Vivian Nickalls: A Successful Sculler

Two of the most famous rowing brothers in Britain are without doubt Vivian and Guy Nickalls. Of the two, Guy (1866-1935) got most attention by contemporary press, mainly because of his frank ways and for being outspoken, which would get him in constant trouble, both at home and abroad. Vivian Nickalls (1871-1947), who was the younger of the two brothers, was maybe not as successful as an oarsman, but through the years he would collect an extensive amount of medals, cups, and awards.

Vivian took the Diamond Challenge Cup at Henley in 1891. He also won the Wingfield Sculls in 1892, 1894, and 1895 (the latter year is when the photo above is taken). Vivian was very successful at Henley in the Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Cup, winning the Cup in 1892 and 1893 with William A.L. Fletcher, and with his brother Guy in 1894, 1895, and 1896. In 1895, to celebrate his two sons second win together in the Silver Goblets, Tom Nickalls donated the Nickalls’ Challenge Cup.

Both Nickalls brothers would later in life go to the USA to coach rowing. While Guy would coach Yale – “Their paddling is bad, their rowing, worse.” (about his 1916 crew) -, Vivian would coach the University of Pennsylvania and the Detroit Boat Club. Both Vivian and Guy returned to Britain to serve in the Army during First World War. They would also write to highly entertaining autobiographies, Vivian’s Oars, Wars and Horses (1932) and Guy’s posthumous published Life’s a Pudding (1939). Link


  1. These brothers are ancestors of mine and I found this summary of their lives most interesting. I inherited a copy of Oars, Wars and Horses but would be interested in reading Life's a Pudding. (I hasten to add that I am no oarswoman!)

  2. Dear Sally – I am happy to hear that you enjoyed the piece about the Nickalls' brothers, who, indeed were real characters. I was thrilled to get a comment from one of their relatives! If you are interested in getting a copy of Life's a Pudding, I actually saw a copy at Richard Ways Bookshop in Henley, when I was there for the Henley Royal. Give them a call, at 01491-576663. It's a great book!

  3. Hi Sally
    I'm a descendant of Tom Nickalls too! Via Guy and Vivian's younger sister Clare. Am in the middle of Oars, Wars and Horses now, and it's nearly as good as Life's a Pudding, which I loved. Both are available on ebay or Amazon sometimes. What a family. I also have a book about Olga, Florence's daughter, but haven't read it yet.

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