6 October 2016
Greg Denieffe writes:
Tim Koch’s terrific article Guardsmen In A Row, Part II: The Brigade of Guards Boat Club highlights the rowing and military career of Charles Vincent Fox. Fox was the first Irish-born winner of Diamond Challenge Sculls. His Henley victory came in 1901 but his first major success came two years earlier when he became Irish Champion, winning the title at Dublin Metropolitan Regatta. Tim wrote this about his sculling career:
Fox’s first big races were in 1899, in the colours of Pembroke College, Oxford. Contesting the Wingfield Sculls, he lost to winner Benjamin Hunting Howell and second placed Harry Blackstaffe, having made the novice mistake of going off at too high a pace. However, the Irish-born Fox did better in Dublin Metropolitan Regatta’s ‘Eblana Challenge Cup and the Scullers Championship of Ireland’ and also in the French Amateur Sculling Championship, the Coupe de Seine, both of which he won. Commissioned into the Scots Guards in 1900, he again entered the Wingfields, this time sculling for the Guards Brigade. He defeated Blackstaffe and St George Ashe in the preliminary heat and raced Howell once again in the final. This time, Fox finished far up on his opponent. Admittedly, Howell was ill but Fox must get credit for setting a record time of 22 minutes 54 seconds. Suitably buoyed, he set his sights on the Diamonds. However, it happened that the 1901 Diamond Sculls was a poor affair with only seven entries and once Fox had defeated an out-of-form Blackstaffe in the semis, he easily beat Ashe in the final.
The Irish Amateur Rowing Union was formed in 1899 and the first Irish championship held under their rules was for Senior Eights in 1912. However, before the formation of the Union and for many years afterwards there were certain events whose winners were acknowledged as ‘Irish Champions’. The two most important were both held at Dublin Metropolitan Regatta, their titles giving them seniority over all other regattas.
The top event was the Metropolitan Grand Challenge Cup for Senior Fours, described in the programme as The Blue Riband of Irish Rowing.
The Senior Sculls at ‘Metro’ is for The Eblana Challenge Cup, grandly described as The Eblana Challenge Cup and the Scullers’ Championship of Ireland.
Dublin Metropolitan Regattas 1869 – 1892 by R. M. Peter (1893) lists all the winning clubs for every event from 1869 and the names of the winning crews for 1898 to 1892. Imaginatively, the publishers included space for the winners for the years 1893 to 1900 to be filled in by hand. A copy of the book in Belfast Central Library has these spaces completed in very neat handwriting by the original owner. Recorded as the winner of the Eblana in 1899 is ‘Pembroke’ and on the crew page is written ‘C. V. Fox’. Initially I thought this may have been Pembroke Rowing Club in Dublin but thanks to Kieran Kerr at the Irish Rowing Archives I was able to establish that the Pembroke in question was in fact Pembroke College, Oxford.
The ‘Eblana’ is named after an ancient Irish tribe, the Eblani, and the region they inhabited, Eblana, located on the east coast of Ireland, just north of where the city of Dublin is now found. The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland (c. 1841) by J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis reveals the earliest mention of Eblana:
The earliest authentic mention we have of Dublin is by Ptolemy, who flourished in the second century after Christ, and who notices it under the name of Eblana. By the ancient Irish it was called Ath-cliath, or ‘the Ford of the Hurdles,’ and Bally-ath-cliath [sic], or ‘the Town of the Ford of Hurdles.’
Of course the name ‘Dublin’ has a different origin and comes from the Gaelic dubh linn or ‘black pool’, the place where the River Poddle met the River Liffey to form a deep pool at Dublin Castle.
Charles Fox died in Dublin in 1928 and left his Pineapple Cup for winning the Diamonds in 1901 to his sister. She donated it to Dublin University Boat Club in 1931. Raymond Blake’s history of rowing at Trinity College, Dublin, In Black & White, reveals the likely reason:
Apart from attendance at public regattas, which mainly were held in June and July, the club’s own internal racing programme played an important part in the calendar for the year. In 1931 the programme was extended by the addition of the Fox Cup, to be competed for by single scullers. C. V. Fox, after whom this cup is named, was a sculler of note who had won the Diamond Sculls at Henley in 1901, having taken the Wingfield Sculls, raced over the Boat Race course, the previous year. The cup is the actual ‘pineapple’ cup which Fox received for winning the Diamonds, and though it is no longer formally competed for, it is still presented, at the captain’s discretion, to the club’s leading sculler of the day. In all probability C.V. Fox was the brother of W.F. Fox, bowman of the 1903 Trinity eight, thus establishing the link with the club.
Trinity’s victory in the Thames Cup in 1903 was assisted to a great extent by the fact that there was another crew of equal strength in Ireland that year. Newry Rowing Club was the top northern crew and on the two domestic occasions they raced Trinity, at the Boyne and University regattas, they were unfortunate to lose by a few feet. The tough racing benefited both crews and both went to Henley full of confidence. Trinity entered the Ladies’ Plate and the Thames Cup, Newry the latter. Whilst Trinity progressed easily through the heats in the Ladies’, they had a struggle against Newry in the semi-final of the Thames, eventually winning by half-a-length. The following morning, they faced Magdalen College, Oxford in the Ladies’ – a race Trinity lost by half-a-length after a tremendous tussle. The whole crew was exhausted, so fatigued that they could not row to the start for the final of the Thames in which they faced Kingston Rowing Club; their mode of transport to the start being two one-horsed phaetons. Whether it was this saving of energy or the brandy consumed after the loss in the Ladies’ that provided the crew with the necessary resolve to overcome Kingston will never be known but overcome them they did, by a length, to win their first and only Thames Cup. William Fox was first across the finish line and at 11 stone 10 pounds he was a decent size for a bow-man for that time.
You will find another picture of W. F. Fox in an article, Ernest and the Importance of Remembrance published on HTBS on Remembrance Day last year. William Fox was captain of DUBC in 1905. He died of enteric fever in Khartoum in 1906; news of his death led to the cancellation of the annual dance. I’m sure this gesture by the club was not forgotten by the Fox family, when some years later, they were looking for a safe haven for the 1901 cup.
In 1951 the Diamond Sculls was won by Tony Fox, rowing for Pembroke College, Cambridge. In fact, he won the Triple Crown (Wingfield Sculls, London Cup and Diamond Challenge Cup) that year. Fox was of Irish extraction as noted on Wikipedia (son of an Irish Doctor) and his victory prompted the following letter in The Irish Times of 7 August 1951:
The Diamond Sculls.
Sir – In ‘An Irishman’s Diary’ of Saturday last it is stated that the Diamond Sculls race at Henley Regatta has not been won by an Irishman for more than forty years.
The late Major Charles V. Fox, rowing for the Brigade of Guards Club, also won the Diamond Sculls something over forty years ago. The handsome gold cup which he won for this race was, after his death, very kindly presented by his sister to the Dublin University Boat Club, and is now in their possession, together with the other cups which Trinity Boat Club crews have won outright in bygone days.
His brother, the late William Fox, rowed for Trinity College, Dublin, as an undergraduate in the eight which won the Thames Cup at Henley in 1903. Both brothers were in the Egyptian Service. Charles served for a time in the Southern Sudan area, and came south on safari on political duties to Gondokoro, which was then incorporated in the Nile Province of Uganda, where I met him serving as M.D. to the 4th Battallion K.A.R. Their parents resided in Dublin, but I am unable to state if they were related to the present winner of this race.
Yours, etc. J.C.R. Dublin, August 6th, 1951.
Tony Fox had an outstanding sculling record: Three times Wingfield Sculls champion (1951, 1952 and 1953); twice winner of the Diamond Sculls (1951 and 1953) – he was runner up in 1952 and 1956; Great Britain’s single sculler at two Olympic Games, 1952 (4th) and 1956 (9th). In 1954, he won the gold medal in the men’s double sculls at the European Championships. Fox died in 2010 and you can read his obituary by Christopher Dodd here.
*Perhaps Tony and the brothers Charles and William were related and an avid HTBS reader can establish the family link. Apologies to Roald Dahl.
Another erudite and entertaining piece of scholarship.
‘Tis the stuff of sporting legend that makes HTBS a daily ‘must read’ in my in box.
I wonder if they were related to the Grafton Street shop Fox’s Cigars or the great Fox dynasty of cricketers who played for Phoenix Cricket Club in Dublin?
Hello, I’m very sorry but William was not a brother to Charles. Charles Vincent Fox was my great great grandfather. He was the only one of that family to go to Oxford. He then left to serve in the war becoming a major. Please feel free to contact me if you would like more information about Charles. Thank you for showing the image of him in the boat though and of the cup. And yes, we call him the Fantastic Mr Fox too! He escaped as prisoner of war – he and John Allan Lloyd Caunter wrote a book about it.
I am a member of the Scots Guards Regimental Historical Committee. We are about to acquire Charles Fox’s papers from a relative.
I am writing an article for HTBS on Charle’s escape from the German POW camp in 1917
The Regiment would very much like to hear from you and so I would be grateful if you would contact me.
Peter Le Marchand
Major (retired) SG