May Time I

‘A Few Splashes from Henley’, by Fred May from “Tatler” magazine, 7 July 1920.

3 April 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch on some cartoon characters.

Remarkably, the caricaturist Fred May worked for the Tatler magazine between 1917 and his death in 1976. He sent his first cartoons from the trenches of the Western Front and he soon developed ‘an acute, gentle and humorous style’. Many famous and powerful people were flattered to be drawn by him: Winston Churchill, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Neville Chamberlain, the Aga Khan, the Duke of Windsor, Amy Johnson and Hollywood stars such as James Cagney. In the inter-war years particularly, Fred covered participants in most of the important annual sporting contests such as Henley, Wimbledon, the Football Association Cup Final, cricket test matches, the Schneider Air Trophy and motor racing at Brooklands. He also spent a lot of time drawing at white-tie dinners for sports clubs, the military, business and government. It was a very masculine, cigar smoke filled world, mostly depicting members of ‘society’ for the entertainment of the other members of that exclusive group.

Ninety-seven years after publishing “A Few Splashes from Henley”, “Tatler”’s coverage of rowing changed emphasis with a feature on ‘The hottest rowers in the Boat Race 2017’, claiming that, ‘We trawled through the teams to bring you the top boating babes’. Its verdict on Cambridge President, Lance Tredell, (above) was ‘Phwoar’. Quite so, but I do not think any of the 2017 contingent are a match for Captain HWM ‘Chunky’ Willis and his chums.

As may be expected, in the 1920s and 1930s, Fred May produced a series of delightful caricatures depicting some of the great and the good at a particular year’s Henley Royal Regatta. In a short series, I am going to look at each of these in more detail, beginning with the collection of characters depicted above who attended the 1920 Regatta.

Stanley Duff ‘Muttle’ Muttlebury

Stanley Duff ‘Muttle’ Muttlebury (1866 – 1933)

Göran R Buckhorn has previously produced a nice little précis of ‘Muttle’ and his career:

He looks pompous or a little stuck-up, the oarsman in the (photograph) above. He was one of England’s best oarsmen during the late 1880s and he rowed for Cambridge in five Light Blue crews, becoming a true legend, winning The Boat Race in 1886, 1887, 1888 and 1889, and losing in 1890… (But Stanley Duff Muttlebury) was all but pompous and stuck-up. He was a large and strong man, with good manners and an enormously kind fellow. Affectionately known by Cambridge rowers as ‘Muttle’, he not only (won many) rowing medals and cups at Cambridge, Muttlebury was equally successful at Henley… 

Muttle as depicted by ‘Spy’ in 1890. RPP Rowe later wrote: ‘Muttlebury had a natural aptitude which amounted to genius for rowing, and, as he was not only massively large and full of courage but herculean in muscular strength, it was inevitable that he should be an outstanding exponent of oarsmanship…. It was said that the water washed out of the Cam by Muttlebury’s oar rolled in huge waves to the tow path’.

Many decades after his active rowing career was over, Muttle was still regarded as the ‘the greatest oar ever produced by Cambridge’. Muttle’s friend, Rudie Lehmann, wrote about him in verse:

Muttle at six is ‘stylish’, so at least the Field reports;
No man has ever worn, I trow, so short a pair of shorts.
His blade sweeps through the water, as he swings his 13.10,
And pulls it all, and more than all, that brawny king of men.

Lord Ampthill, Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, 2nd Baron Ampthill

Lord Ampthill, Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, 2nd Baron Ampthill (1869 – 1935)

A Captain of Boats at Eton, Ampthill then went to New College, Oxford, rowing in three Boat Races 1889 – 1891, winning the last two. Going down with a third, he initially joined Leander but soon moved to London Rowing Club and was LRC’s President for 40 years. At Henley, he won the Goblets in 1890 and the Grand and the Goblets in 1891.

Ampthill in Oxford Blue blazer and cap. His later “Times” obituary said that at university he was ‘a remarkably handsome, tall young man of splendid physique and great personal charm’.

Professionally, Lord Ampthill devoted himself to Foreign Affairs. In the late 1890s he was Private Secretary to Joseph Chamberlain at the Colonial Office. At the age of 31 in 1900, Ampthill was made Governor of Madras, India, and, in 1904, he became temporary Viceroy of India for nine months ruling over 240 million Indians. While obviously an imperialist, Ampthill may not have exactly fitted the stereotype of such. He argued that it was Britain’s failure to treat Indians equally as British subjects that had inspired the Indian independence movement and he found himself increasingly allied with Indian nationalists and at odds with the British Government. In 1906, he returned to Britain and took up the cause of the rights of Indians in South Africa, writing a sympathetic introduction to the first biography of Mahatma Gandhi.

Ampthill in the court dress of a Governor of Madras, worn underneath the mantle of the Order of the Star of India.

Ampthill died of pneumonia July 7, 1935, the day before his old crewmate and lifelong friend, Guy Nickalls was killed in a motor accident. This prompted the following verse:

Oarsmen they lived, and Silver Goblets mark
The well-timed prowess of their trusty blades:
In death their rhythm kept, they now embark
To row their long last course among the Shades.

Walter Bradford ‘Guts’ Woodgate

Walter Bradford ‘Guts’ Woodgate (1841 – 1920)

William O’Chee covered Woogate’s life in a three-part biography posted on HTBS in 2017. He summarised Woodgate’s rowing career thus:

There is no doubt that Woodgate was considered one of the outstanding oarsmen of his age. That much we know because it is recorded in opinion at the time. His record at Henley is also significant. He won the Visitor’s Challenge Cup twice, the Wyfold Challenge Cup once, and the Silver Goblets five times. He also won the Diamonds once, the Stewards’ once, and rowed in a Kingston Rowing Club crew which won the Grand. Additionally, he rowed in the Oxford Blue Boat twice. Only two men have bettered Woodgate’s record: Guy Nickalls and Sir Steven Redgrave. Neither reached Woodgate’s total of eleven Henley titles in as little time as he did.

Woodgate and Champneys, Brasenose College, Oxford, winners of the Silver Goblets at Henley Royal Regatta in 1862. Outside of Oxford and Henley, Woodgate also won the Wingfield Sculls three times. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of the Principal and Fellows of Brasenose College.
The ‘larger than life’ Woodgate as pictured by ‘Chums’ comic in 1899 in an outfit that was old fashioned even then. However, by this time, he had grown out of the ‘somewhat effeminate’ appearance that he had as a 10-stone freshman who was nicknamed ‘Lady Barbara’ after playing that role in a college play.

Stories of Woodgate’s physical and mental determination abound. Famously, he once successfully wagered that he could walk the 57 miles from London’s Leicester Square to Brasenose College in time for breakfast. In 1866, he entered Henley’s Goblets twice, first in his own name and for a second time as ‘Wat Bradford’. The Henley Stewards were again infuriated by Woodgate when he had his cox jump overboard at the start of the 1868 Stewards’ Challenge Cup (this eventually led to the introduction of coxwainless fours at Henley). In his professional life as a barrister he was as equally as cussed. For a time and for his own amusement, he waged war on the railway companies and once took a train operator to court in a trivial action over a delayed journey, earning £1 in damages. Woodgate was also rowing journalist, author and historian, a sought-after coach and a man who took nothing too seriously save rowing and good fellowship.

The caricature of Woodgate in 1920 is telling as I doubt that any photographs exist that show the once strong and fit man in his 79th and final year bent over and walking with two sticks. One suspects, however, that his opinions were still robust.

William O’Chee’s piece on Woodgate ended:

Whilst firmly rooted in the Victorian era, he was also thoroughly modern. He was an innovator, a ruthless competitor, notoriously opinionated, and an incredible athlete. It is doubtful the rowing world will see his likes again.

Charles William ‘Bill’ Kent

Charles William ‘Bill’ Kent (1866 – 1959)

No less an authority than the coach and writer, Rudie Lehmann, said of Kent:

Mr. C. W. Kent, of Oxford and Leander fame, is (a) remarkable instance of a born stroke. He rarely rowed as much as eleven stone, and his general appearance outside a boat hardly gave promise of his marvellous vigour and endurance in a race. He is a loose-limbed, long-armed man, with no superfluous flesh, and with very little muscle…. Yet it is not too much to say that as stroke of an Eight or a Four no man has ever been of greater value, none has a more brilliant record of victories secured by his own courage and resource after desperate struggles.

Kent (standing second from the left) and the 1891 Oxford crew. Lord Ampthill is sitting middle left.

Kent went Head of the River at Oxford twice with Brasenose College (BNC). At Henley, he was in BNC crews that won the Visitors’ in 1888 and the Stewards’ and the Visitors’ in 1890. A year later, he stroked Oxford to victory in the Boat Race. Lehmann credits Kent’s cool head in the race for Oxford’s eventual half-length win. After university, he stroked Leander in their Grand wins, 1891 – 1894.

In 1928, CW Kent (OUBC 1891) became the finish judge for the Boat Race, then only the fourth man to do this since amateurs took over from watermen in this role in 1878. In 1952, he was succeeded by his son, J (John/Jack) de R. Kent (OUBC 1932). Between 1968 and 1998 Jack’s son, John F. Kent, was finish judge and in 1999 he was succeeded by his nephew, BDJ (Ben) Kent (Isis), who does the job today.

Sir Theodore Andrea Cook

Sir Theodore Andrea Cook (1867 – 1928)

Theodore Cook’s active rowing career was short but his influence on the sport was long. He won a scholarship to Radley where he enjoyed sporting success, including becoming Captain of Boats. On going up to Oxford, he rowed for his college, Wadham, and was in the winning university trial eight crews in 1887, 1888 and 1889. He was finally chosen for the Blue Boat in his last year. The Oxford Crew of 1889 was a good one and included Guy Nickalls and Lord Ampthill. However, Cambridge, with the undefeated Muttlebury at ‘5’, proved to be better.

The 1889 Oxford Crew.

Theodore Cook was a journalist, author and art critic. His is writing on sport was extensive and his books on rowing included Thomas Doggett, Deceased (1908), Rowing at Henley (1919), Coaching for young crews: An essay on the art and science of the oar (1921). Writing as ‘An Old Blue’, he was at various times the rowing correspondent for the St James Gazette (‘For Gentlemen by Gentlemen’), the Daily TelegraphThe Field, the Standard and the Daily Express. He became a Henley Steward and timekeeper.

A young Theodore pictured about the time that he was the private tutor to the son of the American newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, he of the eponymous Prizes.

Cook was a campaigner for ‘the preservation of true sportsmanship’ and the amateur ethos. He was also heavily involved in the sport of fencing. Both of these led him to joining the Organising Committee for the 1908 Olympic Games. He helped draft the rules for this and possibly they were the first codes written specifically to govern international sport. Cook was a member of the International Olympic Committee from 1909 to 1915 but fell out numerous times with the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron de Coubertin, who could not understand why Cook and the British were obsessed with amateurism. In 1920, aged 53, he won an Olympic Silver Medal – for art.

William Frederick Danvers ‘Freddie’ Smith, 2nd Viscount Hambleden

William Frederick Danvers ‘Freddie’ Smith, 2nd Viscount Hambleden (1868 – 1928)

Hambleden was probably included in this group less for his rowing career than for his fame as the head of the ‘WH Smith’ newsagent empire founded by his grandfather and as a prestigious resident of Henley-on-Thames. From his father, he inherited wealth and a seat in Parliament and, from his mother, a title.

Hambleden showed early promise as an oarsman. At Eton, his housemaster was the famous coach, Dr Warre, and he was in the First Eight 1886 – 87. At Oxford, he won the 1888 University Pairs with Guy Nickalls and was in the New College boat’s stroke seat for three years, Vanity Fair later noting that he ‘stroked the New College boat in 1889 when they (unsuccessfully) hunted Brasenose for the Headship of the River’.

According to his Times obituary, ‘doctor’s orders prevented him from being awarded the Blue which would otherwise certainly have been his’. However, Hambleden assisted with the coaching of the 1889 Oxford Crew. Naturally, he went down with an oarsman’s third.

‘Head of the greatest publishing house in Christendom’. Hambleden by ‘Spy’, “Vanity Fair” magazine, 1904.

Despite ‘doctor’s orders’, Hambledon made four serious (though unsuccessful) Henley appearances: with Guy Nickalls and Lord Ampthill for Eton in the 1886 Ladies’, for Leander in the 1888 Grand, and for New College in the Grand in 1889 and 1890.

Hambleden’s Times obituary wrote that ‘he and his wife showed welcome hospitality at Greenlands, between Henley and Marlow, to many generations of New College oarsmen in training for the Regatta’.

Harry William Morgan ‘Chunky’ Willis

Harry William Morgan ‘Chunky’ Willis (1874 – 1936)

While the most obscure of those portrayed by Fred May in 1920, ‘Chunky’ Willis was, according to his 1936 Times obituary, ‘a prominent oarsman in the highly competitive period of the (eighteen) nineties’. Having shown ‘great promise’ from his early years, Willis won the Ladies’ Plate with Eton in 1894. As to his post-school career, the Times was diplomatic:

He did not go to either university as his father was anxious for him to enter the Army, consequently his rowing was confined to annual appearances at Henley, where he met with well-merited success.

Rowing for Leander, Willis won the Grand in 1896, 1898 and 1899. In 1897 he lost the Grand final by two-foot but won the Stewards’ in a record time of 7 minute 30 seconds. He also won the Goblets in 1899.

In 1908, Willis assisted CM Pitman in coaching Leander’s second crew, the ‘Old Crocks’, for that year’s Olympic Eights (which they won). In his 1972 history of Cambridge’s Selwyn College Boat Club, AP McEldowney says on page 50 that Harry Willis and Walter Woodgate (‘Chunky and Guts’) coached Selwyn’s 1911 Thames Cup crew. He continues, ‘both… were still coaching in my time’. As McEldowney went up in 1922 and Guts died in 1920, this was an impressive show from the indefatigable Woodgate.

Leander beating Yale in a heat of the 1896 Grand. Willis was in Leander’s ‘3’ seat. In 1910, he became a Henley Steward, a position that he held for 20 years.

Willis’ Times obituary noted his other qualities:

‘Chunky’, as he was always called, was a great asset to the crews in which he rowed, not merely on account of his oarsmanship, but because he revelled in playing the role of butt, a part which in those days was considered essential for someone to assume in the interests of happy frictionless training. He will be missed by many friends who never ceased to enjoy his fund of anecdote and found him a happy and good-natured companion.

A ‘butt’ was someone who deliberately set himself up to be teased by the rest of the boat, his crewmates united in gently mocking him. Today, a butt would be given compensation, therapy and ‘a safe space’, but I imagine that Chunky Willis did not require any of this.

A ‘butt’ perhaps?

These drawings from 1920 depict men in their old age who, they would claim, were from the ‘Golden Age’ of British rowing, the 1880s and 1890s. This was a period when all agreed that the only style of rowing was the orthodox ‘English Style’ and when few foreigners threatened the apparently effortless superiority of the nation that had, if not invented, then at least codified the sport. Most of those capture by Fred May’s pen in 1920 lived to see these certainties demolished.

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