16 January 2018
Tim Koch finds gold turned into base metal.
The recent HTBS article on the mystery bronze (or, I speculate, spelter sculling figure owned by Kai Stürmann reminded me of a similar looking model of a man in a single, one that was recently at the centre of a rowing controversy. This is the ‘Blackstaffe Trophy’ awarded to the fastest finisher in the Scullers’ Head of the River Race, the annual time trial for singles held over the Mortlake to Putney course on London’s River Thames, an event that attracts over 500 entries. The race has been organised by the Putney-based Vesta Rowing Club since its inception in 1954 and the trophy celebrates the club’s most famous son, Henry Thomas ‘Harry’ Blackstaffe (nicknamed ‘Blackie’).
The Blackstaffe Trophy was presented to the Sculler’s Head by Harry’s widow in 1954. It is a brass (I think) copy of a ‘solid gold’ model that was presented to ‘Blackie’ by the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London in 1908 to mark his wonderful sculling career, notably his victory in the Olympic Sculls of that year. The presentation was from the City of London, the historic centre and business district of the metropolis, an area that covers little more than a square mile. This is different to Greater London which, at that time, would have been governed by London County Council. In later years, Blackstaffe was made a Freeman of the City of London. It was reasoned that Harry ‘belonged’ to the City of London as he had spent all of his working life there.
Harry’s work was, in fact, a cause of great problems for his participation in amateur sport. He is usually described as ‘a butcher’ and this meant that he had difficulty in being accepted as an amateur. Until 1937, the Amateur Rowing Association’s strange definition of an amateur excluded not only the obvious, i.e. those who competed for cash prizes, but also ’mechanics, artisans and labourers and anyone engaged in any menial duty’. In his book, The Complete Oarsman (1908), R.C. Lehmann drew attention to the arbitrary nature of trades that were not considered ‘amateur’ and gave the example of the banning of carpenters, but not drapers. As another example, postal workers who served as counter clerks in Post Offices were classed as ‘amateurs’, but those who physically delivered letters were not. Blackstaffe somehow managed to avoid being excluded from amateur competition, despite his lowly trade. The only hint that I have found that suggests how he may have done this is in a newspaper cutting of 1950 titled “Sports Stars of Yesterday”. It describes him as a ‘Leadenhall game and poultryman’ (Leadenhall Market was a meat, game and poultry market in the City of London which dated from the 14th century). Perhaps being involved in ‘game and poultry’ was more socially acceptable than butchering carcasses – if that is what Harry ever did? All that H.B. Wells says on the matter in Vesta Rowing Club: A Centenary History (1969) is that ‘His job was in the meat trade, which entailed unusual hours of working and rather unconventional methods of training’.
As this report from Benedict Tufnell of Row 360 records, there was controversy after the Scullers’ Head of 2 December 2017 when the organisers initially decided not to award the Blackstaffe Trophy to the fastest finisher, who was, remarkably, an under-18 Junior from St Paul’s School, Calvin Tarczy. The organisers argued that the flow of the tide had unfairly helped scullers who started later in the division. After a ‘Twitter storm’, this strange decision was reversed and, in the words of Row 360, ‘The teenager’s name will now be engraved on the trophy, alongside the likes of Drysdale and Campbell’.