The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Guinness RECL

Guinness, Rupert Edward Cecil Lee (Lord Iveagh)Edit

“Rupert” (Spy), November 9, 1905Edit

Rupert Edward Cecil Lee Guinness, the heir to Viscount Iveagh and appropriate millions, is a plump, square, well-complexioned young man, who looks out upon a friendly world with a shrewd good nature.

At Eton he set himself to the oar with the best will in the world. He won the School Sculling in ‘92, and rowed in the fine Eton eight which won the Ladies’ Plate at Henley in ‘93. He looked sweet in his blue coat, as was then universally admitted. Arriving in due course at Cambridge, he was welcomed by “Third Trinity” as a valuable rowing asset. He won the Diamonds at Henley in ‘95 and the Diamonds and Wingfield Sculls in ‘96. But he had the bad luck to develop a weakness of heart, which kept him from his place in the Cambridge eight. Since his University days he has served in Africa with the Irish hospital, and become a politician, a Director of the London and North-Western, a member of the L.C.C., and the commander of the London Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, whose saucey fleet lies proudly at anchor off Blackfriars Bridge. He is contesting Haggerston, and his supporters in that constituency are confident of his success, as is ever the custom of their kind.

He used to hunt before he motored. He is quite a good shot. He is a strong Tariff Reformer. His popularity in Haggerston is not diminished by his generosity and the interest he takes in the Workmen’s Rowing Club on the Lee. He is not a great orator, but has a breezy, direct style of speaking which scores his points and tells on political platforms. He is a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, but is rarely ill at sea. He has a taste for old furniture, and has of late been adorning his new house in St. James’s Square. He is most fortunately and happily married. He never gambles; but he has had adventures.

Rupert Edward Cecil Guinness (1874-1967) joined Thames R.C. while a Cambridge undergraduate to have a London base to train with Bill East, the 1891 English professional sculling champion. “[A]lthough not what any one would term a born sculler,” Guy Nickalls recalled, “[Guinness] confined himself to sculling and obtained useful proficiency by dint of long and careful practice with East.”[1] This “useful proficiency” included beating Guy or his brother Vivian or both to win the Diamonds and the Wingfield Sculls in 1895 and 1896, a hard thing to do those years. Many years later Guinness, then head of the family firm, rewarded East by setting him up as landlord of the Three Pigeons pub in Richmond.[2] Until being moved to the Henley River and Rowing Museum, the boat that carried Guinness’ thirteen-stone hung in the balcony of the Thames R.C., of which he was president from 1911 until his death fifty-six years later. He was also president of the National Amateur Rowing Association.

Vanity Fair featured Guinness before his unsuccessful 1906 run for Parliament. He won the Haggerston seat two years later, lost it in 1910, and was reelected in 1912 for southeast Essex -- the seat F.C. Rasch, another Eton and Third Trinity oarsman, had held from 1886 to 1908. Guinness kept it until 1927, when on the death of his father he became the Earl of Iveagh and chairman of Arthur Guinness, Son & Co., Ltd. Despite the responsibilities of running a major brewing company he spent considerable time and money throughout his life on science and philanthropy, in recognition for which he became chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin and of the University of Reading and a fellow of the Royal Society. He was a governor of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine endowed by his father, and founded the Wright-Fleming Institute of Microbiology. Guinness also funded research at the Rothamsted Institute (formerly owned by yet another Eton and Third Trinity oarsman, C.B. Lawes), and advanced dairy farming through bottling and sterilization methods to reduce the incidence of bovine tuberculosis, among other measures. By the end of his life, Elveden, his Suffolk estate, became the largest dairy farm in England, producing over a half a million gallons of milk per year. Like his rowing career -- fueled by a vision, will power, and resources -- “[t]he experiment succeeded largely because of Lord Iveagh’s driving persistence and determinination to carry it through and because he had the means to experiment on so large a scale, and the resources to be able to accept losses on the farm in the early years before the enterprise could become fully efficient and eventually profitable.”^

Henley 1895 and 1896: The Diamond ScullsEdit

Vivian Nickalls, Guy’s younger brother, beat Rupert Guinness in the 1894 Diamonds by three-quarters of a length. The following year Guinness returned the favor on Guy, who at the time had already raced for (and won) the Pairs, the Stewards’, and the Wyfolds, the second being in his opinion “a really magnificent race, ding-dong the whole damned way over the course” against a “very hot Thames R.C. four” that included S.D. Muttlebury. Guinness, by contrast, “confined his efforts to sculling” and thus had only had “two nice gentle pipe-openers and no race out of him that day.”^ W.B. Woodgate, who in his day likewise raced several events at one regatta, enjoyed Guinness’ performance but sympathized with the tired Nickalls in Vanity Fair (July 18, 1895):

It was temporary insanity of Guy Nickalls, glutton for work and stayer though he is, to tackle a vastly improved sculler like young Guinness in the final “Diamonds” heat after the severe prior races and on the leeward station, while Guinness was fresh. Guy Nickalls struggled grandly all the way, but could never get on level terms with his man. Only those who have gone to the post a second and third time in a day, after punishing races, can realise the actual pain of warming up stiff and tired muscles in the first half of the race, and the limp feeling of weariness towards the close, when depleted muscle can no longer strain to its normal power. Guinness has now got his hands beautifully level, both on entry and on feather; his sliding also has much improved; he might still nurse his slide a trifle later after the first catch, and emulate Hanlan’s actions; but anyhow he is already high-class, and will become a clinker.

Guy Nickalls had pulled a bicep at Henley but three weeks later met Guinness again, in the Wingfield Sculls, which he recounted thus:

I was a fool to go for the Wingfield’s, three weeks later, as I should have known that if an arm once gives on the tideway it nearly always goes again, and that is exactly what happened. When I was leading comfortably at the Doves my arm suddenly went again, and as he passed me, I told Rupert he need not hurry as my arm had given out. Opposite Thorneycroft’s he hit a log, and knocked a slice off the blade of his scull, which made his work all lop-sided. Above Barnes my pilot kept shouting to me to go on, but I shook my head. It was impossible with my arm to make any effort when, suddenly, I found myself catching him and at last level, and, only twenty yards to go, I made a despairing effort, got ahead, and then the gate of my swivel burst open. Out came my scull and overboard I went, and we both literally floated together over the winning post, but, as he was in his boat and I was not, he naturally won, and my only salve came some two days later when my brother Vivian beat him in the final and won his third [Metropolitan] Championship.

The next year, in 1896, Guinness met and beat Vivian Nickalls in the Diamonds. Woodgate’s verdict for Vanity Fair (July 16, 1896):

The sculling was of a higher class than I can remember. I have seen better scullers than Guinness, the winner -- e.g., Guy Nickalls -- when at his best, the late T.C. Edwardes-Moss and (young) Frank Playford; but I never saw so many rivals each of whom was better than many a man whose name stands on the silver plates of the Diamonds box -- V. Nickalls, Swann, and Beaumont as instances. To have been the best in such a field is of itself a record in the annals of the prize. V. Nickalls was handicapped by handling an oar in two other crews, while his opponents could stick solely to sculling. My estimate of the detraction of oars upon sculling practice is this: If A and B are dead-level scullers on the 1st of April, then A goes to work with an oar, and grinds regularly and hard in a crew (in order to keep that crew going, and to get it into condition), and only sculls in spare moments up to the 1st of July, while B meantime devotes himself solely to sculling, B will be some four lengths better in a nine minutes’ race than A by the 1st of July; and it will take A another two or three months exclusive sculling after that to get back to level terms with B.

The reason is that the main speed in sculling depends on level actions of hands -- into the water and out of it. If one hand gets one-twentieth of a second start or a fraction of an inch more stretch, or one blade varies one degree of an angle in the water, the boat turns to the pressure: then the advantage stolen by the one hand has to be abandoned and eased off before the end of the same stroke, in order to bring the keel straight. All this is waste of powder and loss of speed. Now, an oar does not work a man all through in one plane; hence it tends to produce some irregularity in sculling action when the oarsman presently uses the same muscles from a sculling seat. Still more, the time spent at the oar is lost to sculling practice.


  1. ^ G. Nickalls, Life’s a Pudding, p. 208.
  2. ^ G. Page, Hear the Boat Sing: The History of the Thames Rowing Club, p. 5.
  3. ^ Dictionary of National Biography.
  4. ^ G. Nickalls, pp. 118-19.