29 April 2020
By Mark Blandford-Baker
Mark Blandford-Baker finds a rare thing on eBay.
Like others, I keep an eye on eBay for items of rowing interest. Imagine my surprise when this “Official Timekeeper’s Badge” for Henley Royal Regatta popped up a few weeks ago. Initially, I wondered about its authenticity but quickly realised the initials T.A.C. on the reverse made it Sir Theodore (Andrea) Cook’s – indeed the D.D. makes it clear he is the donor – but to whom? The Regatta? Perhaps to another Timekeeper, for in 1921 there was just him and G.C. Drinkwater listed in the official records. Cook himself is listed as officiating from 1906 to 1911 and from 1913 to 1928. The Birmingham hallmark is 1921, the design is of the period – notice how the spacing of the lettering makes room for the oar.
Cook was the son of the Headmaster of King Arthur’s School in Wantage, Henry Cook. Theodore was schooled at Radley College where he became Captain of Boats, and thence to Wadham College, Oxford, where he rowed and founded the University Fencing Club. He won a Blue in the ‘3’ seat of the 1889 Boat Race crew. A prolific author on the arts, he also wrote for the Daily Telegraph under the nom de plume ‘An Old Blue’ and was subsequently editor of the Field Magazine. From this latter position, he was a key person in publishing an account of racing at Henley.
He was a member of the British Olympic Association and the International Olympic Committee; from these posts he became part of the team that brought the 1908 Games to London when the Italians withdrew. He died in August 1928. Cook was not a Steward – looking at the records for the time none of the timekeepers were when in that role but were listed directly after the committee, umpires, and judges, all of whom were Stewards. Cook’s knighthood in 1916 was, he felt, in recognition for his efforts during the war through his journalism.
The badge is clearly something very rare, possibly unique – I have not been able to find out how many were made: the silversmiths still exist, but say they have no archive from then as they have been bought out and moved premises. The HRR archive might shed light on that in due course, in the meantime well-informed people in the rowing world say they have not seen it, or known of it, before. Perhaps it can make an appearance on a lapel on the centenary of its creation.