May Time III:I From Tubby to Piggy

“An Echo of Henley” by Fred May, “Tatler” magazine, 18 July 1923.

14 May 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch continues his series on caricaturist Fred May’s Henley characters, this one from a 1923 edition of Tatler magazine.

Of the six personalities depicted by Fred May in 1923, only WH Eyre and WB Close had a significant rowing record. Major ‘Tubby’ Vigo, Colonel Sir James Craig and General Sir Douglas Dawson were probably attending Henley for purely social reasons while Harry Tomalin was a regatta official who had already been immortalised by May’s pen in 1921 (see his biography in May Time II).

Major Tubby Vigo

Major Tubby Vigo

Who was Tubby Vigo? Well, I do not know, not least because there seems to be no such name as ‘Vigo’; the London Gazette would have listed anyone of that name that went through the officer ranks to major. There is such a name as ‘Vigor’ and, more commonly, ‘Vigors’. Possibly Tubby was Philip Urban Walter Vigors, 1863 – 1935. He would be 60 in 1923 and the person drawn by May could be that age. PUW Vigors became an army officer in 1882 and served in Burma in 1891 and in the Boer War between 1899 and 1900. In South Africa, he was notably at Spion Kop and the Relief of Ladysmith. He was twice wounded, twice mention in despatches and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He retired with the rank of major in 1902.

Sir James Craig, later 1st Viscount Craigavon. Sir James was probably not as much fun as he looked.

Sir James Craig, later 1st Viscount Craigavon (1871 – 1940).

James Craig was the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland when the state came into being in 1921 and he stayed in office for nearly 20 years. He was a staunch supporter of Unionism, the Protestant movement that wanted Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. The better-known Edward Carson had been the voice of resistance to Irish independence or ‘Home Rule’ but he later admitted: ’It was Craig who did most of the work and I got most of the credit’. However, unlike Carson, Craig eventually accepted partial Home Rule and embraced the partition of Ireland (between a north within the UK and an independent south) ‘with enthusiasm rather than resignation’. Unionists regard him as the founding father of the Northern Ireland state.

Two illustrations showing that compromise is not a tradition in Irish politics. Between 1922 and 1932, WT Cosgrave was President of the Executive Council, i.e. the leader of the government of the then Irish Free State, a position later called ‘Taoiseach’.

Craig’s long premiership was mostly devoted to securing Protestant domination of the new state, particularly by his Ulster Unionist Party, while pressing economic and social problems were largely ignored. At the start of the Second World War, the increasingly ill and unpredictable Craig wanted Britain to invade neutral Ireland to secure its ports. He died in office in 1940.

General Sir Douglas Frederick Rawdon Dawson GCVO, KCB, CMG

General Sir Douglas Frederick Rawdon Dawson GCVO, KCB, CMG (1854 – 1933).

The Tatler tells us that Dawson’s ‘riverside seat’ was Remenham Place, Henley, and that he was ‘an ex-Eton wet bob’ (though he was more of a cricketer, once taking nine wickets in three overs). His military career was varied: he saw active service in Egypt and the Sudan in 1882 – 1885; from 1895 to 1901 he was a Military Attaché in various European capitals; he held several posts in the British Royal Court between 1903 and 1914 and between 1919 and 1924; in the First World War he was appointed ‘Inspector of Vulnerable Points’.

British soldiers at the Sphinx, 1882.

Dawson was attached to the intriguingly named ‘Guards Camel Corps’ when he took part in the Battle of Abu Klea, fought against the Mahdi’s Dervishes in the Sudan on 17 January 1885 during the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to rescue General Gordon in Khartoum. Remarkably, the Mahdists briefly breeched the British square in the 15-minute action but ultimately lost more than a thousand men against British dead numbering 74.

The Battle of Abu Klea.

The Battle of Abu Klea was famously if inaccurately celebrated in Sir Henry Newbolt’s 1892 poem Vitai Lampada: ‘The sand of the desert is sodden red/ Red with the wreck of the square that broke/ The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead/ And the regiment blind with dust and smoke’. Vitai Lampada was enormously popular when it was written but comparing war to a game of schoolboy cricket was met with cynicism during the extended season of 1914 – 1918 when the Somme proved to be a sticky wicket and Jerry bowled googlies.

William Henry ‘Piggy’ Eyre. Photograph (1908) courtesy of the TRC Online Archive.

William Henry ‘Piggy’ Eyre (1848 – 1939).

Piggy Eyre joined the then 9-year-old Thames Rowing Club in 1869 and was part of TRC’s first Henley win, the Wyfolds in 1870. At Henley, he won three Wyfolds (1870, 1871, 1872), three Goblets (1877, 1880, 1881), two Grands (1876 and 1878) and one Stewards’ (1880). He continued racing at a lower level until he was 81.

The Thames Rowing Club Wyfold crew of 1870. Piggy is back right. Picture courtesy of the TRC Online Archive.

As a solicitor, Piggy gave Thames great assistance in the negotiation and purchase of the freehold of the clubhouse and land. However, he also offered practical support to ‘lesser’ clubs on the unfashionable Hammersmith stretch, notably Kensington Rowing Club and Furnivall Sculling Club. Certainly, without Piggy, what is now Auriol Kensington RC would not exist today; he bought the freehold of the boathouse at 14 Lower Mall, home to the then separate clubs of Auriol and Kensington, when owners Biffen Boatbuilders went out of business in the 1930s.

Piggy in 1928. Picture courtesy of the TRC Online Archive.

Piggy became increasingly deaf in his old age and found it difficult to follow what was happening around him. At a Thames Dinner, the Chairman solemnly proposed the toast to ‘The King’ but the respectful silence was suddenly broken by Piggy bellowing: ‘WE ROWED LIKE LIONS AND WON BY TWENTY LENGTHS’. At a Kensington Dinner, John Beresford Senior was giving a rather long speech when, through the haze of tobacco smoke, came Piggy’s booming voice: ‘Why’s HE replying for the visitors? HE used to belong to this club YEARS AND YEARS AGO’. And a little later: ‘IS HE STILL TALKING?’

Film of the 77-year-old Piggy in action in 1925 is on YouTube. At 30-seconds in, he is standing second from the right. In the eight, he is at ‘2’.

The final personality characterised by Fred May at Henley in 1923 was William Brooks Close, a man who led such a full life that, tomorrow, he gets a HTBS post of his own: May Time III:II ‘WB’.

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