Tim Koch follows the oldest but least known of the Putney – Mortlake boat races.
Henry Colsell Wingfield was born in 1805 and consequently was probably not very familiar with the Internet, social media and an acronym now much used by teenage girls, ‘BFF’ (Best Friends Forever). However, he may have invented the abbreviation ‘BSF’ when, in 1830, he instituted a race for amateur scullers with the prize of a pair of miniature silver sculls ‘to be held by the best’ provided that the event was held annually ‘forever’ on his birthday. ‘Forever’ is a long time but, on 4 October 2019, evidence that Henry’s wishes are still carried out was on show when the 179th Wingfield Sculls and the 13th Women’s Wingfield Sculls was held on the Putney to Mortlake Course on the River Thames.
The course is the 4 ½ mile (6.8 km) ‘Championship Course’ from Putney to Mortlake complete with tides, bends, shallows, rough water, driftwood, head winds, cross winds, tail winds and other river users. These can be unsettling conditions for those who usually only race in the (near) sterile conditions of FISA approved 2000-metre rowing courses. The Wingfields requires skills of watermanship that top scullers and rowers do not necessarily possess in modern times.
Nowadays, Wingfields is open to all scullers of the United Kingdom who are registered to race with British Rowing. Historically, winning the Wingfield Sculls carried great prestige and it was part of the ‘triple crown’ of British amateur sculling. Today, ‘the best’ are usually part of the GB Squad and their commitment to this often means that they are unable to take part. The management of the event is in the hands of a committee made up of previous winners or ‘Champions’ who meet at least once a year to examine the entries and to appoint the umpires for the upcoming races from amongst their number.
The 13th Women’s Wingfields
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 with the support of the Wingfield Family Society. The 2018 Champion, Ruth Siddorn, ‘resigned her title’, i.e. she did not race this year to defend her right to be called the ‘Champion of the Thames’.
The 179th Wingfield Sculls
The 2018 Champion, Charles Cousins, resigned his title so the 2019 winner would be the 94th man since 1830 to hold the title. The men raced two hours before the top of the flood tide and had more challenging conditions than did the women 75 minutes earlier.
Despite the probable winner emerging early on, it was a great race. All competitors steered a good line and all fought to the finish. Meijer led from the start, Bourne did brilliantly on a course strange to him, Cowley and Revell could rarely be separated throughout the whole race, Morris hung on and avoided finishing last, Maxwell persevered through great pain in his arms. Champions all.