May Time V

Fred May’s take on a few of those at Henley in 1925.

21 February 2023

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch continues to put flesh on the bones of Fred May’s caricatures. 

Bevan Charles Cox (1877 – 1946)

Bevan Cox attended the non-rowing Harrow School in North London between 1892 and 1896. Thus, when he then went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, it is possible that he had no rowing experience. However, “The Hall” was a good place to learn the sport. Between 1880 and 1914, Trinity Hall Boat Club was wildly successful, winning 23 Henley prizes, five in 1887 alone (Grand, Stewards, Ladies, Thames and Visitors).

Cox must have been a fast learner and peaked in 1901, his annus mirabilis. He and CWH Taylor won the prestigious Cambridge University double sculls race, the Lowe Sculls, in a record time. In that year’s Boat Race, Cox was in the Cambridge “2” seat (though the Light Blues lost by the eccentric distance of 2/5 length). However, compensation for defeat on the Tideway came at the 1901 Henley Royal Regatta when Cox stroked Trinity Hall’s Thames and Wyfold crews to victory. The Times said: “Mr BC Cox stroked both winners with much judgement.”

Trinity Hall (stroked by Bevan Cox) pictured in the background, having just beaten Kingston (in the foreground) in the final of the 1901 Thames Cup.

After Cambridge, Cox farmed in New Brunswick, Canada, for a time but on his return to the UK he joined Leander. At Henley in 1903, he was in two Leander boats, bow in the Stewards crew and “3” in the Grand crew. In front of him in the eight were some of the greats of the time, including FS Kelly, RB Etherington-Smith, FW Warre and FJ Escombe. Thus, it is little wonder that Leander won the Grand that year. Although Cox continued at Leander in 1904, this may have been the end of his active rowing career.

While rowing remained an important part of Cox’s life, notably in that he was a rowing correspondent for The Field between 1903 and 1920 and for the Daily Telegraph between 1921 and 1929, the good all-round athlete also excelled at another (rather unlikely) sport, that of ice hockey.

For many years Cox was a mainstay of the Princes Ice Hockey Club in Hammersmith, an early and influential body in the establishment of the sport in Britain and Europe. He was on the British team for the 1910 Ice Hockey European Championships in Switzerland, the first tournament for European clubs affiliated to the International Ice Hockey Federation. The British got to the final and should have played a team of Canadians from Oxford University, but a dispute over dates meant that the game did not happen.

Cox (second from the right) and the British Ice Hockey Team of 1910.

Cox served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy in the 1914 – 1918 War and, perhaps sometime in the 1930s, he and his wife, Kathleen, emigrated to Rhodesia where they became enthusiastic butterfly collectors, something that took them around the world. In 1944, they discovered a previously unknown blue butterfly which was named after them and given the Latin name of Lepidochrysops coxii – also known as Cox’s Blue. I hope that it was Light Blue.

Lord Ampthill, Arthur Oliver Villiers Russell, 2nd Baron Ampthill (1869 – 1935)

The photograph shows Lord Ampthill in fancy dress – as if he did not have enough exotic garments from his various real life roles. 

A Captain of Boats at Eton, Ampthill then went to New College, Oxford, rowing in three Boat Races 1889 – 1891, winning the last two. Going down with an “oarsman’s degree” (a Third), he initially joined Leander but soon moved to London Rowing Club (LRC) and was LRC’s President for 40 years. At Henley, he won the Goblets in 1890 and the Grand and the Goblets in 1891.

The 1890 Oxford Crew.

Outside of rowing, Ampthill was involved in administration of Britain’s Empire. In the late 1890s, he was Private Secretary to Joseph Chamberlain at the Colonial Office. At the age of 31 in 1900, Ampthill was made Governor of Madras, India, and, in 1904, he became temporary Viceroy of India for nine months, ruling over 240 million people. 

Ampthill as an Oxford Blue 1891; Lieutenant Colonel, Bedfordshire Regiment, 1915; Acting Viceroy of India 1904.

While obviously an imperialist, Ampthill may not have exactly fitted the stereotype of such. He argued that it was Britain’s failure to treat Indians equally as British subjects that had inspired the Indian independence movement and he found himself increasingly allied with Indian nationalists and at odds with the British Government. In 1906, he returned to Britain and took up the cause of the rights of Indians in South Africa, writing a sympathetic introduction to the first biography of Mahatma Gandhi.

Ampthill died of pneumonia July 7, 1935, the day before his old crewmate and lifelong friend, Guy Nickalls was killed in a car accident. This prompted the following verse:

Oarsmen they lived, and Silver Goblets mark
The well-timed prowess of their trusty blades:
In death their rhythm kept, they now embark
To row their long last course among the Shades

Lifelong friends, Guy Nickalls (left) and Lord Ampthill (right) who won the Goblets together in 1890 and 1891.

Charles William ‘Bill’ Kent (1866 – 1959)

No less an authority than the great coach and writer, Rudie Lehmann, said of Kent:

Mr CW Kent, of Oxford and Leander fame, is (a) remarkable instance of a born stroke. He rarely rowed as much as eleven stone, and his general appearance outside a boat hardly gave promise of his marvellous vigour and endurance in a race. He is a loose-limbed, long-armed man, with no superfluous flesh, and with very little muscle…. Yet it is not too much to say that as stroke of an Eight or a Four no man has ever been of greater value, none has a more brilliant record of victories secured by his own courage and resource after desperate struggles.

Kent, weighing in at about 68 kilograms (10 stone 10 lbs in his language), went Head of the River at Oxford twice with Brasenose College (BNC). At Henley, he was in BNC crews that won the Visitors’ in 1888 and the Stewards’ and the Visitors’ in 1890. A year later, he stroked Oxford to victory in the Boat Race. Lehmann credits Kent’s cool head in the race for Oxford’s eventual half-length win. After university, he stroked Leander in their Grand wins, 1891 – 1894.

In 1928, Bill Kent became the finish judge for the Boat Race, then only the fifth man to do this since amateurs took over from professionals in this role in after waterman Honest John Phelps had been unjustly accused of incompetence following his decision to give a “dead heat” verdict for the 1877 Boat Race.

CW Kent (left) and his son and successor, Jack de R Kent (right) at Henley in 1953.

In 1952, CW Kent was succeeded as Boat Race finish judge by his son, John “Jack” de R Kent (OUBC 1932). Between 1968 and 1998 Jack’s son, John F Kent, was the finish judge and in 1999 he was succeeded by his nephew, BDJ (Ben) Kent (Isis 1987), who does the job today. Ben’s eldest son, Josh, was the finish flagman in 2021 and 2022 and will do the job again this year. He won the Fawley at Henley with Marlow RC in 2013, rowed with the University of London and was in the silver medal winning GB U23 Coxed Four at the World U23 Championships in 2017. Whether Josh succeeds his father as the fifth Kent to be a Boat Race finish judge at some point in the future would ultimately be up to the Boat Race umpires panel.

James Baker c.1870 – 1944

James Baker was a stalwart of London Rowing Club from his joining in 1888 until his death in 1944, his club obituary noting that he “maintained a life-long and generous interest in the club’s activities.” Conversely, his competitive rowing career was fairly short with just one significant win, the Grand at Henley in 1890. 

In the first round of the 1890 Grand, London beat New College, Oxford, by two lengths, then Thames by 2 1/4 lengths, and then in the final, Brasenose College, Oxford, by 1 1/2 lengths. 

Chris Dodd’s 2006 history of LRC, Water Boiling Aft: London Rowing Club, The First 150 Years, says that the 1890 Henley Grand win was:

…an achievement attributed to three factors: firstly, “a totally new style of rowing”; secondly, a very much improved build of boat; thirdly the assistance of JD Stilwell, “who included the principles of the former and presided over the construction of the latter.” Unfortunately, details of the style and the boats are not recorded.

A picture from Water Boiling Aft showing London beating Brasenose College, Oxford, in the final of the 1890 Grand.

A year later, 1891, Baker was in London’s Grand and Wyfold crews. In the first rounds, London were beaten by a Kingston crew in the Wyfold fours, but LRC beat another Kingston crew in the Grand eights. In the second and final round of the Grand, London were beaten by a Leander crew that was composed of some of the greatest Oxford oarsmen of the age, including the Nickalls brothers, Lord Ampthill, WAL Fletcher, RPP Rowe and CW Kent.

Later that year, a Thames and a London crew of similar makeup to their Henley 1890 Grand boats (including Baker) raced in Molesey’s prestigious Senior Eights, London “winning after a magnificent struggle by a quarter of a length only” according to The Times.   

The next year, 1892, Baker was back in LRC’s Henley Grand entry. However, they were beaten “easily” by Thames in the first round. The embarrassment of losing to their Putney neighbours was increased by suffering a boat-stopping crab in the first thirty-seconds.

1893 was Baker’s last year in a LRC Grand crew. In the first round, London beat First Trinity BC, Cambridge, by over a length and in the second round outpaced Thames to win by two lengths. In the final, they lost to Leander’s mix of Oxford and Cambridge oarsmen by 1 3/4 lengths.

Between 1893 and 1896, Baker entered some club events and rowed in the LRC eight that “paced” Oxford or Cambridge for short distances during their pre-Boat Race training. These were probably his last pieces of competitive rowing. 

A picture marking LRC winning the Stewards, the Wyfold and the Grand at Henley in 1930. The Grand had not been London’s since Baker and his crew mates had won it forty years earlier. Baker (centre front marked ‘x’) has Lord Ampthill, LRC President, sitting on his immediate right.

The LRC Annual Report covering the wartime years, 1940 to 1945, records that an Emergency Board was created at the outbreak of war and Baker chaired a sub-committee dealing with finance, insurance, taxation, the requisitioning and letting of the Club premises, and the maintenance of the boats and the contents of the clubhouse. These mundane tasks were all very necessary if LRC was to survive the war in some sort of fit shape to carry on again. The fact that it did was possibly Baker’s greatest legacy to his beloved club.

Thanks to London RC archivist, Julian Ebsworth, for much of this information on Baker.

Lest this sort of post makes us romanticise “the good old days”, I suppose we should remember that those immortalised by May and who led largely very agreeable lives of rowing, collecting butterflies and ruling other people’s countries were a very small and very privileged part of the population.

Three years ago, I concluded May Time I by writing:

These drawings from the 1920s depict men then in old age who, they would claim, were from the “Golden Age” of British rowing, the 1880s and 1890s. This was a period when all agreed that the only style of rowing was the orthodox “English Style” and when few foreigners threatened the apparently effortless superiority of the nation that had, if not invented, then at least codified the sport. Most of those captured by Fred May’s pen lived to see these certainties demolished.

Fred May included American sculler Walter Hoover in both his 1922 and 1925 impressions of Henley. A single post devoted to Hoover follows soon.

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