The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Dudley-Ward W

Dudley-Ward, WilliamEdit

“C.U.B.C” (Spy), March 29th, 1900Edit

William Dudley Ward is only twenty-three years old, but his grandfather, on his mother’s side, was the late Lord Esher; who, before he was Master of the Rolls, was No. 7 in a winning Cambridge Eight. So there was rowing blood in him when he went to Mr. Ainger’s House at Eton; and he fostered it by rowing in the Eton Eights of 1895 and 1896: winning the Ladies’ Plate on both occasions. At School he was Captain of the Boats, and a member of “Pop”; while he got his football colours at the wall game. Then he became a freshman at Trinity, Cambridge, and rowed No. 7 in the Eight which lost the race of ‘97. So he was made President of the C.U.B.C.; and fetched Fletcher of Oxford to coach his ‘98 crew: in which he rowed in spite of the doctors. He survived, and last year (the doctors having removed their embargo) he helped to beat Oxford for the first time in ten years. Now he again presides over the Light Blues, and again rows at No. 7 in an Eight which, according to the experts, have Saturday’s race at their mercy. Yet he has won nothing at Henley since he left Eton, nor has he rowed Head of the River, nor has he won the Fours at Cambridge: though he has won the Pairs twice. His hair is red, his complexion is pink, and he is smooth and plump and pleasing. His views on punctuality are not ascetic; as a correspondent he is not hasty, and as a keeper of engagements he is casual. Nevertheless, he hopes to take his degree in the summer.

He has been called “Duddie,” “The Terra Cotta Baby,” and “The Cheaper”; but he is generally known as “Dudley.”

When William Dudley-Ward (1877-1946) went up to Cambridge in 1896, the university had lost the Boat Race six times running. They lost again in 1897 at the hands of “the finest Oxford crew that has ever rowed,” in the judgment of the Official Centenary History, which “won as they liked” by two and a half lengths.”[1] “At this dark hour the C.U.B.C. elected as President its No. 7, freshman Dudley-Ward, another of Nickalls’ “absolute classics.”[2] It was an unprecedented promotion designed to give him “the maximum of time in which to pull Cambridge rowing together and unite or silence the warring factions,” a college captain later recalled.[3] That autumn Dudley-Ward brought over W.A.L. Fletcher to coach, proceeded to remove one or two old Blues, and

then called a meeting of college boat captains in the Goldie Boathouse under the chairmanship of R.C. Lehmann, who had been brought down to see fair play. It was certainly a dramatic occasion. Dudley Ward straightly accused certain persons of deliberately obstructing his efforts to select the most representative and best possible crew. The opposition could only bluster, and Dudley Ward won a complete victory, and in due course Cambridge won the boat race for the first time in 10 years.[4]

“Due course” meant two years later (1899), for in 1898 illness kept Dudley-Ward out of the race (VANITY FAIR was wrong about his participation) and, more significantly, a gale flooded the Cambridge boat, which would have sunk but for bladders stowed beneath the seats, allowing Oxford to ease home by about a quarter-mile. With better weather in 1899, Cambridge won by three and a quarter lengths and in 1900, with Dudley-Ward again President and Gold gone from Oxford, by twenty. “[The Cambridge 1900] crew and the Oxford one of 1897 stand in a class by themselves,” judged the Official Centenary History, so “it was unfortunate that Oxford brought to Putney one of the poorest that ever came from the Isis.”[5] So do fortunes change.

Dudley-Ward took his degree in 1903, having won the Goblets once (1902), the Grand twice (1902-03), and the Stewards’ three times (1901-03). He reportedly “had a liking for the fleshpots and was known, on occasions, to turn up for training still dressed in white tie and tails.”[6] From 1906 to 1922 he was Liberal M.P. for Southhampton, Treasurer for His Majesty’s household from 1909 to 1912, and Vice-Chamberlain from 1917 to 1922. During the 1914-18 war he was a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. On retirement from politics he divided his time between England and Canada, dying in Calgary in 1946 after an operation.

The 1899 Boat RaceEdit

Woodgate’s account in VANITY FAIR (March 30, 1899):

Cambridge practicing

The winning crew of Saturday’s Inter-’Varsity Boat Race will be shrined among crews such as Goldie’s 1870 crew, the Oxonians of 1875 and 1878, and other cracks, as being much above the average for speed and style. The merit of their style is due to the coaching which they received, and especially to that of Mr. Fletcher, the Oxonian, on whom fell the brunt of the tuition from the hour when Trial Eight preparation commenced in the autumn. They had undeniably the best of the stations, being to windward and on the inside of the river’s curve for the first two and a-half miles of the course. The wind blew stiffly, and made the leeward station a great drawback. If the stations had been reversed the handicap would have produced a pretty race; but on their form as displayed Cambridge should in the end have pulled through the disadvantage.

The best man in the two boats was Etherington-Smith, the Cantab President, whose father was in “Jack” Forster’s winning Grand Challenge crew of 1863. The Cantab No. 6, another very fine oar, is son of the No. 3 of Cambridge at Putney in 1862. The father of C.J.D. Goldie was even more celebrated in aquatic history, as most readers know; and the father of Gibbon, the Cantab stroke, a “dry bob” at Oxford, was notorious for showing season after season the most heart-breaking defence at cricket that ever tried the patience and temper of bowlers, and taking all the edge off their deliveries by the time that freer hitters came in. Such repetition of athletic merit to the several generations in fifty per cent. of a crew is an interesting statistic. It reminds one of Horace (Odes IV., 4):

Fortes creantur fortibus ac bovis,
Est in juvencis, est in equis patrum

The Oxford crew did by no means disgrace themselves against such high-class adversaries: they kept together and in stroke all through a hard, stern chase in stormy water. If all of them had copied the body action of their stroke, and had swung back and rowed it well out as he and No. 6 did, they would have been many lengths faster. Their salient failing was want of length of swing-back in the middle of the boat.

The steering of both coxswains was much above the average; both are Etonians, and by no means novices at rudder-lines, which explains their mutual merit on the first occasion that either has performed in a Putney race.

The boats used were two good ones. Oxford cannot have much excuse on this score, good though the Cantab ship was. A resumé of the speech Lord Justice Smith (in the chair at the dinner on the 25th) has appeared in sundry dailies, and has rather misrepresented his remarks on boat-building. What he said in effect was this: “It is well known that if a builder does his utmost to produce two or three actually alike boats, nevertheless one will generally be much the faster. Hence, never trust too much to obtaining an exact replica of any favourite vessel. I hear that Cambridge had a prima donna of a boat this year. If so, I would advise keeping her in lavender at Putney for another race, and spare her the concussion of being carted to Cambridge and back for next year, and of meantime being strained round the sharp corners of the Cam course.” This advice of the Lord Justice will be endorsed by every oarsman who has experience in the vicissitudes of boat-building.

The Lord Justice also preached from the chair a friendly, paternal, and hard-hitting homily against the recent cabals in Cantab aquatic circles, which disorganised the C.U.B.C. of late, until Fletcher arrived as dictator to reorganise. Fortunately those cabals have now been quenched, and it is to be hoped that after this latest brilliant example of what a united C.U.B.C. can achieve, we shall hear no more of them. Fletcher will now lay down his bâton at Cambridge and place his services and nerve at the disposal of his own University.


  1. ^ G.C. Drinkwater & T.R.B. Sanders, The University Boat Race: Official Centenary History, pp. 103-04.
  2. ^ G. Nickalls, Life’s a Pudding, p. 211.
  3. ^ Major-General J.H. Beith, quoted in The Times, Nov. 14, 1946.
  4. ^ Ibid.
  5. ^ G.C. Drinkwater & T.R.B. Sanders, The University Boat Race: Official Centenary History, p. 107.
  6. ^ R. Burnell & G. Page, The Brilliants: A History of the Leander Club, p. 82.
  7. ^ Either Woodgate or VANITY FAIR erred; “ac bovis” should be “et bonis”: “Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis / Est in juvencis, est in equis patrum / Virtus”: ‘Tis only from the sturdy and the good that sturdy youths are born.’ Homer’s fourth poem in the fourth book of Odes, written in 13 B.C. at the request of Caesar Augustus, celebrates the Claudian house and particularly Drusus, Augustus’ step-son, who had defeated marauders on the Roman frontier two years earlier. C. Bennett, Horace: Odes and Epodes, pp. 137, 371.