of HTBS!

We are taking a break for the Holidays, but promise to be back soon...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bill East: Doggett's Winner, Professional Rower And Coach

1887 Doggett’s Coat and Badge winner Bill East in 1906. Photo: National Maritime Museum, London.

In yesterday’s entry, Bill East, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge winner who later became the King’s Bargemaster, was mentioned. I believe he is worthy of an HTBS entry of his own, so here we go:

William Giles East was born in 1866, and the legend says that he was born in his father’s boathouse at Putney, but he was actually born close to Lambert Pier in London. He spent his whole life on or by the Thames, and became a waterman's apprentice in 1882, which was the year he won the Putney Badge. In 1887, Bill won the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race, and in 1891, he won the Sculling Championship of England. Seven years later, in 1898, he was appointed a waterman to the Queen. In June 1906, he became the King’s Bargemaster (although, an article, here, in the Black and White Budget of 28 September, 1901 claims that he was appointed ‘Royal Bargemaster’ that year). He also stroked in the winning Champion Fours in the National Regattas of 1890 and 1891, and also won the Champion Pairs.

Bill seems to have been a very popular person on the Thames and was early on connected to Cambridge University BC, as mentioned in yesterday’s entry about R.E. Swartwout, to train and coach the crews. In 1904, he published the ‘how-to’ book Rowing and Sculling. Later in life he also kept the Prince’s Head and then the Pigeon Hotel at Richmond. Bill East died in January 1933.

What is not that much known is that Bill East coached Trinity Hall’s famous rower and sculler, the American Benjamin Hunting Howell, to victories in the Wingfield Sculls in 1898 and 1899; the same years Howell also won the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley. Below is a wonderful picture of the two scullers from Howell’s private photo album, now kept in the NRF’s National Rowing Hall of Fame at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut.

Courtesy The National Rowing Foundation

Thursday, December 22, 2011

R.E. Swartwout: Another 'Blue' Poet And Mystery Writer

The King’s Bargemaster Bill East shows the 1930 Cambridge cox R.E. Swartwout the tides on the Thames.

I have to confess that I was surprised to find that the winning Oxford stroke of the 1937 Boat Race, David Michael de Reuda Winser, whom HTBS wrote about on 12 December, was not only a prize-winning poet, but also a novelist and a crime writer. He took his knowledge of the Boat Race and used it in his short-story “The Boat Race Murder”, published in 1940.

Doing some more research, I discovered that David Winser was, however, not the only Blue who was a published poet and mystery writer. Among the Light Blues, we will find Robert Egerton (known as ‘R.E.’) Swartwout, who was coxing the winning Cambridge crew in 1930. Swartwout rowed and coxed at his American school Middlesex School in Concord, New Hampshire, before he was admitted to First Trinity, Cambridge. I am not sure when he came to First Trinity, but it was probably in the mid-1920s. When he published his Rhymes of the River in spring 1927, he writes that “These verses have all appeared during the past few years in the Granta […]”. This collection of light verse is not easy to come by, but it is not impossible. (You will find one bookseller having a copy for sale here.)

Below is a short, funny clip of R.E. Swartwout getting tips on how to cox his crew from Putney to Mortlake by the King’s Bargemaster Bill East, the well-known, old professional sculler and Doggett winner, who had been contracted for decades to help the Light Blues to find ‘the best way home’.


Swartwout only coxed Cambridge against Oxford on the Thames once. Nevertheless, he did use his knowledge about the Boat Race in his novel The Boat Race Murder (1933); yes, the same title David Winser used for his short-story seven years later. While it is impossible to find a first edition of this mystery novel by Swartwout, there are plenty of so called print on demand copies available.

There are also some other non-fiction books available by R.E. Swartwout, but otherwise I am sorry to say that I have not found a lot of information about him on the web. (I have noticed that some websites and old newspaper articles misspell his name, ‘Swartout’.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Wingfields Dinner

The 2010 Wingfield Sculls Dinner menu.

HTBS’s Tim Koch reports from London: What is the collective noun for scullers? Whatever it is, my report on the 2010 Wingfield Sculls showed archive pictures of groups of Wingfields winners at their 1959, 1980, and 2000 celebration dinners.

They were inspired by the famous 1930 Centenary Dinner picture showing the greats of Victorian, Edwardian and inter-War sculling.

Following the dinner of 2000 it was decided that these gatherings of sculling’s finest should be held every ten years. Thus in 2010 seventeen past winners (‘Champions’ in Wingfields speak) met at London Rowing Club for their decennial celebration.

Seated, left to right: Alan Campbell (Winner 2006, 09, 10), Doug Melvin (1955, 58), Anna Watkins (2010, [11]). Standing, left to right: Mahé Drysdale (2007, 08), Rory Henderson (1990), Guy Pooley ((1991, 92), Greg Searle (1998, 99, 2000), Matt Wells (2004, 05), Elise Laverick (2007), Sophie Hosking (2008, 09), John Russell (1959), Bill Barry (1963, 64, 65, 66), Nick Cooper (1967), Tim Crooks (1977, 78), Malcolm Carmichael (1979), Chris Baillieu (1981, 82, 83, 84), and Wade Hall-Craggs (1993). - (Click on the photograph to enlarge it.)

Only seven of the twenty four living Wingfields Champions could not attend. The next dinner will be in 2020 and ‘Hear The Boat Sing’ will (probably) be there to report on it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winning A Fictional Bronze At The 1968 Olympics Rowing

Let’s have a little rowing quiz about the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, where the rowing events took place at Lake Xochimilco. We’ll begin with an easy question: Who won the gold in the eights? Easy, wasn’t it? Of course, the right answer is West Germany! And who took the silver in that event? Did you say, Australia? Good, you’re right, again! Let’s move down to the smaller boats. Which nation took the gold in the coxed fours?... New Zealand? Yes, you are correct again, you’re really on a roll. And which country took the bronze in the class? Yes, that’s a little trickier…. If you said Switzerland you’re absolutely right, again. As matter of fact, Denis Oswald, who now is President of the International Rowing Federation, FISA, was rowing in the bow seat in that crew. He also competed in the Olympic rowing regattas in 1972 and 1976 without taking any more medals.

Let’s continue with the quiz: Which crew won the gold in the coxless fours? Yes, East Germany is correct. And the silver? Yes, it’s another eastern block country, it’s….. Yes, correct again, you did say Hungary, didn’t you? And the bronze medal went to which country in the coxless four? Yes, yes, ….. take you time, it’s hard isn’t it? It’s … yes, Italy! Well done, indeed!

Now, here is the trickiest question of them all: which country took the bronze medal in the ‘fictional coxless fours’ at the 1968 Olympic Games??? You don’t know? It was actually Australia - at least according to David Williamson in his play Amigos, which had its debut in 2004 at the Sydney Theatre Company. Williamson has written several plays since the 1970s and is a well-known playwright in his home country.

Amigos takes place thirty-five years after four friends raced in the final of the coxless fours at the 1968 Olympic rowing regatta on Lake Xochimilco where they took a bronze medal.

Thirty-five years later only Dick and Jim are still in contact. Career wise they have been very successful; Dick is a heart surgeon, who soon will have a hospital wing named after him, and Jim is a wealthy banker, who is happy spending money on things that he thinks are important. Jim invites Dick and his wife, Hilary, to his beach house for some relaxing time. How can it be relaxing when Hilary despises Jim’s new, young, beautiful wife, Sophie? Of course, there is a special reason why Jim has invited Dick to stay in the beach house as Dick has something that Jim has not, but is dying to get (and Dick maybe is able to get for him): an AC (Companion of the Order of Australia). Jim tries to do everything in the book to get those letters after his name; gone is the camaraderie they felt when they were rowing with Roger, who died several years ago, and Stephen, who turned to writing and has been living as a beach bum ever since his son died in his early twenties. To be honest, Stephen has not written that much, but when he suddenly turns up at Jim’s beach house to tell his former comrades and their wives that he is going to write a book about what really happened when the four were rowing, both Jim and Dick can see how their careers and lives are going down the pipes.

Williamson's play might not sound that funny, but it is!

Read a review of the play here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Beer For A Rower?

Last week, when my dear wife had done some grocery shopping, she brought home a beer I had never tasted, Saratoga Lager, which is brewed by Olde Saratoga Brewing Company in Saratoga Springs, in upstate New York. 'Springs' of course comes from the mineral springs in the area which made the city famous once upon a time. Otherwise the city is probably best known for the Saratoga Race Course, which was opened in 1863. There are still many springs in the city and many of them are covered by small pavilions, so for example Columbian Springs.

Saratoga Lager is "handcrafted", as it reads on the label, "with an 'Old World' attention to details & brewed in the grand tradition of the Marzenbiers of Germany Saratoga Lager is smooth & medium-boded with a rich aroma." And, yes, it had a 'German' taste to it.

Now, what has this to do with rowing, you ask? Well, the label on this beer (seen on top) shows horse racing (middle), the pavilion of Columbian Springs (upper right), old town of Saratoga Springs (lower right), winter sports (lower left), and rowing races (upper left) on Saratoga Lake. According to information on the 'six-pack' the packaging design is by local Saratoga artist, Karin Vollkommer, who has used turn of the century images of Saratoga. If you look closely on the label, the boats racing on the river are actually six-oared shells.

And as HTBS has stated before, rowing and beer go together!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tim Koch: Der Schönste Ruderpreis

Tim Koch writes,

I recently purchased a delightful Austrian or German engraving on the internet. It is titled ‘Der Schönste Ruderpreis’ and is from a painting of 1899 by C. Tito. A coy young girl is pinning a flower onto the unlikely uniform of a victorious rower. The ruderer is looking both pleased with himself and is perhaps thinking what further prize he may win. As to the title, I guessed that ruderpreis was ‘rowing prize’ and knew that schön alluded to something good. This was confirmed by an online dictionary which defined schönste as ‘shapeliest’ or ‘fairest’ or ‘most beautiful’. I think that I prefer ‘most beautiful’ as it could refer to the girl or the flower as the prize. The other two words could have only have one meaning - though I suppose the ambiguity adds to the joke.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Power & Grace - US Women's Calendar 2012

So, it’s almost Christmas and almost a new year. It might be too late to ask Santa for this calendar for next year, but it’s not too late for you to order your own copy. HTBS wrote about this calendar, “2012 Power & Grace US Women’s Rowing Team Calendar”, already on 26 September, but as US rowing team member Megan Kalmoe now has uploaded a video how the calendar was made, and how the women are training (and sleeping!) HTBS decided to give it another push before Christmas (and we would very much like to help the US female rowers…)

The photographs in the calendar were taken by Jordan Matter and Jeremy Saladyga. The price for the calendar, “2012 Power & Grace” is $13.99. To go to the TF Publishing’s website, please click here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Trial Eights

Water boiling aft for Cambridge’s Cloak.

Earlier this week both Oxford and Cambridge had their Trail Eights races on the Thames in London. HTBS’s Tim Koch was there, of course, and luckily also his friend Martin Gough, who also has had contributions published on HTBS. Here is Tim’s report:

The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race ‘Trial Eights’ took place in London on Tuesday 12 December. This event consisted of two races, Cambridge v Cambridge and Oxford v Oxford. Each race was between the last sixteen rowers and last two coxes on each side, each boat in theory ‘matched’. It was over the full Putney to Mortlake course followed by the race umpires and a flotilla of press and coaches’ launches. The Trials provide the coaches with a unique chance to see how people respond to the peculiar conditions of the long ‘Championship Course’. Measuring a man on the ergo does not tell you how he will respond when he is a length down with three miles to go, racing on a fast tide into a headwind on a river seemingly determined to swallow him. For the coxes too, the only way to show that you can steer a side by side race on the Tideway is to go out and do it.

The first Trial Eights race was staged by Oxford in 1859 and Cambridge followed in 1862. In recent years, with typical undergraduate humour, each university names their trial boats after well known pairings. This year, Cambridge had Cloak and Dagger and Oxford had Hell and High Water.

Cambridge - Cloak.
Bow: Felix Wood 2: Peter Dewhurst 3: Sam Lloyd 4: Josh Pendry 5: Joel Jennings 6: Moritz Schramm 7: Jack Lindemann Stroke: Alexander Scharp Cox: Sarah Smart

Cambridge - Dagger
Bow: Rowan Lawson 2: Phil Williams 3: Nicolas Kernick 4: Alex Ross 5: Mike Thorp 6: Niles Garratt 7: David Nelson Stroke: Stephen Dudek Cox: Ed Bosson

Oxford - Hell
Bow: Thomas Hilton 2: Chris Fairweather 3: Charlie Auer 4: Ben Snodin 5: Karl Hudspith 6: William Zeng 7: Dan Harvey Stroke: Roel Haen Cox: Oskar Zorrilla

Oxford - High Water
Bow: Julian Bubb-Humfryes 2: Geordie Macleod 3: Justin Webb 4: Hanno Wienhausen 5: Kevin Baum 6: Alexander Davidson 7: Alexander Woods Stroke: Tom Watson Cox: Zoe De Toledo

The 2012 race is wide open as Oxford, last year's winners, has only one returning Blue (Hudspith) and Cambridge has only three men who raced last year (Jennings, Thorp, and Nelson). Also, the race is in an Olympic year so ‘Internationals’ are thin on the ground.

The press launch that I was in for the Cambridge race had engine trouble from the start with the result that, frustratingly, we were about 200 metres behind one of the best trial races for many years. Abandoning the ailing craft for the Oxford race, I positioned myself on Hammersmith Bridge – where I bumped into Ben Hunt Davis who just happened to be passing. It seems that British gold medal winning Olympians are everywhere these days!

Fortunately, the launch containing former BBC sports reporter Martin Gough was working properly and his fresh off the water summery of the races are recorded below. For those not familiar with the course, there is a map here.

Cambridge: Dagger leads Cloak near the finish.

The Cambridge race was into a pretty stiff west, south-west wind which meant that the water got very rough once through Hammersmith Bridge. It was an exciting race in which the lead changed hands three times. Cloak was on Surrey and Dagger was on Middlesex. It was fairly level until the Black Buoy when Dagger went ahead and was half a length up by Barn Elms, and a length up by the Mile Post. By Hammersmith Bridge however, Cloak had pulled back. Dagger’s cox, Ed Bosson, was aggressive in his steering and pushed the other crew over. But the opposing cox, Sarah Smart, fought back well, held her line, and there was a clash by Hammersmith Bridge from which she came out best, going a length up by St Paul’s School. However, the Dagger crew held on and as the bend moved back in their favour, they went through, drawing level at the bandstand. They were a length up at Barnes Bridge and moved away from there to perhaps a three length lead at the finish.

Unexpectedly, the Oxford race was on better water as the wind had dropped. There was some aggressive coxing from Oskar Zorrilla in Hell and Zoe De Toledo in High Water and they were fairly level until a small clash before the Mile Post when Hell went a third of a length up. The increased this to 1 ½ lengths at Hammersmith. High Water pushed repeatedly, but could not get back and Hell won by 1 ¾ lengths. Although it was a closer race than Cambridge’s, it was far less challenging with less back and forth. Cambridge will feel that they got more from their race but both squads showed that they had strength and depth. In some years you see trail eights that have decent oarsmen in the stern and some not so good in the bow but these were much more evenly matched. It’s debatable if this is a good thing - sixteen strong men do not necessarily produce eight strong men.

Oxford at Hammersmith Bridge, Hell leads High Water.

Many thanks to Martin for his informed view of the racing. You can follow his thoughts on rowing and other sports at

The 158th Boat Race is on 7th April 2012 at 2.15.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Rowing Roosevelts

Do you happen to have $25,000/£15,960 that you would like to spend on a combination of ‘rowing’ item and an American president artefact? If so, HTBS has found a thing for you! A bookseller in Mertztown, Pennsylvania, has a letter of May 1927 for sale written by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR, to his oldest son, James Roosevelt (1907-1991), who rowed at Groton School just like his father, FDR, had done. In his letter, FDR discuss his son’s return to rowing at Harvard and to see his son in action. James did row for Harvard, according to Wikipedia, in the freshman and junior varsity boats. James’s younger brother, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jnr (1914-1988) also rowed at Harvard, in the 1935 junior varsity crew.

Here is a film clip of FDR and members of his family following a race between Harvard and Navy and Pennsylvania in 1938.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Congratulations Tim!

It is with great pleasure that I write that HTB's own Tim Koch, whom the loyal readers of this blog by now recognise as a knowledgeable and witty fellow of the rich history of our beloved sport, and who always puts an extra twist on a good story, was appointed Director of the Friends of Rowing History yesterday. This group of rowing historians works closely together with the organisers of events like the Rowing History Forum, held in Henley-on-Thames, England, and Mystic, Connecticut, USA. The group's major mission is to create awareness and provide knowledge of the sport of rowing among rowers and non-rowers. Since Hart Perry's passing in February earlier this year, the other Directors of the 'Friends' are: Bill Miller, Tom Weil, Chris Dodd, Peter Mallory, and Göran R Buckhorn.

Visit the Friends of Rowing History's website here.

Three Rowing Nobel Laureates

In yesterday’s entry, Tim Koch sort of had reply to Sunday’s entry about rowing Nobel Prize winners, writing “Taking a random sample of great rowing universities we can see that Cambridge has produced 85 Nobel Prize winners, Columbia 72, Oxford 48, Harvard 43, Cornell 40, Princeton 32, and Yale 18. Someone with a lot of time on their hands could undoubtedly find a few rowers in this lot but it’s not going to be me.”

I was actually thinking the same thing, that among the rowers from some of these fine educational institutions, there might be a Nobel Prize winner, but I don’t have a name. Then late Sunday, I received an e-mail from Johan ten Berg, editor of the marvellous book about Holland Beker, which I wrote about on HTBS at the end of September.

Johan kindly pointed out that his rowing club, USR ‘Triton’, in Utrecht, Netherlands, has had not only one member getting a Nobel Prize, but three (3!). Johan goes on to say that one of the founding fathers of ‘Triton’, which was established in 1880, Willem Einthoven, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1924 for inventing the ECG (or EKG). Einthoven is seen in the 1883 photograph above in the 2nd seat in the coxed four. In the 1990s, he was also depicted on a stamp in the Netherlands.

The two other ‘Triton’ rowing Nobel laureates are Nico Bloembergen, Nobel Prize in Physics (shared) in 1981, and Gerard ‘t Hooft, Nobel Prize in Physics (shared) in 1999.

Very impressive, indeed, Johan. Thank you very much for sharing!

Are there any other rowing Nobel Prize winners out there?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Clever Cox

Regarding last Sunday’s HTBS entry, Tim Koch writes,

The ‘Cambridge’ blade at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm seems at first a curious and rather random piece on memorabilia. In theory the crew could have existed around 1937 (the year ‘cox’ Ernest Rutherford died), but the twelve people listed (including the then nine-year old James ‘DNA’ Watson) would have to fit in one eight and they would have to know that the seven of them not then honoured would win Nobel Prizes in the future. This would only be possible if, between them, they could change the time - space continuum. A conspiracy theory anyone?

Taking a random sample of great rowing universities we can see that Cambridge has produced 85 Nobel Prize winners, Columbia 72, Oxford 48, Harvard 43, Cornell 40, Princeton 32, and Yale 18. Someone with a lot of time on their hands could undoubtedly find a few rowers in this lot but it’s not going to be me. I will, however suggest a coxswain, sculler and rower who many think should have won the Nobel Physics Prize, but who, so far, has not. He is Professor Stephen Hawking. On his website he says of his Oxford days:

“I took up coxing and rowing. I was not Boat Race standard but I got by at the level of inter-College competition.”

This is from Stephen Hawking: Physicist and Educator (2004) by Bernard Ryan:

“A River Changes Stephen’s Personality.
Stephen’s undergraduate days at Oxford were taking him deep into the study of both general relativity and quantum physics, but he found himself bored and unchallenged.... after a year or so of little social activity, he discovered a centuries-old Oxford tradition: the sport of rowing... His strong voice and light weight made him an ideal coxswain....
(The college boatman), Norman Dix, thought Hawking was a skilled coxswain but noticed that he showed no interest in trying to become cox of the first boat.... Stephen also had a daredevil way of sometimes steering his boat through gaps so narrow that the shell returned to the boathouse with its blades damaged. ‘Half the time I got the distinct impression,’ Dix later recalled, ‘that he was sitting in the stern of the boat with his head in the stars, working out mathematical formulae.’
Being a crew coxswain changed both Stephen’s personality and his social life. He became a popular member of the ‘in crowd’, enjoying parties and participating in boisterous practical jokes after strenuous rowing practices....”

David Firth, who rowed at two in Hawking’s crew, later recalled:

“We were an appalling collection of individuals who didn’t train much so I knew Stephen as a very determined leader who made sure that our boat performed far better than any of us dared expect, because he wasn’t going to let us get away with a casual ride.”

Kristine Larsen, author of Stephen Hawking: A Biography (2007), notes the price the young student paid for his devotion to rowing:

“Stephen had to balance his time between his studies.... and his time on the river. Rowing demanded many hours of practice, six afternoons a week, which cut into the time he was supposed to spend doing experiments in his laboratory course. According to Gordon Berry (a fellow cox and physicist), he and Stephen cut serious corners in taking data, faking their way through parts of the experiments by using creative analysis to write their lab reports.”

Larsen also describes Hawking’s last year at Oxford when he noticed that he was becoming increasingly uncoordinated and clumsy: “He also found that he had difficulty rowing [sic] a sculling boat.”

Why has Stephen Hawking not received a Nobel Prize? Under the rules of the Prize Committee, any theory must be experimentally validated. Hawking’s ‘big’ theories have not yet been ‘proven’. By the same rule, Einstein did not get a prize for his Theory of Relativity.

In conclusion, we can speculate that, if Hawking had spend less time on the river, perhaps he would have a Nobel Prize and we would have time travel.

Monday, December 12, 2011

David Winser: Poet, Oarsman, Novelist, Soldier

Dark Blue oarsman, David Winser, prize-winning poet and a great sportsman, is seen in the above photograph at the bottom right carrying Oxford’s eight after the crew’s victory in 1937.

Although, we have had two entries on HTBS about the 1936 Oxford crew, Jock Lewes: Famous Oxford Blue & SAS Soldier and Con Cherry: ‘Mayor Of Leander’, I believe we are not quite ready to leave this crew with its war heroes. As a matter of fact, a third member of the crew was also killed during the war, the ‘fair-haired, blue-eyed’ stroke, David Winser, or as his full name was, David Michael de Reuda Winser.

David was born in Plymouth, Devon, in 1915. He was educated at Winchester College where David proved to be a good marksman and oarsman, and while he studied at Winchester he was also awarded the prestige King’s Gold Medal for English verse, today called the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. David earned a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he rowed in the Blue boat in 1935, 1936, and 1937; the later year, the Dark Blues won. At Oxford, David continued to write poetry and in 1936, he won the Newdigate Prize for his “Rain”. After Oxford, he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to study medicine at Yale University (I have not found out if he rowed there!).

In the following news reel, the last minutes of the film (starting at 3:04.76) shows the 1937 Boat Race, which Oxford won with three boat lengths. David is rowing in the 2nd seat.


(Please click on the box above to start the film clip)

Back in London, David did his clinical training at Charing Cross Hospital. David was a stretcher-bearer in the beginning of the war before he became a Medical Officer in the 48th Royal Marine Commando. There David was awarded an M.C. for gallantry. Lieutenant David Winser was killed on 1 November 1944; it is unclear where, but probably during ‘Operation Infatuate’, the Battle for Walcheren in the Netherlands. He is buried on Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery in the Netherlands. About David, Captain D. Flunder said: “He was the quintessential Wykhamist, with lots of that quiet, lazy charm.”

What might be less know about David, at least today, is that he was not only a prize-winning poet, he was also an author of fiction. In 1937, he published the novel A Gay Goodnight and two years later Time to Kill (1939). Under the pen-name John Stuart Arey, he later published three more novels: Night Work (1942: Am. title Night Duty, 1943), There was no Yesterday (1943; Am. 1944), and Students at Queen’s (1944). Most interesting for us is, however, a short story published in 1940, “The Boat Race Murder”. I do not know where it was published the first time, but it appears in an anthology of mystery stories, Murder on Deck, published by Oxford University Press in 1998. The anthologist is Rosemary Herbert, who wrote an introduction to David’s story, and which is the base for much of the above text about the Dark Blue oarsman, poet, novelist, and Army Officer - David Michael de Reuda Winser. They don't make them like that anymore!

You can read his short story “The Boat Race Murder” here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rowing Nobel Prize Winners?

Yesterday, 10 December, posted the photograph above by Chris Kingston, and as a Swede I can not help stealing it as it was the Nobel Prize festivity on Saturday. Kingston writes about the blade: “I found this at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s a decorative oar for a crew made up entirely of Cambridge University Nobel Prize winners.” This made me think if there has ever been a Nobel Prize winner who early in his, or her, life had been a rower. I can only come up with one name - Teddy Roosevelt. Do you know any others? Send an e-mail to if you do!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sir Steve's Greatest Moment

For the fourth part of the series “50 Stunning Olympic Moments” in the Guardian, the newspaper looks back at Sir Steve Redgrave maybe greatest Olympic triumph, his fifth Olympic gold in Sydney. View the article and photographs here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Con Cherry: ‘The Mayor of Leander’

HTBS’s Tim Koch writes from London,

Those interested in yesterday’s story on Jock Lewes, Oxford Blue and co-founder of the SAS, may like to have a look at the 1936 British Pathe newsreel, Meet the Oxford Crew. It is very much of its time and place with unfathomable private jokes, period humour and a mildly homo erotic description of the stroke, David de Winser. The film shows the final crew, though not in their final order. On race day, Ashby, Lewes and Garside remained at bow, 2 and 3, but Sturrock went from 4 to 6, Cherry from 5 to 7, Wood from 6 to 4 and Sciortino from 7 to 5. de Winser and Kirke remained at stroke and cox.


Sadly, Jock Lewes was not the only member of the 1936 Oxford crew who had only a few years left to live. Number 7, John Conrad Hazlehurst ‘Con’ Cherry (1914-1943), the ‘Mayor of Leander’ was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. On 1 February 1943 his ship, the minelayer HMS Welshman, was torpedoed by a U-boat off Tobruk, on Libya’s eastern Mediterranean coast, with the loss of 157 lives, including Cherry.

Con Cherry was educated at Westminster School, where he rowed in the first eight, and Brasenose College, Oxford. He went up to Oxford in 1933 but did not get into the Blue Boat until 1936. His Times obituary continues:

“[…] here was a No. 7 of unusual merit. The next year he at seven and Sturrock at six were the backbone of the first winning Oxford crew in 14 years, and in 1938, as president, he was the keystone of another winning crew. Cherry rowed at 14 stone (89 kg). He was one of the best heavyweight oarsmen of all time, but he will be even better remembered for his absolutely faultless style, so rare in a big man. Rowing at No. 7 he could give a crew the quality that usually needs a stylish No. 7 and a thrusting No. 5, and those who saw him row realize what the orthodox style could be at its best [...] His easy style of rowing, so deceptive of its power, was seen to even greater advantage in a four than an eight, and in 1937 he rowed No. 3 in the fine Leander four that won the Stewards’ Cup at Henley.

Cherry also rowed in the British eight that came forth in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and was Captain of Leander in 1938. His Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate is here and it states that he was Mentioned in Dispatches, an award for ‘gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy’. Clearly, he was a worthy crew mate to Jock Lewes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jock Lewes: Famous Oxford Blue & SAS Soldier

Photograph from John Lewes's book Jock Lewes: The Biography of Jock Lewes, Co-founder of the SAS (2001) published by Pen & Sword Books.

For quite some time now, I have wanted to write something about the old Oxford Blue, John ‘Jock’ Lewes, who was born on 21 December 1913. The other day, the Daily Telegraph had an article about him which gives me a good excuse to bring him up here at HTBS. Of course, for non-rowers, he is mostly famous for being the one who helped David Stirling to found the legendary elite force Special Air Service, SAS, where he invented the so called Lewes bomb. Lewes was killed when a German Messerschmitt fired on the truck in which he was travelling, behind enemy lines in the North African desert in December 1941. Lewes was buried in the desert by his comrades without his grave being marked. With the Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s downfall, Lewes’s nephew, John Lewes, now hopes to search for his uncle’s grave to be able to give him a proper burial. It is believed that his grave is outside the town of Benghazi. Read the article in the Daily Telegraph here.


Regarding Jock Lewes's rowing career, he rowed in the second seat for Oxford in the 1936 Boat Race against Cambridge, which of course, was the year when the Light Blues were unbeatable with Ran Laurie at stroke and Jack Wilson in the seventh seat. (Both Wikipedia and SAS’s official site has it that Lewes was President of OUBC that year, but he was not.)

For the next year, 1937, things would be different, however. After the 1936 race, Lewes was elected President of OUBC, and that summer he took an Isis crew abroad to race at several regattas in Germany. He started early to train his trail eights, and had some good coaches signed up to coach his Dark Blues: J.S. Sturrock, J.C. Cherry, P.C. Mallam, ‘Gully’ Nickalls, and W. Rathbone as finishing coach. Despite the advices of his coaches not to do it, Lewes arranged that his crew would race against an eight from London RC already on 13 February - Oxford won.

While things were looking up for Oxford, Cambridge ran into some problems. President Laurie suddenly left when he was given a post in Sudan, where his great friend Wilson was already working. The fellow who took Laurie’s stroke seat, H.W. Mason, broke his leg in a ski accident and was out for the season. Cambridge signed up the well-known oarsman Jack Bersford, Jnr., as coach, but this was his first coaching job for a Blue boat and little was achieved.

“The race was full of thrills, for there was a false start and a couple of slight fouls,” G.C. Drinkwater writes in his The Boat Race (1939). At the start Oxford was not ready, while Cambridge took off. After two strokes the Light Blues were called back. Cambridge lead slightly after the second, clean start. Gordon Ross writes in The Boat Race (1954): “it was ding-dong to Hammersmith bridge and the crews shot the bridge a breast.” The crews were level at Chiswick Eyot but at Barnes Bridge, Oxford was leading by almost a length. This gave the Dark Blues a push and they continued to pull away, crossing the finish line first, three lengths ahead of their opponents. It was a sweet victory. Oxford had waited for many years; last time they had won was in 1923. “Behind this great Oxford win there lies the story of a very fine President”, Ross writes. The great rowing journalist and writer ‘Dickie’ Burnell agrees:

“Lewes did more to win the 1937 Boat Race for Oxford than any other man, in or out of the boat. He was passionately convinced that the need was for men who race, and who would be happy together, and that the technique of rowing style was something to be taught by the coaches.” (The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race; 1954)

At this time, it was still the President, not the coaches, who decided who was going to row in the boat. Lewes greatness was proved when coach Nickalls spotted a weakness on Lewes’s side of the boat. R.R. Stewart moved in to replace D.R.B. Mynors at bow, while Lewes lifted out himself in favour of D.M. de R. Winser. Therewith Lewes joined the small and exclusive club of non-rowing Presidents of the Boat Race. When the winning Oxford boat came into the dock, President Lewes was the first one to congratulate the crew. Ross mentions in his book that crew member R.G. Rowe told him that after the race when they drove back for lunch in a hired Daimler, Jock Lewes was standing on the roof honking his coach horn the whole way to Ranelagh Club. Rowe called Lewes an “inspiring President”.

Let us hope that John Lewes find his famous uncle’s grave, so that Oxford Blue and the brave SAS soldier, Jock Lewes, gets the proper burial that he deserves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

OUBC Film 2: A Life With Blisters

On 30 October, HTBS had a post about an article and film which was posted on Oxford Today, “A Year in the Life of the Boat Race”. Oxford Today has now made a second film available about the Dark Blues and their training, a film as grand as the first one with interesting clips and interviews. Watch it by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tim Koch On The Scullers Head And An Interesting Sign...

HTBS's Tim Koch reports from London:

The 58th Vesta Scullers Head of the River Race was held on Saturday 3 December over the 4.25 mile championship course from Mortlake to Putney in London. It claims to be ‘...the largest single-division processional single sculls race in the world’. First held in 1954, this year’s race involved 500 scullers and attracted entries from the United Kingdom and abroad, with standards ranging from internationals to novices. The conditions were good and some fine racing was had. The results are here.

Those who followed my recent report on the Wingfield Sculls will notice that first place in both events went to Adam Freeman-Pask of Imperial College. He beat Wingfields opponent Henry Pelly by just over a second, even after he received an unspecified time penalty for ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

While standing on Hammersmith Bridge to take photographs of the scullers, I reread a charming enamel sign dating from 1914 that I had seen many times before. It lists the ‘Thames And Other Bridges By-Laws’. A by-law is a local law passed under the authority of a higher body, in the United States they are called ‘ordinances’. The ‘higher authority’ that confirmed these particular laws was ‘R McKenna, One of His Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State. Whitehall, 28th May 1914’. The significance of this to rowing geeks is that Reginald McKenna (1863-1943) was a member of the Trinity Hall (Cambridge) eight that won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley in 1886 and the four that won the Stewards’ Challenge Cup in 1887. Trinity Hall also won the Grand, Thames, Ladies’ and Visitors’ in ‘87. Also in that year, R McKenna was at bow in the winning Cambridge crew in the University Boat Race. Having Steve Fairbairn as a coach probably helped in these achievements but McKenna was clever enough to work some things out for himself. ‘Wat Bradford’, the author of the Wikibook, The Rowers of Vanity Fair states:

“In securing the 1887 victories, the club history (H. Bond: A History of the Trinity Hall Boat Club; 1930) credits McKenna with teaching the crews to use long slides, as de Havilland would do at Eton several years later:

‘[McKenna] thought out the whole theory of rowing afresh for himself, being helped not a little by his knowledge of physics. Sooner than anyone at the Hall he realised that the Jesus crews were on the right lines in adopting the long 15-inch slide... the official style at the Hall, with a succession of Etonian captains, was still the Etonian short slide with the emphasis on “beginning” and body swing, and it was not till ‘86 that the long slide won its way into general use.’”

‘Bradford’s’ full take on McKenna is here.

In his political life, McKenna served in two of the three highest offices of state. He was Home Secretary (Attorney General) from 1911 to 1915 and Chancellor of the Exchequer (Secretary of the Treasury) from 1915 to 1916. After the 1914-1918 War, McKenna left politics and became the Chairman of Midland Bank. In this role he made the following observation:

“I am afraid the ordinary citizen will not like to be told that the banks can and do create money. And they who control the credit of the nation direct the policy of Governments and hold in the hollow of their hand the destiny of the people.”

This is frighteningly relevant to the current ‘credit crisis’. It seems that the man understood rowing and money.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Caught At The Golden Oars Awards Dinner?

Last week the 2011 Golden Oars Awards were handed out in New York. USRowing's website offers 163 photographs of the men and women who received the awards, and other guests. So if you are curious who was there, or if you were caught by the camera, please click here.

By the way - Congratulations to the 2011 Award winners!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Branagh, Redgrave & Wallander

On 15 March, 2011, HTBS’s Tim Koch wrote about the British actor/film maker Kenneth Branagh, who might have a new rowing film in the making, The Boys in the Boat, about the University of Washington crew which went to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. I am afraid, I do not have any more information about how that project is going, but I did read an interesting interview with Branagh in the Daily Telegraph the other day. He starts the interview with mentioning Sir Steve Redgrave and ends it with the Swedish police inspector Kurt Wallander. If you are interested in Branagh and/or Wallander, there is some great stuff in the middle of the article, too. Read it here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

More About Chamber Rowing

After the two last days' posts about rowing machines, rowing barges, rowing tanks, and 'dry' tank rowing, I would like to wrap up the subject for this time with some images of old rowing machines. The two machines above are from the same 1887 Swedish sport book as featured in the Thursday post. The very simple machine on the very top has no 'oars' just rubber straps to pull on. According to the text in the book that machine was constructed 'a couple of decades ago by an American oarsman' [my translation]. The other image is showing an improved version of the older one by attaching the rubber straps to two sculls, much like the ones shown in Tim Koch's Thursday post. A funny note regrading rowing on rowing machines, in the Swedish book, this is called 'Kammarrodd', that is, 'Chamber Rowing'.

At the NRF's National Rowing Hall of Fame in Mystic there are some old rowing machines, all but one stored away. The picture above shows a machine that earlier was on display in the lobby of the 'Hall' but as visitors tended to try it out, it constantly broke. It is now in storage, where I took these photographs. As you can see, it lacks the rubber or elastic straps, instead the resistance is in the 'rowlocks' - see also the picture just below. (Yes, if you are wondering, the sliding seat in the picture above is the wrong way...)

In the close-up picture above, one can clearly see that the patent for this machine by Philip S Medart is 22 September 1914. Rowing historian Bill Miller has information about this patent in his article "Rowing Equipment Patents (U.S.)" mentioned in yesterday's post. If you like more details about this particular patent, please click here (it will give you a pdf file).

The apparatus in the picture above is now on display in the 'Hall' in Mystic. It would be bolted in the floor of a gym, and beside it would be a sliding seat on tracks that would almost go as far as the length of the gym, having almost an endless row of oarsmen rowing back and forth while the coach could easily give each and everyone instruction. The picture below shows a close-up of the 'rowlock'.