Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Blue Window and the Blues

Tim Koch writes: On the return launch trip from the Boat Race finish at Mortlake to the start at Putney, I saw this banner hung from a riverside building, just below Chiswick Eyot. Assuming that it was attempting to make a serious statement, several points arise.

Tim Koch writes:

Sadly, I suppose we should be grateful that someone who uses the Boat Race to make some political or philosophical point does so in a way that does not actually interfere with the race or which risks having their head removed from their neck.

One definition of ‘privilege’ is ‘an opportunity to do something regarded as a special honour’. An example of this would to be accepted as a student by Oxford or Cambridge Universities. I understand this is based on merit and examinations. Another example would be to get a place in a Blue Boat. I believe this is done by open competition – apparently quite fierce. It is true that the boats do contain a disproportionate number of people with a private education but, if this is a bad thing, it is symptom, not a cause. Also, it is reflection of the fact that, for purely practical reasons, access to rowing in state schools (U.S.: public schools) is limited.

Assuming that the banner was displayed either by, or with the permission of, the owner of the property, the said person clearly lacks a sense of irony. He or she owns a building worth in excess of a million pounds. It may look a little ramshackle but it is an artist’s studio/residence with substantial provenance in a desirable and sought after riverside location. Neighbouring (though admittedly more substantial) properties have sold for four million pounds. Perhaps it could be argued that the protester was a ‘privileged person’?

Returning to more traditional HTBS ground, the building in question actually has a significance to rowing.

The building on Durham Wharf, Chiswick Mall (minus the banner) showing the ‘blue window’.

The ‘blue window’ is regarded as the halfway point of the Championship Course, Putney to Mortlake (or visa versa). For over fifty years, until his death in 1988, it was the studio and home of the British poet and surrealist painter Julian Trevelyan and his wife Mary Fedden, also a highly regarded artist. Trevelyan’s view of the inside of his studio looking out is on the Tate Gallery website. A painting showing his studio home and Chiswick Eyot is here. The River and Rowing Museum has displayed some of Trevelyan’s works though I am not sure that it should have anything to do with someone who depicts oars like this. According to the Daily Telegraph of 18 May 2013:

For the Trevelyans (Durham Wharf) was home and studio, and the centre of a lively social life – the high point of which was their annual Boat Race party. All sorts of friends and acquaintances were invited to this ‘beer and buns’ jamboree over the years. Dylan Thomas, Stanley Spencer, Cyril Connolly and A.P. Herbert all attended....

In 1938, the studio was the venue for a famous ‘send off’ party for novelist Christopher Isherwood and poet W. H. Auden before their unlikely trip to China to observe the Sino-Japanese War. Evening dress was ‘optional’ and Benjamin Britten performed some of his and Auden’s cabaret songs. Attendees included many ‘Bright Young Things’, E. M. Forster and, according The Sunday Times, ‘some of the ghosts of old Bloomsbury’. Trevelyan recalled that it ended in ‘a bit of a rough house’ when poet Brian Howard and ‘bohemian socialite’, The Honourable Eddie Gathorne-Hardy started a brawl. Luckily, no one had to be at work the next day.

It seems that in the past, the studio saw ‘privileged people’ on both sides of the blue window. 


  1. I'd be surprised if it was a serious statement, more an observation relating to the Trenton Oldfield 'demonstration' of 2012.

  2. Dear Mr. Koch: I am an old masters rower living in the US Pacific Northwest - Coos Bay, Oregon. Of all the things I read at work and at leisure, I look forward to nothing more eagerly than I await your postings on HTBS. Thank you very much. Don Costello aka Avid Bowman

    1. Don - I am blushing, you are very kind. Thank you.

      Paul - Yes, I have no doubt that the banner was a reference to Mr Oldfield and his ill advised swim in 2012. Possibly you are suggesting that 'Hurrah for privilege' was actually a joke in support of the Boat Race. This is something that I considered (hence my preface, 'assuming that it was attempting to make a serious statement') though this was not my immediate reaction, nor of anyone else in the launch, nor of anyone that I have spoken to since. Perhaps I mix with a particularly humourless crowd. However, whatever the thought behind the joke / demonstration, I think that my post is still valid, both as a historical piece and as a rebuttal to those few who do see the Boat Race as an event which somehow promotes inequality.

      Best wishes, Tim.

  3. Tim, I agree - an excellent post, as always. I particularly enjoyed the background to the building; I pass it in a launch several times a week and I have often wondered what went on behind the blue windows.

  4. Tim, another excellent piece and I don't disagree with anything you say, however...I really think the Boat Race could be doing a lot, lot more to counter the impression that rowing is a 'toffs sport'. I'm sure BNY Mellon could afford to sponsor rowing programmes in Oxford, Cambridge and West London comprehensives as a start. I'd argue that as the 'owners' of the highest profile rowing event in the UK, three years out of four, they have a moral responsibility to the sport as a whole...

    1. Chris, I see your point but remember that the Boat Race is still a 'private event'. I know this sounds slightly ludicrous but the only money in it is that of the sponsor. They may not think that funding a wider promotion of rowing is, from a business point of view, value for money. Also, in some ways your idea is already a reality. The one really 'posh' event in rowing, Henley Royal Regatta, long ago established the Stewards' Chartable Trust ( to 'encourage and support young people (still receiving education or undergoing training) to row or scull'. It has given £3.3 million in 25 years (this is also about the cost of a round of Pimm's in the Stewards' Enclosure). Admittedly, HRR does not do much to counter the impression that rowing is a sport for toffs.


  5. Well, I think this is my point. Henley Royal, if not private event as such, does stand slightly to the side of the national rowing organisation (even if lots of the same people are involved). It also doesn't have an entirely modern or egalitarian image. Nevertheless any critics can be swiftly directed to the Stewards' concrete support, in cold hard cash, of grass roots rowing. The Boat Race, which has a much higher profile (would that HRR got large newaper articles and a couple of hours of prime-time national TV), would do well to follow their example.