15 September 2020
By Gavin Jamieson
For the HTBS show-and-tell series, Gavin Jamieson has chosen a medal in the family’s collection of Hugh ‘Jumbo’ Edwards’s memorabilia, a medal from the Metropolitan Eight-Oared Challenge Cup in 1927, which Edwards won with London Rowing Club.
Jumbo Edwards would go on to win, what can rightly be seen as, more illustrious titles and medals: two gold medals at the British Empire Games of 1930, the Silver Goblets at Henley in 1931 and 1932, two gold medals at the Olympic Games of 1932. However, this medal won at the Metropolitan Amateur Regatta represents a vindication on all the criticism that Jumbo suffered from his collapse in the Boat Race one year previously in 1926. Victory with the Eight of London RC was proof to his critics that he could compete but more importantly it was the start of rebuilding his own belief.
The Metropolitan Amateur Regatta was established in 1866 and up until 1977 the course ran from Putney to Hammersmith – a distance of just under 2 miles. For Jumbo, after his collapse in the 1926 Boat Race, he had been informed by the Christ Church doctor to “take up crown bowls” for the sake of his health. In the newspaper reports following the Boat Race, the press had placed the blame on Oxford’s defeat solely with Jumbo. However, the coach Steve Fairbairn was the one person with words of kindness and support. These words of encouragement led Jumbo to gravitate towards Fairbairn’s coaching embrace at London RC, a last effort to revitalise his passion for rowing.
In 1927, Fairbairn had recently switched from coaching Thames Rowing Club to London. The rivalry between the two was intense and under the innovative coaching of Fairbairn, Jumbo had rediscovered his love for racing.
The Metropolitan Regatta was always held on the first available tide after Henley, and in 1927 London RC smoothly progressed through their heats and made the final of the Eights. Facing them in the final was, inevitably, Thames RC. It was not a close contest. London won the race by two clear lengths, and this was the beginning of a dominance over their Thames rivals, masterminded by the coaching techniques of Fairbairn.
The London crew that day were: Bow. J C Hayne; 2. C H Rew; 3. A J Peppercorn; 4. W A H Row; 5. H R A Edwards; 6. J N Rofe; 7. R A Nesbit; Str. T N O’Brien; Cox. H D Winkworth.
London would continue their dominance over the next few years, and it was the London crew who travelled out to Hamilton, Canada, for the inaugural British Empire Games. However, of the crew that won the Metropolitan Regatta in 1927, only Jumbo and Terry O’Brien were to participate. They returned with the gold medal, defeating New Zealand by three-quarters of a length.
Shortly after this success in Canada, Jumbo dedicated his rowing to the coxless pairs and, with Lewis Clive, won the Silver Goblets at Henley in 1931 and 1932 and the gold at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. After an eventful war as an RAF pilot, Jumbo would go on to coach Oxford, inspired by the years he spent at London Rowing Club.
The 1927 Metropolitan Eight-Oared Challenge Cup medal represents the beginning of a remarkable redemption.