29 July 2022
By William O’Chee
Without doubt, Stanley Muttlebury was one of the great Cambridge University rowers of the nineteenth century, with five Boat Races and four wins to his name. Moreover, he had numerous victories at Henley Royal Regatta, including a memorable win with J.C. Gardner in 1889 in which they beat Guy Nickalls and Lord Ampthill by just two feet.
However, who knew that Muttlebury had rowing connection with Florence? Or did he?
One can imagine this scribe’s surprise, when a casual perusal of the website of the Società Canottieri Firenze revealed this artwork holding pride of place in their collection.
Who would have thought that Muttle’s fame or oarsmanship would alight on the beautiful Arno, or that he was a member of the Italian club?
Of course, eagle-eyed readers of Hear The Boat Sing will immediately recognise the image as being the cartoon done by Leslie Ward (“Spy”) for Vanity Fair in 1890, although Muttlebury and his companion have had the Italian Club’s red stripes artistically added for effect over the top of their Cambridge zephyrs.
How the print came into the Club’s possession is unclear, since it was not founded until 1911, although its predecessor club, the Società Canottieri Firenze Vanto e Gloria in Florence began life in 1886, the year of Muttlebury’s first Boat Race victory.
The Società Canottieri Firenze rows from a boathouse underneath Florence’s famed Ponte Vecchio, on what must be one of the world’s most beautiful and endearing reaches of water. As this brief video shows, the club clearly has a charmed location.
Stanley Muttlebury possibly never visited Florence, let alone pulled an oar there, but even he would have to admit that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Wonderful! And while Società Canottieri Firenze may not be quite under the Ponte Vecchio (perhaps in the shadow), the boat bays are literally under Uffizi Gallery. For any rower visiting Florence, it’s really worth visiting this rowing club. Indeed – quite the location.