The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Bankes JE

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Bankes, John Eldon[edit | edit source]

“Good Form” (Spy), March 29, 1906[edit | edit source]

Mr. John Eldon Bankes is, like Mr. Roosevelt, an advocate of the strenuous life. For an Eton boy he was singularly unassuming; and, when the aquatic honour of rowing for his school in the Henley of ‘72 was bestowed upon him, Johnny still preserved his modesty of demeanor. The same year found him at “Univ.,” and in 1875 he was given a place in the Oxford crew that rowed a winning race against their rival University. He was secretary to the O.U.B.C. and president of the Eton Club and Vincents.

His paternal great-grandfather having been a Lord Chancellor, and his maternal grandfather a Lord Chief Justice, he was forced by heredity into the law. Entering the Inner Temple, he was a pupil of the present Lord Chief Justice. His legal career has been smooth and triumphant. He took silk with a diffidence that was not appropriate to the occasion. His practice is very large, and he has not an enemy to grudge him his good fortune. His recent appointment to be a Fellow of Eton College gave equal pleasure to his old schoolfellows and to himself.

Had the women and children of the Flintshire boroughs been voters, Mr. Bankes would now have enjoyed the questionable honour -- in this Parliament, at least -- of writing M.P. after his name. But the effervescence of his opponent overbore the logic of his speeches. He married in ‘82, and has been blessed with a quiverful. He is loved as a landlord, and his pheasants are as lofty as any in Wales. He conducts his cases like a courteous gentleman, and is a standard of legal good form. His charming manners and handsome face will adorn the Bench no less admirably than they have ornamented the Bar.

Aside from the Eton and Boat Race rowing mentioned above, John Eldon Bankes (1854-1946) won the Visitors’ at Henley for University College, Oxford in 1875 and 1876, and rowed in the Stewards’ (1875, for University College) and the Grand (1876, for the “Oxford Mixture” of Brasenose and University). At Oxford, he was head of the river in 1874 and 1875, and won the University Fours in 1873 and 1875.

After his unsuccessful run for Parliament in 1905, Bankes practised law another five years before being appointed to the High Court in 1910 where, according to his Times obituary, he proved “patient, unprejudiced, and, moreover, knew the rules of the game.” He moved to the Court of Appeal in 1915, retiring in 1927. “There have been more learned Judges, but few, if any, have won such universal admiration and respect.”[1]

Henley Society and House Boats[edit | edit source]

From the early 1870s through the late 1880s, Vanity Fair reported virtually no rowing. Woodgate was off the case. Only Henley attracted notice, and then purely for its social appeal, which had risen steadily and made the place the late-June destination for luxurious house-boats that would moor alongside the course during regatta week. “At first the house-boat was a floating structure of small proportions and humble pretensions -- the home of some artist or some devoted lover of the Thames who had become tired of camping out,” recalled an anonymous journalist. “But the possibilities of the thing were soon gauged by those to whom money was not very much of an object.”[2]

Vanity Fair, July 12, 1884:

Henley Regatta, c. 1895

Henley Regatta was a great success this year. Seldom has there been finer weather for this most important gathering of oarsmen, and the crowds that came up from all parts were unprecedented. The limpid stream was simply alive with craft of every kind and description, and the blaze of colours all adown the silver reach was dazzling. House-boats, barges, steamers, and little launches lay moored in happy mixture along the Bucks shore, rivalling in their brilliancy the gay panorama that stretched away on the Berkshire meadows opposite. The Isthmian Club was enormously patronised, and certainly presented a most inviting appearance. Here lunch went on all day; and cosy little parties wandered about the enclosure, listening to the beautiful strains of the Hungarian Band, or resting themselves under the shady trees of Phyllis Court, whence a splendid view of the racing could be obtained. Coaches thronged the bridge far up the reach, and the scene was altogether beautiful.

June 30, 1888:

Renoir, "The Luncheon of the Boating Party," 1881

I am glad to see that Henley Regatta will once more spread over the three days. From the number of house-boats that are daily being towed up river, I should imagine that the fixture will be a very brilliant one. All the crews in training will be located in the town by Monday, when the usual pretty spectacle will begin. From my own point of view, I always think that the two days preceding the Regatta are more enjoyable than the actual festivities. There is then a spirit of laissez-faire amongst those who do not contend for the medals, and the quaint old town, made gay with a hundred pretty flags and a hundred bright coats, has an indescribably soothing charm. In the evening, too, one may float down steam in a canoe or punt, watching the many coloured lamps darting and glinting upon the lapping wavelets, and listening to the subdued music from the house-boats. The whole thing is original, and contrasts well with the noisy bellowings of blackened rascals and the ceaseless echo of the cork which mark the Regatta itself.

. . . .

Some of the house-boats this year are singularly gorgeous. The Dolce-far-niente is a bank of flowers, and the Happy Land a bower of roses. Life on these boats has its advantages in capitals during the Regatta Week.

The Leander Club is again quartered upon Temple Island, and the Isthmians will repeat all their games in the meadow to the music of the Red Hungarian.

In addition to the special day trains to be run from Paddington each morning of the Regatta, the G.W.R. have made arrangements for the issue of special Regatta tickets, available for the three days, as well as the day tickets available for both Henley and Marlow Regattas. Marlow Regatta, as usual, follows Henley, being dated for the 7th, 8th, and 9th July.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ The Times, Jan. 2, 1947, p. 6d.
  2. ^ A Journalist, Bohemian Days in Fleet Street, p. 289.