The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Angle BJ

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Angle, Bernard Jack

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“Jack in the Box” (F.C.G.), April 5, 1890

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It is only five-and-thirty years -- not five-and-forty, as most people believe -- since he was born at Hendon, where he rapidly developed much muscle and waxed exceedingly. Before he was eighteen years old he became quite well known in the athletic world. He rowed his first race on the River Lea eighteen years ago, and he has since won the Thames Cup and the Grand Challenge for the Thames Rowing Club; he devoted a space to running, and won pots at the London Athletic Club and at other meetings; and he became, and for long remained, a force among Rugby Unionists, and, playing for the Wasps’ Football team, used to throw opposing footballers about as a child throws tin soldiers. But having now become a popular member of the Stock Exchange and altogether a big man, he has put away childish things and has grown grey and staid. Yet he is still identified with every branch of athletic exercise, and much honoured in the observance thereof.

He has boxed many people with vigour, and is still quite a hard man to mark. And though he is now more bulky and less easily moved than he was, yet, being an honourable man, he is everywhere accepted as the fairest and best possible judge of other people’s performances with their fists. Consequently he is generally wanted when there is any sparring to be done. A practised swordsman, he is otherwise extremely well able to take care of himself, as frequenters of Angelo’s -- where he is often seen to illustrate the uses of both the small sword and the sabre -- well know. He is something of a seaman, for he holds a Board of Trade certificate of competency; and he has been a prominent member of the Corinthian Yacht Club. He has been seen with a gun; but he does not always hold it straight when it goes off.

Everyone likes “Jack,” in the box or out of it.

Bernard Jack Angle (1855-1932) rowed for the Thames R.C. at Henley from 1874 to 1878, winning the Thames Challenge Cup 1874 and the Grand in 1878. The 1878 crew was “one of the lightest and worst crews (as regards rowing form) that ever rowed for the Grand,” recalled “Piggy” Eyre, one of its members. “Angle was enormously strong, but muscle-bound, and inclined to pull with his arms at the finish, and too stiff altogether. He, however, really came on wonderfully during the Henley week, and, I do not doubt, was most effective in the race.”[1]

By the time Angle appeared in Vanity Fair, he had set down his oars and become a well-known boxing referee at the National Sporting Club, a sport for which the Thames R.C. and F.V. Brooks’ West London R.C. were known in their day. Angle and two non-rowing lights of the N.S.C. “were men of dress and address -- what used to be called ‘swells,’ in fact.”[2] For the transition from oarsman to referee, Angle owed something to Bill East, who won Doggett’s Coat and Badge in 1887 and the professional championship of England in 1891, rowed with C.W. Dilke and Rupert Guinness, and became the Thames R.C. boatman. East shared in Angle’s first fight under Prize Ring rules. “It was between two cabmen for a small stake,” Angle wrote, “and took place by moonlight on the Half Moon Ground, Putney. It was really good until a sudden interruption by the police caused a hurried retreat over a fence, which landed me in a pigsty, necessitating a plunge into the river, all standing.” A co-founder in 1881 of the Amateur Boxing Association, Angle by his own account refereed “the majority of the big fistic encounters decided in this country during a period of nearly forty years,”[3] as well as the 106-round Paris match between Jem Smith and Jake Kilrain on December 19, 1887, without ever entering the ring to control a fight. Not surprisingly then, Angle’s autobiography (“the story of fifty-five years of active association with manly games”) devotes almost 200 of its 250 pages to the sweet science: “There is nothing that men of British blood love and admire so much as hard, straight, clean hitting above the belt. It was by this means we taught the world to respect us.... [W]e punch and punish just as lustily and just as heartily as ever we did. That is one of the many revelations made by the War that we ought to be thankful for.”^

Gardeners and clerics take note: Francis Carruthers Gould, Vanity Fair’s artist, could hardly resist the visual puns of adorning Mr. Angle’s lapel with Arisaema triphyllum -- Jack in the Pulpit, with the man himself at the center of the flower -- and of having him stand at a religious lectern.

Henley 1878: Thames R.C. in the Grand

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In the 1878 final for the Grand, Thames faced off against a Jesus crew averaging a stone heavier and loaded with past and future Blues. “The general opinion among the cognoscenti,“ Angle recalled, was that “Thames, despite their splendid condition, had not the weight or power necessary to give them any chance of victory.”^ From B.J.’s angle, the race went thus:

Henley Regatta by Tissot, 1877

At the word “Go!” both crews got off on level terms, Jesus starting forty-two to our forty-four, but the great strength of the Cantabs soon began to tell its tale, and they gradually drew away from the lighter Thames crew. By the time Fawley was reached they had a lead of nearly a length, Thames still rowing forty-four, but directly Prest dropped his rate of stroke Thames began to come up, and he again had to quicken. His crew, however, were now plainly to feel the effects of the rapid stroke, and at the White House Thames came up, and before Poplar Point was reached had drawn ahead, and were leaving their opponents at every stroke. We continued to gain all round the bend, and were a quarter of a length clear when coming into the straight for home.

Prest now called on his men for a final effort, and a grand one it was. It really looked as if we might be beaten after all, but again our condition told its tale, and Hastie, still keeping his length without reducing his rate of stroke, stalled off the Jesus spurt, and amid a tornado of tideway cheers, drew clear away from the plucky Cantabs, to win by a good two lengths.

It is needless to say both crews finished in rather ragged form, Thames being the worse in this respect. As we passed under Henley Bridge an enthusiastic Thames man, who had only just arrived and was running over the bridge, caught a glimpse of us as we passed under, rowing in anything but good form. He took it for granted that we had been beaten. On rushing down to the landing-stage to utter words of sympathy and comfort, it is painful to relate that Hastie cut his commiseration short by telling him not to be such a past participled fool as not to know a winning crew from a losing one.^


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  1. ^ “Piggy” Eyre, quoted in R.C. Lehmann, The Complete Oarsman, p. 198.
  2. ^ A Journalist, Bohemian Days in Fleet Street, p. 282.
  3. ^ B.J. Angle, My Sporting Memories, p. 11.
  4. ^ Ibid., pp. 11-12.
  5. ^ Ibid., p. 217.
  6. ^ Ibid., pp. 220-21.