The 2017 Wingfield Sculls: ‘A vision of glorious amateurism’

A Wingfield Sculls medal is displayed against the background of the finish post of the Thames Championship Course at Mortlake.

17 November 2017

Race Reports by Wade Hall-Craggs, Wingfields Secretary, Archivist and 1993 Champion. Preamble, pictures and captions by Tim Koch. Tim writes:

It would be reasonable to expect that a race that bestows the titles of ‘British Amateur Sculling Champion’ and ‘Champion of the Thames’ on the winner would be a well-known and well-supported event within the rowing community. Sadly, in modern times the Wingfield Sculls is as obscure as its professional cousin, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge – though this splendid event is none the worse for that.

In 1830, Henry Colsell Wingfield presented a pair of miniature silver sculls ‘to be held by the best’ as long as they agreed to race in single sculls on his birthday, 10 August, ‘forever’. Since then, the Wingfields has been organised by a committee of former winners who also appoint an umpire from their number. One of the main sources of income for the event is from shares in the Guinness brewing company that were donated in 1962 by Lord Iveagh (Rupert Guinness, Champion 1896). There has also been generous support from the Wingfield Family Society.

The Women’s Wingfields is a revival of the Women’s Amateur Rowing Championship, first raced in 1927 and reactivated under the Wingfield’s banner in 2007.

Umpire Graeme Mulcahy (Champion, 1976) gives a pre-race briefing at London Rowing Club to officials and to competitors and those who will legally ‘steer’ them from following launches. Wingfield’s Secretary, Wade Hall-Craggs (Champion, 1993) is behind the table.

The course is the 4 1/4 mile (6.8 km) ‘Championship Course’ from Putney to Mortlake complete with tide, bends, shallows, rough water, driftwood and other river users. In his preview of the 180th year in 2010, the then rowing correspondent of The Times, Patrick Kidd, wrote:

[The race is] above all… about athletes being taken out of their comfort zone. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, once said that rowing was the ideal sport because it was so hard for people to watch and thus worth doing purely for its own sake. In the Wingfield Sculls, that vision of glorious amateurism remains alive…

Kidd also quoted the Wingfields Secretary, Wade Hall-Craggs:

Top class rowers today are used to racing on plastic lakes where so many of the variables have been taken out and it is just a battle of limb and lung size. This is a different challenge.

Wade writes on this year’s race:

Two proud new Champions of the Thames were created in races where the early leader failed to dominate. Phil Rowley, back from coaching in China, returned to his old role and aligned both races, while Graeme Mulcahy took up his umpiring flags again, under the supervision of BR qualified umpire, David Biddulph.

The 11th Women’s Wingfield Sculls

Charlotte Hodgkins-Bryne of the University of London Boat Club, on her way to the marshalling area, downstream of Putney Road Bridge.

It was disappointing to lose the Olympic silver medal sculler, Vicky Thornley, to illness on the morning of the race, but none of the other challengers let that distract them from racing well.

Charlotte Hodgkins-Bryne (University of London Boat Club) got out well with the aim of dominating the race. Fran Rawlins (Tideway Scullers) maintained a higher rate along the boats by Putney Embankment and by the Black Buoy, at the end of the Embankment, had just drawn out to a length on Suzi Perry (Thames), but was two lengths down on Hodgkins-Byrne, who led a drift across to Fulham. As she corrected and let her rate come down, Rawlins began to close and pull away from Perry.

Shortly off the start, left to right, Rawlins, Hodgkins-Bryne, Perry.
Passing Fulham Football Ground (‘Craven Cottage’), Hodgkins-Bryne, Rawlins, Perry.

Hodgkins-Bryne maintained a clear water lead past the Mile Post, but after that marker, Rawlins started to reduce the lead.

At the Crabtree, Rawlins continues to move closer to Hodgkins-Bryne.

By Hammersmith, Rawlins drew level and their sculls touched but Rawlins had the momentum and kept it out of the clash. Hodgkins-Bryne was stuck in the middle, with Rawlins drawing away and Perry dropping back.

Near Harrods, the gap between Rawlins and Hodgkins-Bryne has narrowed considerably.
By Hammersmith Bridge, Rawlins had taken the lead.
After Hammersmith, the Umpire and the following flotilla passed Perry, leaving her gamely sculling in their wash.
Passing Dove Pier (aka Hammersmith Pier), Rawlins continues to move away from Hodgkins-Bryne.
By Chiswick, Rawlins could perhaps relax a little

As they passed the Bandstand, Rawlins led by over five lengths and kept tapping it along and drew out a fifteen-second lead by the end.

At Barnes Bridge.

Fran Rawlins sculled an excellent lightweight race, even paced, maintaining her speed and showing that her victory at GB Trials was no fluke.

Fran Rawlins, followed by Charlotte Hodgkins-Bryne, crosses the finish line to become the ninth person to win the Women’s Wingfields, cheered on by her club mates on the Tideway Scullers Boathouse balcony.


Sculler Mile Post H’smith Bridge Chiswick Steps Barnes Bridge Finish
Francesca Rawlings 4.51 8.38 NTT 18.53 22.54
Charlotte Hodgkins-Bryne 4.47 8.38 NTT 19.05 23.09
Suzi Perry 4.58 8.52 NTT NTT 27.24


The 177th Wingfield Sculls

Jamie Kirkwood (Leander) leapt out to a length lead on Sean Blake (Tideway Scullers) by the time they passed London Rowing Club, while another length covered all three of the Tideway Scullers, it looked like Richard Clarke (University of London Boat Club), the heavyweight in the race, was going to be dropped out the back.

Off the start, left to right, Nathan O’Reilly, Jamie Kirkwood, Laurence Joss, Sean Blake, Richard Clarke.
The ongoing all-Tideway Scullers race for second place, passing the football ground at Fulham.
As the following pack reached the Mile Post buoy, one thing seemed certain; Kirkwood could not lose, Clarke could not win.

Kirkwood reached the Mile Post ten seconds up on his time from last year and the three Tideway Scullers who appeared glued together with Clarke a length back. Kirkwood looked to be in a position to retain his title but the Tideway had other plans.

Between Harrods and Hammersmith Bridge, something was clearly wrong with Kirkwood, the pack had caught up with him and Joss had taken the lead.
Coming out from under Hammersmith Bridge, the order was now Joss, Clarke, O’Reilly, Blake and last, an in trouble Kirkwood.

At Harrods, Kirkwood appeared to falter, subsequently it became clear he had ridden over some driftwood and half dislodged his fin, and this dragged him back to the chasing pack. Kirkwood took drastic action to dislodge the debris he thought was caught on his fin, stopped, backed down and lost his fin completely. Laurence Joss (Tideway Scullers), we believe the only junior to have challenged for the Wingfields, took up the baton and led through Hammersmith, pursued by Nathan O’Reilly (Tideway Scullers) and Clarke.

By the halfway marker that is the blue window, Clarke had taken the lead, followed by Joss, Blake and O’Reilly.
At the Chiswick Crossing, Clarke had a commanding lead, now followed by Blake and O’Reilly.
At Barnes Bridge, Blake and O’Reilly fight it out for second place.
At the finish, Clarke had a ten second lead over O’Reilly, who had two seconds over Blake.

The race had got its third leader when, unfortunately, Joss crabbed. O’Reilly’s lead was relatively short-lived as Clarke came through and then perennial second placer, Blake, followed. A real tussle developed between the club mates while Clarke drew clear and Joss dropped back. Five lengths separated Clarke from Blake while O’Reilly overlapped. O’Reilly got the better of Blake on the Barnes bend but Clarke was the clear winner in an exciting and varied race. Joss demonstrated his talent and we hope to see more of him.

Richard Clarke, the 93rd Wingfield’s Champion since 1830.
Jamie Kirkwood passes the finish post – but not in the way that he would have wanted.

The Tideway Scullers pack made for an exciting race for the men, but the University of London claimed their second ever Champion, the first being Matt Wells, Champion in 2004 and 2005.

Sculler Mile Post H’smith Bridge Chiswick Steps Barnes Bridge Finish
Richard Clarke 4.51 8.28 NTT 18.16 22.03
Nathan O’Reilly 4.48 8.28 NTT 18.24 22.13
Sean Blake 4.48 8.30 NTT 18.22 22.15
Laurence Joss 4.48 8.27 NTT 18.44 23.01
Jamie Kirkwood 4.38 8.30 NTT NTT NTT


Umpire Mulcahy presents Clarke with his medal, tie and trophy.
Having shown her mettle, Fran Rawlins shows her medal.

There was a good crowd at Tideway Scullers for bacon sandwiches and the presentations. The Secretary thanked the Tideway community for their support along with the Port of London Authority (PLA), they had all rallied around to make their Championship happen. Our usual umpire’s launch, Peter Laverick’s Verity, was stuck upstream of Staines lock and, at very short notice, the PLA stepped in with the launch Crane, driven by the Assistant Harbour Master, Darren Knight. The Wingfield Family Society continues to support the event, and this year, Edward Wingfield attended from Ireland, along with race regular, Ian Wingfield. Tamesis smiled on the event and the water was good for both races – even if Fortuna did not smile on all the competitors.

The Wingfield Sculls website is a great source of historical information and images.


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