Oxford rowers at the 1890 Waterford Regatta

I am delighted to have this guest blog entry from Cian Manning of a vivid account of just one of the many historic races that took place in the regattas of the past in Waterford City. In this case, it reveals the visit of the Oxford rowers in 1890 who came to compete against some of the best Irish rowers of the era. Over to Cian to set the scene, and let us know how Waterford got on.

 On Tuesday 15th July 1890 the renowned Oxford and Liverpool (Mersey Club) crews were scheduled to compete against All-Ireland with notice of numerous entries promised from Clonmel, Dublin, Limerick, and New Ross in a regatta on the River Suir. The events were going to be accompanied by music from the Band of the Manchester Regiment playing from the Grandstand of the Waterford Boat Club. All the action was to be followed by a dinner at City Hall on the Mall, with tickets costing 10s each. It was the most eagerly anticipated event in the history of Irish rowing, as the Waterford City Regatta was about to play host to several high calibre teams that would compete against one another in exciting races. Previewing the excitement, the Waterford Mirror & Tramore Visitor noted:

…some of the crews are famous. An unprecedent fact is that of two English crews having entered, viz: Oxford and Mersey (Liverpool). The former is, of course, world-famed as the cradle of rowing, and the crew which will compete at Waterford, will probably, be a carefully selected one.

Waterford Mirror & Tramore Visitor

It was considered the first occasion on which a crew from Oxford competed in Ireland. The best teams on the island of Ireland were to be equally well represented with Dublin University sending several crews. The eagerly anticipated race for the senior fours was described as ‘a ding-dong one’ on a day filled with many attractions. Nevertheless, there was pragmatism about how Waterford representatives would get on against high calibre opponents. This, however, didn’t rule out hope, the Waterford Chronicle concluding “However, on their own [Waterford rowers] water the blue with white hoop will make a great race, and it will take a ‘nailing’ crew to beat them.”

A later era (1930s) but highlights the interest from spectators of regatta day. Image courtesy of Brendan Grogan. The ship in the mid river is the Clyde boat SS Rockabil.

 “…an occurrence of peculiar moment…’: OXFORD UNIVERSITY BOAT CLUB IN WATERFORD CITY

The appearance of the Oxford crew led the Standard to pronounce of the Waterford Regatta:

Within modern times it was always an event of importance in the rounds of amusements of the season, but this year it was regarded as an occurrence of peculiar moment, in which the reputation of the oarsmen of Urbs Intacta was supposed to be at stake.

Waterford Standard

Hospitality was provided for the Oxford crew and several of the Boat Club men, who were entertained and housed at the residence of Mr. Richard Hassard at Rockenham. He was the son of Michael Dobbyn Hassard of Glenville, who had represented Waterford City in the Imperial Parliament at Westminster. Richard had previously crewed with several of the Dublin University clubs and lived just outside the city centre in Ferrybank. Richard practiced as a solicitor in Waterford but died at the young age of 33 in late 1892 as a result of contracting typhoid fever. The Waterford Standard reports that the Oxford men were the guests of Charles E. Denny at his residence in May Park. The rest of the crews stayed at the Adelphi Hotel, which overlooked the course on the Suir for the day’s races.

Regatta day at Waterford c. 1900. Note original Boat Club building and terraced seating for public which was similar to the setting in July 1890. Photo courtesy of Brendan Grogan. A new boathouse was constructed in 1902.

Such was the anticipation, that many watched the crews’ final exercises that Monday evening before the day’s competitive rowing when the number of spectators was surpassed due to trains (which the Standard evocatively described as ‘iron horses’) bringing many visitors to the city to witness the day’s events. Many businesses in the city decided to give employees an afternoon off, with the Standard reporting ‘from one to two o’clock there was a partial suspension of commercial transactions, thus letting free a considerable number whose energies for the rest of the day were directed to securing the best view of the races.’ Crowds lined the Quayside from the Milford hulks as far as past the Market House. For those few hours on that July day, the atmosphere would rival the crackling anticipation of the world’s great sporting arenas, from the Circus Maximus in Ancient Rome to the banks of the River Thames on boat race day.

    ‘…a rare combination…’: the River Suir, sunrays & soaking rain

And Waterford, as it appeared to me from the boat, which was floating me across from the ferry steps, under the welcome effulgence of that returned prodigal, the Sun, and on a magnificent tide which exhibited to striking advantage the splendid stretch of the Waterford Course, and as if inviting people to come forth and make the most of such a rare combination of the elements.

Waterford Chronicle

Though with such idyllic conditions it wasn’t long before the rain would arrive in flourishes and eventually a torrential downpour for the rest of the regatta which saw many of the women in attendance depart as they were dressed in ‘summer costumes’ which were not practical for the lashing precipitation that had engulfed that summer’s day. The Manchester Regiment’s band played at the Boat House as a precursor to a local Amateur Band playing at the Mall later that evening. The Waterford Boat Club’s Grandstand was decorated with many flags, which were matched by bunting on many vessels anchored at the port.

However, not everything was as serene as there was no rest for the ferry which was nearly brought to a point of complete exhaustion. This was partially due to the ferry boat not being fit to cater for such huge volumes, with one local paper suggesting it was of antediluvian origin. Thus, in evoking Genesis (from the Bible, not Phil Collins) it seemed appropriate that the day’s racing was drenched by such torrid rain and a West to South-Westerly wind blowing.

The Peoples Regatta of 1925 programme. Images courtesy of Brian Forristal. I think it gives a good sense of the popularity, the planning and the prestige associated with the river regattas

The evening banquet held in City Hall to honour the visit of the Oxford crew (you’ll note the lack of Mersey representation in the day’s events which would point to a change of plans) to Waterford saw many well-known local figures and competing oarsmen hosted by Alderman Mahony, High Sheriff of Waterford in the absence of the Mayor. Sadly, we lack descriptions of the day’s racing, as the local Regatta Committee did not provide the press with the adequate facilities to witness the action and provide suitable reportage in their subsequent publications. The big race of the day was the Waterford Challenge Cup, valued at £50, with presentation prizes valued at £20; for any class of four-oared boat with the course stretching to around 1 ½ mile. Nevertheless, with an absence of colour to the rowing proceedings (other than the Munster Express recording that the races were ‘fairly well contested’) we know the result was:

First place – Dublin University Boat Club (black and white)

N ‘Kaye’ (bow), A ‘Catesby’, R Bleasby, H.A. Elgee (stk), H.A. Cowper (cox)

Second – Waterford Boat Club (navy blue and white)

T.F. Sheedy (bow), C.W. Mosley, B.C. Manning, W.J. Manning (stk), A. Farrell (cox)

Third – Oxford University Boast Club (dark blue)

A.W. Mahaffy (bow), C. Parker, R.P.P. Rowe, J. MacLachlan (stk), A. Cowper (cox)

The Waterford Boat Club crew didn’t disgrace themselves in obtaining a runner-up position that was made even more illustrious by beating an in the form Oxford. The most notable member of the Oxford crew at that Waterford meet was R.P.P. Rowe, who competed in the famous Boat Race from 1889 to 1892, winning three of the four races over Cambridge. Rowe attended Clifton College in Bristol (where he would form connections with the Old Vic) and Magdalen College at Oxford University. He later became President of the Oxford University Boat Club in 1892. However, this fails to adequately convey what a generous and remarkable figure the Waterford Boat Club hosted that summer.

A Poole photo of the 1901 regatta, the originals are held by the NLI and this image was shared by Paul O’Farrell on Facebook previously, with a link to the photo on the NLI site where the image can be viewed including the boat house and crowd in higher definition.

SIR REGINALD PERCY PFEIFFER ROWE (1868-1945): OXFORD OARSMAN & PUBLISHED PHILANTHROPIST

His full name was Reginald Percy Pfeiffer Rowe and was born on 11th  April 1868 in West Derby, Liverpool. The Rowe family later moved to Paddington and after attending Clifton, Reginald obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1891 having read history. Three years later, he completed a Master of Arts degree. In 1896, he applied for membership as a ‘Jobber’ in the London Stock Exchange and came to reside at Kensington in London. We know from the 1911 census that he then worked as Secretary of the New University Club at 57 St. James Street in Westminster. Upon the outbreak of the First World War, R.P.P. Rowe, at 46 years of age, joined the committee of the United Arts Volunteer Force and after two months of drilling he was gazetted as a Captain in the 6th Battalion, the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment in December 1914. After finishing serving with the Military Intelligence Directorate, Rowe published a book titled the Concise Chronicle of Events of the Great War. For his military service, Reginald Rowe was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal 1914-1918, and the Victory Medal.

Reginald Percy Pfeiffer Rowe (1882)

An eternal student, Rowe later qualified as a barrister and resided at 16 Old Square, Lincoln’s Inn, and served as Under Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn at the New Hall. From 1900, Rowe served as Chairman of the Improved Tenements Association and was the Founder and Honorary Treasurer of the Sadler’s Wells Fund. A man of many talents, Rowe wrote two novels, a play titled ‘The Worst of Being William’ and many poems. Other publications included The Root of All Evil (printed by the Economic Reform Club, of which he served as President for a time) and a popular book on rowing produced by the Badminton Library. In the 1934 New Year’s Honours List, he was made a Knight Bachelor for his services in combating slum conditions in London and across England. Rowe died aged 76 on 21st January 1945 at Charing Cross Hospital in Westminster.

 EPILOGUE

One ponders what a loss to the city that the razzamatazz of the regatta at the Old Boat Club clubhouse to the prominence of the course on the River Suir that allowed spectators to form along the city’s Quayside which created a spectacle and an occasion that even saw businesses shuttering their shops to witness the day’s rowing and racing. We see how sport had increasingly become a huge part of the public and social life of Ireland’s oldest city, and is reflected in the important civic figures that supported and organised such events. Furthermore, in the figure of R.P.P. Rowe, we have one of the great figures of British sport who went on to become a hugely influential personality in a crusade to improve the living conditions of the poor. It seems more than appropriate that Sir Reginald competed in one race for Oxford in the shadow of the iconic Reginald’s Tower, you could say it illustrates the modern concept of ‘game recognises game’. If that fortified tower was built as a statement of power and defence then Reginald Rowe was certainly a worthy namesake in his crusade in housing and sporting endeavours.

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