Crewcial Collectables: Another Family Heirloom

The silver tray inherited by Jane Schofield-Almond from her grandmother was the presentation prize received by Edward Wright for winning the Dodder Challenge Cup at Dublin Metropolitan Regatta on 18 July 1888. The previous year, the prizes were silver goblets; the declared value of the five trophies presented to the crew and coxswain both years were valued at £15. In purchasing power, that is equivalent to about £2,500 today or £500 per tray.

7 April 2023

By Greg Denieffe

Greg Denieffe scratches a seven-year itch and falls down a rabbit hole.

In late December 2015, HTBS ran one of my early Crewcial Collectable pieces, one about an 1889 prize won by Pembroke Rowing Club, Dublin, member Arthur MacDonald Andrews. That piece resulted from an enquiry by Andrews’ son Simon and a recent comment on that piece by Jane Schofield-Almond sent me scurrying down the same rabbit hole, but this time there was more than a trophy heirloom at the bottom.

One of Andrews’ crewmates in 1889, Edward Wright, was Jane’s great-grandfather, and she has a tray he won at the previous year’s Dublin Metropolitan Regatta. Perhaps even rarer is the photograph she has of the 1888 Pembroke crew that won the Dodder Challenge Cup, which at that time was an event for ‘gentlemen who have not attained their 21st year, and who have never won a race, unrestricted to class of boat, at a public regatta’. It is the first photograph of a Pembrook R. C. crew that neither I nor Irish Rowing archivist, Kieran Kerr, have seen.

Pembroke Rowing Club 1870 – 1908.

Pembroke R. C.’s existence was short and, for a period, sweet. The first Dublin Metropolitan Regatta was held in July 1869, and less than a year later, Pembroke had joined several other clubs renting premises along Thorncastle Street in Ringsend, where the River Dodder enters the tidal stretch of the River Liffey. This extract from Raymond Blake’s history of rowing at Trinity College, Dublin, In Black & White (1991), describes the relationship between the two clubs and Pembroke’s demise:

The Pembroke Rowing Club, founded in 1870, had enjoyed an early period of prosperity, but the advent of the twentieth century saw it going into a steady decline, during which time it came to rely more and more upon the good offices of DUBC. From the time, in March 1904, when the committee decided to give an old boat to Pembroke, until it was finally wound up some time in 1908, a close liaison existed between the two clubs. Pembroke boats were stored in the DUBC clubhouse for a year, and its members were allowed the use of the premises. In April 1907 it looked as if the ailing club was reviving, for DUBC received a request that Pembroke be allowed to construct a temporary clubhouse on Trinity’s land but it was all to no avail, and a final chapter in the history of Pembroke RC was written in February 1909, and DUBC gratefully acknowledged receipt of £20, being the balance in hand of the now defunct club, and agreed to put it towards the purchase of a trophy for Trial Eights. This piece of silverware, one of the finest that the club possesses, is used every year at the Trial Eights Supper for the ‘Pembroke Punch’. The toasting of the old club is a measure of the affection in which Pembroke was held by the members of DUBC in the early years of this century.

Between 1875, the year of their first victory, and 1900, Pembrook R. C. won thirty-five events at the Metropolitan Regatta. Of these, eleven were senior events comprising of eight wins in The Eblana Challenge Cup and Scullers’ Championship of Ireland, and three in the Civic Challenge Cup (senior pair). Two names stand out in the club’s history: C. G. White, three times Irish champion sculler between 1878 and 1880 (he also won it in 1876 sculling for London R. C.), and Walter Kelly, who managed five Irish sculling championships between 1883 and 1889 and added the pairs title in 1886.

According to R. M. Peter in his 1893 book Dublin Metropolitan Regattas 1869 – 1892, it was he “who so christened Pembroke Rowing Club” in 1870. He also noted that Walter Kelly, “the well-known sculler”, died the previous year. I believe that Kelly and Peter were friends because, not only were they Pembroke men, they were rugby men; both were members of Wanderers Football Club based at Lansdowne Road, Dublin (the home of Irish international rugby). Kelly was Wanderers’ secretary in 1880 while Peter was on the club committee and at the same time, he was secretary to the IRFU, the governing body for the whole country. Kelly did not successfully defend his sculling title in 1884, probably because he was prioritising rugby, and that year, he won his only rugby international cap for Ireland against Scotland in Glasgow. He was only 38 years old when he died of heart disease on 15 November 1892.

In 1883, Pembroke R. C. was one of the founding members of the Irish Amateur Rowing Association. The disputed definition of ‘amateur status’ led to it being disbanded three years later. When the Irish Amateur Rowing Union was formed in 1899, Pembroke was one of only eight clubs willing to bind themselves together as the national governing body for rowing in Ireland, and they even provided its first secretary, Herbert C. Cook. The next major development in Irish rowing was the migration of clubs from Ringsend to Islandbridge. It began in 1898 when Dublin University Boat Club made the move, and other clubs soon followed. Despite the help given by DUBC to Pembroke (see above) to move to the non-tidal stretch of the River Liffey, the club colours of black and amber disappeared from Irish waters in 1908.

Edward Wright

For me, Edward Wright represents 99% of people who ever become involved in rowing. They learn to row, race for a few years and gain a modicum of success before leaving the sport behind. Without them, there would be very little racing. They treasure their pots as much as the 1% who win senior events or those who pick up Henley medals.

Pembroke Rowing Club, winners of the Dodder Challenge Cup at Dublin Metropolitan Regatta in 1888. Second from the left is Edward Wright (Bow), and the coxswain with the silverware is F. Kennedy. R. Manning (2), R. Forest (3) and B. Kinahan (Stroke) were the other members of the crew.

Pembroke’s colours were amber and black, and four of the crew pictured are wearing ribbons displaying those colours. In addition, the coxswain is wearing a club blazer and cap, and a two-toned tie, perhaps amber down the centre with black edging. On close examination, I think the photographer has touched up the plate, blackening eyebrows, moustaches, and eye pupils and adding a little hair to the man standing behind the cox. Photo editing has come a long way in 135 years.

The meeting of the waters around the end of the nineteenth century. The mouth of the River Dodder, viewed from the River Liffey. On the left are the boathouses of Ringsend rowing clubs. Look carefully and you will see several rowers kitted out and ready for training. At the time that Edward Wright boated from here, the clubs racing at Metropolitan Regatta included: Commercial Rowing Club, Dolphin Rowing Club, Neptune Rowing Club, Pembroke Rowing Club, University Boat Club, and University Rowing Club.

Why Edward Wright, a medical student, chose Pembroke R. C. over the other clubs in Ringsend will probably never be known. Their members were indeed drawn from the middle and upper-middle classes but so too was the membership of Neptune Rowing Club (no relation to the current Dublin club of the same name) and Dublin University Rowing Club accepted academics and non-academics from outside the university. Perhaps it was because he had no previous rowing experience and they were happy to take in beginners. What is known is that his win at the 1888 Dublin Metropolitan Regatta may never have happened owing to dreadful weather. Scheduled for two days, Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th July, the first day was cancelled before any racing took place and rescheduled for the following day. Conditions improved overnight but were still difficult. Organisers managed to complete the first day’s racing and added a third day, Wednesday 18th, to finish the programme. Irish Rowing was certainly a sport for gentlemen amateurs.

The Dodder Challenge Cup was a Ringsend affair, with four of the neighbouring clubs entering crews. In the first heat, the two Dublin University clubs – Rowing and Boat – faced each other with the Boat Club winning by 2½ lengths. A foul spoiled the second heat between the Pembroke and Commercial clubs. Pembroke came away the better and won easily before facing an appeal which went in their favour. The final between Pembroke and University Boat Club was the race of the whole regatta. At the finish, the judge awarded victory to Pembroke by two feet and Edward Wright had his first win at Metro.

In 1889, he raced in an eight and won again, picking up another nice piece of silverware for winning the Visitors’ Challenge Cup. This event was the subject of the original Crewcial Collectable piece that prompted Jane to contact HTBS.

Unfortunately, The Irish Rowing archive does not have the regatta programmes for either 1888 or 1889. It does have those for 1887 and 1890 and yes, Edward Wright returned in 1890 to compete at his third Metropolitan Regatta, once again in the ‘Junior’ eights event: The Visitors’ Challenge Cup. Alas, victory this year went to Commercial Rowing Club racing in their original colours of Crimson.

Plan of the race course for Dublin Metropolitan Regatta taken from the 1885 Programme. Except for 1937 and 1938, this was the course used between 1869 and 1939.
A familiar sight to Edward Wright. Dublin Metropolitan Regatta (1885) with the winning post denoted by the red flag. Picture: Irish Rowing Archives via David Porteus.

I have an original black-and-white copy of the above hand-coloured print. It was published as the bottom half of page 492, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 25 July 1885. The captions for the various sketches read as follows: Nicholas Proud Esq. Hon Sec to Regatta Committee & Port & Docks Board; Grasping the opportunity; Claude Byrne 1885 – The eight-oar race – the Commercial club to the fore; On the promenade – J. Swain. Eng; Our artist gets a bird’s-eye view from the top of the grandstand.

Byrne, based in Dublin, was the illustrator, and Swain, based in London, was the engraver. Proud had a Challenge Cup named in his honour by the regatta committee but his biggest claim to fame is his inclusion by James Joyce as a character in his experimental novel Finnegans Wake.

Edward Wright in later life.

Jane was able to supply me with some interesting information about her great-grandfather:

Edward Wright was studying medicine in Dublin – Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (LRCS) and Licence of the Royal College of Physicians of London (LRCP) – and later became a GP, firstly in Glasgow and then in Paddington, London. He and his wife had seven children, the eldest of whom was my grandmother.

My elderly cousin, who died recently, left his daughters all of Edward’s papers. Among them, we discovered a letter from the Home Office dated 1918 stating that Edward Wright had been awarded the OBE for his civilian bravery in saving five ladies from a house in Warrington Crescent that had been bombed in a Zeppelin raid on London just before midnight on 7 March 1918.

An official IWM photograph of Edward Wright (right) standing with George V (centre) and the Prince of Wales (left) at the Warrington Crescent bombsite in March 1918.

Edward Wright was a man we, his family, and the rowing fraternity, can be proud of. Sadly, he died aged 53 in February 1921 on account of his efforts to save those ladies – he never fully recovered from the damage the dust did to his lungs.

One comment

  1. My late father, Nicholas George Proud, 1920 – 1998 was a grand nephew of Nicholas Proud mentioned in the article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.