The Queen’s Head

On 17 March 1951, the then Princess Elizabeth attended the 25th anniversary of the Head of the River Race. Here, she is assisted ashore by 1925 Doggett’s winner and 1927 – 1930 World Professional Sculling Champion, Bert Barry. Doubtful legend has it that watermen are the only commoners who can touch a royal person without permission. Picture: TRC Archive.

6 February 2022

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch on some Sovereign service. 

Today, on 6 February, Queen Elizabeth II will have been monarch of the United Kingdom (and of several other countries) for an unprecedented 70 years. British Royalty traces its origins back over a thousand years, but the Queen will be the first of the nation’s monarchs known to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. Whatever one thinks of the anachronism that is the institution of monarchy, it would be churlish to deny that Queen Elizabeth has led – and continues to lead – a remarkable and dignified life of service during a period of tremendous change.

To mark the Platinum Jubilee in HTBS style, reproduced below are some charming pictures from one of the many thousands of events that Queen Elizabeth has attended in her lifetime, in this case her visit to the 1951 Silver Jubilee Head of the River Race, the Thames Tideway time trial for eights racing from Mortlake to Putney that was founded by Steve Fairbairn in the year of the Queen’s birth, 1926. 

The Queen started the race from a launch at Mortlake by dropping a flag that signalled for a starting gun to be fired.

The photographs below are reproduced, with permission, from Thames RC’s remarkable online archive, an ongoing project created and led by James Elder, a former TRC secretary and a qualified archivist.

Outside Quintin Boat Club, Chiswick.
At the start opposite the Mortlake Brewery.
GO “Gully” Nickalls (wearing the mackintosh), then Chairman of the Amateur Rowing Association, is behind the Princess.
Standing on the far left is Ian Fairbairn, son of “Steve”.
The Princess standing with Gully Nickalls and James Hartley of TRC.
We are amused.
Bert Barry (left) and (right) the winner of the London RC Coat and Badge for 1920.
Transferring Royalty between boat and shore is always a nervous moment.
Having been driven by road from Chiswick to Putney, Princess Elizabeth watched some of the racing from the Thames RC balcony.

In 1951, the media still covered rowing well. The Times newspaper reported on the day in two separate pieces and at least two cinema newsreels also took an interest in who went “Head of the River”.


  1. Can anyone identify the waterman who is pictured standing alongside Bert Barry and who is wearing the London RC Coat and Badge for 1920? A couple of years ago I and one of my colleagues tried and failed. The curious feature is that, according to London RC’s records, their Coat and Badge was last awarded in 1905. But the date of 1920 is very clear on the badge if you magnify the photo. Presumably he is someone who never won Doggett’s since otherwise he would have been wearing that uniform.

  2. Very interesting. Thank you for this!

    Anyone else spot the commentator in the first YouTube video announcing the Jesus finishing time as 18 minutes 21 seconds?

    The Times report the winning time of 18 minutes 41 seconds..

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