The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Rowe GD

Rowe, George DuncanEdit

“A Celebrated Oarsman who prefers cricket to rowing and golf to both” (Spy), July 4, 1906Edit

Mr. George Duncan Rowe was born forty-nine years ago in a South American Republic. He came to England and commenced to educate himself at Marlborough College. He played in the Cricket Eleven of that school; if he missed a catch or made a blob he always handed in his resignation (which was never accepted) to Plumpton Wilson, the captain. From Marlborough he went to University, Oxford, and found his way into the Eight. In 1879 he was in the beaten crew, but in 1880 was President, and won. He helped to take his college boat to the head of the River, and to keep it there.

He is a veteran member of the Leander Committee, and has been Honorary Secretary and Captain of the Club. To his efforts is mainly due the erection of the fine Club-house at Henley, and he has always taken a hand in schemes that make for the Club’s prosperity and reputation. He is a steward of Henley Regatta, and represents O.U.B.C. to the Committee of the Amateur Rowing Association.

He is a partner in the firm of Rowe and Pitman, stockbrokers, and is very prosperous. He sings, and was a member of the Magpies; but retired because there was too much Brahms for his taste. He also plays croquet and the piano. At Univ. he was such a model of propriety that he was one of the few undergraduates who were not sent down after certain regrettable incidents. His character has not degenerated with the effuxion of time.

He is believed to prefer cricket to rowing, and golf to cricket; but he rowed better than he played cricket, and is a better cricketer than golfer.

Leander Club, Henley-on-Thames, c. 1898

George Duncan Rowe (1857-1934) went head of the river at Oxford with University College in 1877 and 1878, and rowed in the Boat Race in 1879 and 1880. He was president of the O.U.B.C. the latter year, succeeding W.H. Grenfell. He co-captained Leander in 1883. As secretary (1887-97), he helped secure Temple Island for a Leander enclosure when the club was still based at Putney and orchestrated the construction of the Henley boathouse a decade later. It “is a great institution for that Club,” wrote Vanity Fair (July 22, 1897), “with a site on the bank close to the bridge, coffee and reading rooms, twenty bedrooms, ladies’ coffee-room, and a verandah balcony round two sides of the building. For luxury no modern rowing club house can come near it, and the architecture makes it a thing of beauty, and in full keeping with the weeping willow villa which it adjoins.” In 1900, he made the White House Meadow, where the Remenham Club and Regatta enclosure now stand, available as an enclosure for Leander members in lieu of Temple Island. Club president from 1919 to his death in 1934, Rowe would offer up his resignation at the annual dinner, to find it ignored and be “unanimously and uproariously reelected for another year.”[1]

Of the Vanity Fair rowing prints, none but Rowe’s mentions golf. Although the sport originated centuries ago in Scotland as every pilgrim to St. Andrews knows, it did not become popular in England until the very end of the nineteenth century, as part of the broader surge in Victorian recreational sport. It then came in “with an almost comical rattle,” recalled W.B. Woodgate. “When I left Oxford [in 1867] not one Southron in five hundred could have explained the meaning of a ‘tee’ or a ‘caddy,’ and would have deemed the interrogator to be punning as to the ‘cup which cheers, but not inebriates.’ In the sixties, seventies and eighties, when I now and then played in North Britain, it was looked upon by every nine out of ten of my Scottish friends as a mere stop-gap to kill time on a non-sporting day, and not a subject for life’s devotion any more than billiards.”[2]

Toilettes for Henley WeekEdit

In its early and middle years Vanity Fair limited its remarks on rowing fashion to such items as Woodgate’s occasional slash at unsanctioned “blazers.” En route to the 1914 absorption into the women’s magazine Hearth and Home, Vanity Fair started carrying such articles as Mary Howarth’s “Toilettes for Henley Week: Fashions the River Gods Approve,”appearing in the same issue as Mr. Rowe:

The liquid tones of the river gods beguile us to Henley this week, where there are fascinations, material as well as aquatic, though I write a little too soon to be able to state whether the elements will be favourable to so sylvan a fête as the Regatta. I only know that there have been some very pretty and dainty dresses and also some charming specimens of millinery prepared for the event. Specially have I approved the white handkerchief lawn gowns, with their wealth of plumetis embroidery, and the blanche linen skirts, quaintly made en corselet, with short pleated jackets to match, worn with a pair of blue or mahogany brown suède gloves to match, and white hat with soft blue or brown ribbon on it to match.


Last week’s heavy downpour has freshened the country most delightfully. How green is the wheat now, already heavy in the ear, and how scarlet are the poppies; how the wild roses gem the verdant hedgerow. Everything is essentially juvenile, and so must the Henley toilette be (I refer to its newness or freshness), or perish the hope of its success.

It would be ungrateful to the dressmakers to forget to mention the practical little toilettes they are presenting in checked zephyr; simplest and least pretentious of fabrics, but most effective for a river fête. The chance of introducing a touch of daring colour is possible when a black and white zephyr is chosen that permits a little cherry coloured silk to figure as an outline to the soft white mousseline vest, and about the high collar of the same fabric. That most useful adjunct, the sunshade, may be requisitioned to intensify the brightness of the cherry shade, and thus to throw up the cool black and white check of the gown.

The simpler the muslin frock the better for Henley week. White haircord and coloured dimities may prove the most successful of frocks. Then for older wearers it would be foolish to forget the very soft glossy foulards that are so useful, and Tokio silk that makes so graceful a dress for a club lawn.


  1. ^ The Times, Feb. 8, 1934, p. 16b.
  2. ^ W.B. Woodgate, Reminiscences of an Old Sportsman, pp. 478-79.