Adrian Stokes: Oxford Blue, Henley Winner and a Typical Wykhamist

Oxford Blue (1951 and 1952) Adrian Stokes passed away on 22 May. On the left, he is standing by the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at Henley Royal Regatta, in 2015. He and his New College crew won the trophy in 1950. On the right is a cartoon of Stokes that he was very fond of.

23 August 2021

By Veronica and Teresa Stokes (text); The Stokes Family (photographs)

As HTBS has reported earlier, Oxford Blue Adrian Stokes passed away in May, at age 93. He was a regular reader of HTBS and, with his daughter Teresa’s help, an occasional contributor to the site. Here his wife, Veronica, and daughter, Teresa, remember him.

Lucas Adrian Fuller Stokes – always known by his second name – was born in Windsor on 17 February 1928, the eldest surviving son of Enid (née King, a niece of Viscount Northcliffe) and Herbert Bland Stokes. The Stokes and Kings are Anglo-Irish families with long historical connections to Trinity College, Dublin, and the Indian Civil Service. Adrian was educated at Arnold House in St John’s Wood and later at Scaitcliffe Preparatory School, an experience he found unhappy. From there he obtained an Exhibition to Winchester College in 1941.

Adrian Stokes, in 1944.

Wartime life at Winchester was austere. Food was scarce (his mother reported that her growing son lost an average of a stone in weight each term), and there were nightly fire-watching duties. Though Winchester itself escaped direct damage in the frequent air-raids, the heavy bombardment of Southampton was visible in the night sky. Adrian became Vice President of the Winchester College Boat Club. In the First VIII, he took part in the Hedsor Cup (for public schools) at Henley in 1945. This was the first regatta at Henley in six years – this one day regatta was called Royal Henley Regatta, instead of Henley Royal Regatta. Adrian commented: “This was my first Henley. We only got through one round, but it was an amazing experience after the drab war years.”

The following year at Henley, his crew took part in the inaugural race for the Princess Elizabeth Cup.  In training, the crew would cycle to Southampton for their outings on the Itchen, then cycle back to Winchester for a frugal meal of bread and margarine. Adrian’s other happy moments were singing in the choir and playing piano. Music became a great love.

Adrian left school in 1946 and endured two years’ National Service with the Green Jackets and Royal Army Service Corps, a period in his life he found “most disagreeable.” In 1948, he went up to New College with a Classical Scholarship. Although food rationing was now even more stringent (he had to put water on his cornflakes!) and hot bath water a rarity, the next four years were outstandingly happy and successful.

He immediately joined the New College Boat Club and soon found himself at stroke in the college VIII. The following February, the crew won Head of the River at the Torpids. His 21st birthday happened to be on the second day of the four-day competition, and the best surprise present after the win was a commemorative tankard which his crew clubbed together to give him, engraved with all their signatures.

New College Boat Club failed to win anything else that year, but 1950 was their glory year: with Adrian at stroke, the New College IV won the O.U.B.C. Coxless Fours. The VIII, also stroked by Adrian, retained their headship of the River at the Torpids and went on to win Head of the River in Eights Week, the Grand Challenge Cup at Reading and the Ladies Plate at Henley.

Adrian Stokes on an outing with Oxford in 1952, the year he was O.U.B.C. president and his crew won the Boat Race.

In 1951, Adrian rowed in the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race, which Oxford lost, but in 1952, he was elected President of the O.U.B.C. and under his leadership Oxford won, ending years of Cambridge supremacy. During this time, he obtained a First in Classical Mods and became engaged to Veronica Durham – a second cousin up at St Anne’s. Their marriage was to last more than 60 happy years and produce four daughters, Teresa, Felicity, Anastasia and “Min”.

In this 1952 issue of Tatler magazine, Adrian Stokes (left; image upper left) can be seen with his fiancée Veronica Durham. They have just got engaged. The picture caused a stir in Adrian’s family; his parents were sticklers for doing things properly. It was not regarded comme il faut to have the news of their engagement appear in the frivolous “society” magazine Tatler before it was officially announced in The Times and the Daily Telegraph engagement columns. Adrian is wearing the straw hat that he was wearing at Henley in 2015 (see top image).
Veronica and Adrian Stokes at Café de Paris, in 1953.

On going down, Adrian taught for some years at Eton and Winchester and continued coaching for the O.U.B.C. until 1960. He had become a Catholic in 1954, and in those days, this proved a barrier to promotion at Winchester. As a result, in 1961, he and others embarked on an initially successful and groundbreaking venture by setting up Redrice School, the first lay-run Catholic public school. After 20 years at its Headmaster, he regretfully took “early retirement” when the school was taken over by another institution.

Next, he threw himself into the world of remedial education and for the next 20 years worked at and became Director of the Kensington Dyslexia Centre, coaching older students to postgraduate level.

On retiring from work in London at the age of 70, Adrian became Parish Clerk in his home village of Abbotts Ann in Hampshire. There was now time to enjoy his considerable skills at book-binding and furniture restoration – The Repair Shop was his favourite TV relaxation.

Adrian Stokes, in 2018. Photo: Gabriel Stokes.

Always quiet and rather solitary – “I’m a typical Wykhamist,” he would say – Adrian came to life on family occasions for which he would produce hilarious celebratory verses. A much-loved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather, he passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by his family and small dog. Without a fuss, just as he always preferred.

“Manners Makyth Man” was the guiding principle so well imbued and so well exemplified.

Lucas Adrian Fuller Stokes, born on 17 February 1928, died on 22 May 2021.

4 comments

  1. What a determined mind set he had life with so many interests that determined his future by breaking some of the norms in life… together with another from the very school he wasn’t enamoured with by the sounds of things… nevertheless the pair made what could be said an unusual match… A man who had actually quite a wit… I could tell a few stories about him but I won’t. Both he and RAJ could have kicked me out of Redrice but didn’t to my surprise… I later visited Redrice a year or two prior to my departure to Australia after graduating from Nottingham College of Art and Design within Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham in Photography with honours. I really enjoyed my brief stay and I do believe Adrian (re: L.A.F.S) Stokes was really interested in the fact that I had gone on to undertake serious studies in photography… his serious hobby amongst others that he was adept at. I do have to thank him and the family that supported both him and Richard Arnold Jones in the unusual match that brought us all together for years onwards, though sadly I didn’t remain in contact until recently… Nevertheless I am grateful of the contact… surprisingly it means a lot. Thus I thank in particular the indomitable couple Adrian and Veronica Stokes latterly for their generosity of spirit together with their immediate families. Wishing them well throughout their respective lives and may they always know I take off my Aussie Hat to them all at this time for Adrian who certainly made a significant dent on many of us in life well lived.. Kind Wishes from Chris.L. J. U. Somers 2021 Down-Under in Western Australia. Where my courage to go public about being intersex grew.

  2. Thank you Veronica for forwarding this interesting article. I actually had read a previous obit of Adrian’s on line.
    I do quite a bit of “research” on line and find all sorts of interesting things, usually when the snow flies or there is an arctic chill in the air and its too cold to go for a walk! joanna

  3. It has been more than a pleasure to chauffeur drive Adrian Stokes over the years – in fact it’s been a privilege and honour as I have learnt so much from being around him over the years.
    He was a true gentleman with a wealth of knowledge and humour too.
    Always a pleasure to look after him and his wife -both characters and wonderful people.
    I will miss him dearly as so many others will.
    Be at peace now Adrian – your contribution to the world will remain in our hearts.

  4. Small correction: New College retained headship of the river in the 1950 Torpids without Adrian (Dad) in the crew. Small addition: After the Winchester College VIII lost in the inaugural Princess Elizabeth Cup in 1946 they have won twice since: first in 1949 and secondly in 1954 when Adrian coached them to victory along with head coach Harold Walker and boatman Jack Phelps. In May 2014 he attended a reunion of some ten surviving crew members and coaches from ’49 and ’54 at Winchester College, all now in their 70s and 80s. With the 2014 crew they launched a new boat named “The Spirit of ’49 & ’54”.

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