Ted and Eric Phelps: Two Professional Sculling Brothers


In my entry of June 1, I briefly mentioned Eric Phelps (to the left). Here is a little more about him and his famous brother, Ted Phelps (to the right, wearing his Thomas Doggett’s coat with the badge).

Of course, telling any story about the Phelps brothers, one should begin with their father, J. T. “Bossie” Phelps, who according to Hylton Cleaver, was the “last great professional coach, certainly so far as tideway rowing is concerned…”. Although, it seems Bossie Phelps was a magnificent rowing coach, he did not have any champion sculling title himself to back it up with; not that he actually needed one. He passed on his skills to his two sons, Ted, born in 1908, and Eric, born in 1912.

When Bossie died at the age of 64, during the Second World War, he had seen both his sons become sculling champions. At the age of 18, Ted won the Newcastle Handicap, which at the time was the prime professional race in Northern England. Two years later, in 1928, Ted went to South America for a coaching job in Montevideo, but returned to London in 1930 to challenge Ernest Barry’s nephew, Bert Barry, for the World Sculling Championship title. Ted won the title, and three months later he entered the Thomas Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race, which is the oldest rowing race in the world, instigated by the Irish comedy actor Thomas Doggett, and sculled for the first time in 1715 on the Thames. Ted Phelps did not have a difficult time winning this race. Normally, of course, winning Doggett’s coat and badge was a good start of your professional rowing career, where the height might have been to crown it with the world title. Here Ted did it in the reverse order, which was rare.

Ted retained the world title against Bert Barry (seen on the left) later that year, and also kept it successfully against Major Goodsell of Australia in 1932. One year later, Ted lost the title to the Australian Bobby Pearce, who was living in Canada. In 1935, Ted Phelps raced against Bert Barry for the British Championship between Putney and Mortlake on the Thames. Ted won, but lost the title the next year to Bert’s brother, Lou Barry.

As Bossie had forbidden Ted and Eric to race each other for a champion title, Eric, who had won the Thomas Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race in 1933, took the opportunity to challenge Lou Barry for the British title later in 1936. Eric was triumphant and beat Lou for the title. Half a year later they met for a return match, and again Eric came out on top. In 1935, Eric Phelps went to Germany to become a private coach to Georg von Opel. When the war broke out, he was interned. After the war had ended, Eric worked in Argentina as a coach for three years, between 1947 and 1950.

Back in London, in 1950, a race between Eric Phelps and Eric Lupton (a Thomas Doggett Coat and Badge winner in 1947 for the postponed 1940 race) was set up in Frankfurt, Germany for a European Championship. Phelps won the title this time, but later lost it to Lupton, who became the last European Professional Champion.

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