Relative Rowing

On the left is Harold Rickett, who rowed for Cambridge in 1930, 1931 and 1932. On the right is his great-grandson, Ollie Wynne-Griffith, who is at “7” for the Light Blues this year.

3 April 2022

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch is in the family way.

Today is Boat Race Day, an event founded in 1829 and one that can assuredly be described as “living history”. Like its slightly younger sibling, Henley Royal Regatta, the Boat Race appears to be unchanging but, in reality, it only survives in a very different age to the one in which it was conceived by constantly reinventing itself. Its legacy is passed on, but each new generation has to make it relevant for their time. 

Occasionally, the legacy is a literal one when different generations of the same family row in different decades of the world’s most famous boat race. My 1956 copy of The Boat Race by Gordon Ross records those that had occurred up to that year. Anyone who has more time than me and who would like to update the figures is most welcome. 

Ross says that by 1956 there were eighteen instances of father and son rowing, and thirty-two of brothers*. He knew of only two cases where a father, son and grandson have won a Rowing Blue. GC Bourne, 1882 and 1883; RC Bourne, 1909 – 1912; RMA Bourne, 1946 and 1947 (the only year that a Bourne lost was the last one, 1947). Also, RT Raikes, 1865, 1866; DT Raikes, 1920 – 1922; RDT Raikes, 1954. 

This sort of thing is less likely in modern times when universities demand academic merit more than the ability to pull an oar and the chances of people from the “right” schools and families almost automatically going to Oxford or Cambridge is less likely than in the past. David Haig Thomas (CUBC 1930, 1931, 1932) captured this situation when he wrote in his autobiography:

I, like my father and my grandfather before me, would go down without a degree. Grandfather never looked like passing an exam. Father passed one and I passed two, and I thought it would spoil the family tradition if I did any more, as well as impertinent on my elders and betters! 

There were advantages to rowing and not graduating. Magdalen College, Oxford, won the Stewards at Henley in 1907 with the 41-year-old Guy Nickalls at stroke. Nickalls, having not taken his degree while at Magdalen in his youth, was still (apparently) “in residence” and so could be part of the student crew. 

Despite my note that nowadays Blues with one or more relatives in previous crews are less likely, the 2022 Men’s Boat Race has two such examples. Firstly, Harold Rickett, who rowed for the Light Blues in 1930, 1931 and 1932, is the great-grandfather of the “7” man in this year’s Cambridge boat, Ollie Wynne-Griffith. Further, Ollie’s grandfather (Harold’s son) PD Rickett, rowed for Cambridge in 1958 and 1959.

Cambridge 1931. Harold Rickett is standing in the centre behind the cox.
Cambridge 2022. Ollie Wynne-Griffith is standing on the far right.

Last November, Ollie told the Cambridge Independent

That was a Cambridge crew that went (to the Olympics) in 1932. It was a slightly different sport back then. It’s been quite nice not to share the name, I guess, and mark out my own path in the sport just for me. To follow in his footsteps 89 years later was quite special…

I would go to grandpa’s house and there would be oars everywhere hanging up… I remember he won Henley maybe three or four times and I took a while to get my one red box, at this point, and it was a little bit like ‘I’ve got the monkey off my back now, I can feel part of the family’… There is obviously a lot of tradition and history there which is quite special for me, in a personal way.

Cambridge 1930. Harold at “2”.
Cambridge 2022. Ollie at “7”.
Harold Rickett’s Times obituary, 6 February 1969.
The two Presidents, 1932: CM Johnson and HRN Rickett.
Harold at Henley in 1964.
Sadly, the 2022 Boat Race is unlikely to make the front page of a tabloid as it did in 1932 when Harold was at “6”. The names on the crew shirts were added to the photograph by the newspaper, gentlemen of that time would not make such a vulgar and self-regarding display.

Secondly, sitting in front of Ollie Wynne-Griffith is Ollie Parish and, coxing the Cambridge women, is his younger brother, Jasper. Their father is Matt Parish who won with Cambridge in 1994 and 1995. 

Ollie Parish strokes the 2022 Cambridge Men’s Blue Boat.
Jasper Parish, cox of the 2022 Cambridge Women’s Blue Boat.
There’s more of them: Matt Parish and daughter, Honor, in the 2019 Head of the Charles 2x Parent and Child event. Picture: Facebook.
Matt Parish at “6” in the 1994 Cambridge Crew.
University of London winning the 1992 Grand at Henley with Matt Parish at stroke.
Still with a good reach. Matt Parish strokes the Cambridge Vets Crew in the 2016 Oxford – Cambridge Veterans Race.

Both Rickett and Parish Senior went on to row in the Olympics, the former coming fourth in the eights in 1932, the latter eighth in the eights in 1996. Wynne-Griffith has bettered them both with a Bronze in the eights in Tokyo. The Parish boys still have plenty of time…

* An update on brothers from memory. In 2003, James Livingstone (Cambridge) and David Livingston (Oxford) were the first brothers to be in opposing crews since the 1900 pair of Tom and Raymond Etherington-Smith. Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss rowed for Oxford in 2010, as did Jamie and Ollie Cook in 2017. It clearly helps to be called “Ollie”.

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