HTBS’s Tim Koch writes from London:
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The only book on rowing that the Project has is Rowing by RC Lehmann, published in 1898. This is probably not as well known as Lehmann’s other book on the subject, The Complete Oarsman (1908) which is also available online at the University of California Digital Library. (I like the fact that the last page shows that the paper version was taken out of the library three times, in 1953, 1993 and 2003). I have not had the chance to read the Complete yet, so more about it another time.
Rudolph Chambers Lehmann (1856-1929) was a coach to Oxford, Cambridge, Leander, Harvard, Trinity College Dublin and Berlin Rowing Club. Born into a literary and academic family, he was a writer, notably for the humorous British magazine Punch, and produced music and poetry. In another part of his life, he was a Member of Parliament for four years.
Rowing has over 300 pages and many illustrations. Some of the advice given still holds good today, though much, as would be expected, is outdated (but still interesting). It is sometimes funny (as Lehmann intended) and sometimes unintentionally funny, particularly when the attitudes and idioms of the late Victorian ruling class are exposed.
The chapters and sub headings include ‘First lessons on fixed seats’ and ‘First lessons on sliding seats’, ‘Of ailments….’, ‘Of the necessity of having a butt’, ‘Swivel Rollocks’, ‘Sculling by Guy Nickalls’, ‘Are athletes healthy?’ and chapters on rowing at Oxford, Cambridge, and Eton and in Australia and the United States.
The following are some of my favorite extracts but if you read the book you will undoubtedly find ones of your own.
Introduction by the author
My object in the following pages will be not merely to give such hints to the novice as may enable him, so far as book-learning can effect the purpose, to master the rudiments of oarsmanship, but also to commend to him the sport of rowing from the point of view of those enthusiasts who regard it as a noble open-air exercise, fruitful in lessons of strength, courage, discipline, and endurance, and as an art which requires on the part of its votaries a sense of rhythm, a perfect balance and symmetry of bodily effort, and the graceful control and repose which lend an appearance of ease to the application of the highest muscular energy…
Well put. T.K.
On fixed seats
Every oarsman must begin on fixed seats. This statement is to an English public school or University oar a mere platitude; but in America, and even in some of our English clubs outside the Universities, its force and necessity have been lost sight of…… For it is on fixed seats alone that a man can learn that free and solid swing which is essential to good oarsmanship on slides.
I am not sure we can return to fixed seat boats for beginners but I think it is true that novice rowers do not spend enough time ‘backstop rowing’ (no legs, arms and body only). T.K.
Training and Diet
For a Boat Race crew in training at Putney:
7:00 – Out of bed, and without bathing or washing dress immediately in flannels. A cup of milk and a biscuit.
7:15 – Out of the house. A brisk walk with one sharp run of 150 yards.
7:50 – Back to the house. Bath, etc.
8:30 – Breakfast: Fish, plainly cooked, without sauce. Soles, whiting, and smelts are best. Salmon is not allowed. Cutlets or beefsteaks, or grilled chicken. Eggs, boiled, or poached, or fried, sometimes scrambled. Mustard and cress, or water-cress. Toast. Limited amount of butter. Marmalade is allowed only during the last fortnight of training. Not more than a cup and a half of tea.
11:00 – At Putney, when the state of the tide permits it, exercise in the boat. It should be noted that the tide sometimes makes it necessary for the crew to do its rowing in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. Occasionally work can be done both in the morning and afternoon.
1:00 – Lunch: Cold meat. Tomatoes plainly made into a salad with oil and vinegar. Toast. Small quantity of butter. Oatmeal biscuits. One glass of draught beer, or claret and water.
3or4 – Work in the boat.
6:30 – Dinner: Fish, as at breakfast. An entrée of pigeons, or sweetbread, or spinach and poached eggs. Roast joint (not pork or veal), or else chicken, with potatoes, mashed or boiled, and boiled vegetables. Stewed fruit with rice puddings. Sometimes jelly. Two glasses of draught beer, or claret and water. For dessert, figs, prunes, oranges, dry biscuits, and one glass of port wine.
9:50 – A glass of lemon and water, or a cup of water-gruel.
10:00 – Bed.
Note—Once or twice during training there is a “champagne night,” when champagne is substituted for beer or claret and water; but this only occurs when the crew have been doing very hard work, or when they show evident signs of being over-fatigued, and require a fillip.
The inclusion of alcohol at all is very strange by modern standards. The impression given is that this is the minimum amount of strong drink that a man needs in a day and that such deprivation is a real sacrifice. The idea of Champagne for over-fatigued crews is a lovely one. The suggested diet is fine but what was the logic behind some of the exclusions? No pork, veal or salmon? Marmalade only during the last fortnight of training? These strange diet ideas were not confined to the 1890s. In the 1980s I had a coach who was convinced that if you ate cucumber before a race you would surely lose, but cream cakes guaranteed success. We never did find out why. T.K.
The Necessity of Having a Butt
Rowing Types No.3. First, let me insist on the necessity of having a butt in a crew….. I have seen eight healthy, happy, even-tempered young men go into training together for three weeks…… At the end of (that time) every man in that crew was the proud possessor of seven detested foes……. Why was this so? The simple answer is this, that the crew in question did not number among its members a butt. I doubt if the importance of a butt in modern boat-racing has been properly recognized…. the position of butt is a far more important and responsible one than that of stroke or No. 7. If you can find a good, stout, willing butt—a butt who lends himself to nicknames, and has a temper as even as a billiard-table and as long as a tailor’s bill—secure him at once and make him the nucleus of your crew.. The butt must therefore be neither silent, nor slack, nor a drawler. Nature will probably have saved him from being a thinker or an orator. He must be simply good-natured without affectation, and ready to allow tempers made stormy by rowing and training to break upon his broad back without flinching.
This is absolutely true. We did not use the expression but we had ‘a butt’ in the two Henley Crews that I coxed and it was silently acknowledged that he was a very important part of the crew. T.K.