The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Warre E
“The Head” (Spy), June 20, 1885
The Warres are an old Somersetshire family, and Edmond Warre was born eight-and-forty years ago. He was educated at Eton, where he distinguished himself by availing himself of the opportunities which that place affords for instruction. He then went to Balliol College, where he further distinguished himself, and finally became a Fellow of All Souls. At twenty-three he returned to Eton as an Assistant-Master of that Seminary.
Dr. Warre was known in his youth as a lover of athletic excercises. He rowed in the University Eight in the years 1857 and 1858. He became the President of the Oxford University Boat Club in 1859, and he took a principal share in the raising of the Oxford University Corps of Volunteers, of which he was the first Captain. On his return to Eton he also took an active part in raising the Eton Corps of Volunteers, in which he became first Captain, then a Major, and of which he was finally made Honorary Colonel.
Dr. Warre is a very able and a very energetic man; and from his advent to the position of “Head” Eton may expect many reforms. He is not deterred by the labour of entering into details. He is firm in his intention to make Eton a place for teaching knowledge as well as manners, and he has set his face against the extravagance which has too long distinguished the School. He has also contrived to render birching so odious that it has become rare and discreditable, instead of being frequent and honourable; and he has a determination and energy and a love for and devotion to Eton which should bear good fruit.
Edmond Warre (1837-1920) achieved greater combined academic and athletic success at Eton and Balliol College than his Vanity Fair predecessors at those places -- S.H. Northcote, J.J. Hornby, J.W. Chitty, and A.W. Peel. At Eton he won the School Pulling for coxed pairs. At Oxford, he went Head of the River with Balliol in 1855 and 1859, won the University Sculls and Pairs in 1855-56, the University Fours in 1856 and 1858, and was O.U.B.C. president in 1858 (not 1859). He rowed for Balliol or the O.U.B.C. in various combinations of the Diamonds, Goblets, Ladies’, and Grand from 1855 through 1859, as well as the tideway Boat Races of 1857-58. In 1856 he declined to row in the University eight because of his academic demands, and finished his course with firsts in both classics and moderations and in 1859 became a fellow of All Souls’. He founded the Oxford volunteer rifle corps and later co-founded the National Rifle Association.
Warre’s career began by accident. He had been leaning toward the bar or army, but returned to Eton at the request of his former tutor who had fallen ill. Accepting a mastership in 1861, Warre gave up his Oxford post, married, and, writing to his sister that “I feel education is my work in life and the one in which I shall show God’s work to this generation,” did just that for the next forty-odd years, all at Eton. From the start his ability, care, and Oxford reputation drew talented students. One of the first, Sir William Anson, recalled: “We all thought it creditable to work, a new idea to most of us.” Of the twenty-one he sent to university in 1864 three became fellows of colleges, and in the 1890s all three of the Indian governors and two governors-general were Warre graduates. Warre became a deacon and priest in 1867, the year J.J. Hornby became headmaster, and loyally supported him for the next seventeen years.
In 1884, on Hornby’s ascent to semi-retirement as provost, Warre advanced to headmaster and brought his energy and academic standards to bear on the whole Eton student body. Guy Nickalls was a near-casualty: “I cannot think the teaching was good [under Hornby]. If you got through ‘Trials’ at the end of term you moved up automatically; thus it was that I attained the First Hundred, and rose to be ‘up to’ Ainger in the second division. Unluckily for me, Warre’s ideas of competitive scholarship were different from Hornby’s, and my chances of getting into the sixth form quickly vanished. Under the new régime I began to descend again very quickly, and it was only my timely transfer to Oxford in 1886 that prevented me from becoming a Lower boy again.” By the mid-1890s Warre began to decline physically. He resigned in 1905, was recalled to the provostship in 1909, retired again in 1918, and died two years later.
As coach Warre was the oracle of “orthodox” fixed-seat rowing, imprinting the Etonian style on generations of disciples, including fourteen Vanity Fair rowers, who carried it with them to Oxbridge and beyond. S.D. Muttlebury recalled practicing in a stationary gig without footstraps, with Warre laying his hand on Muttle’s foot during the recovery and saying: “Your feet look right, but you are still trying to pull up with your great toe.” “I thought it a fad then,” wrote Muttlebury, “but I am convinced that it is one of the most important points in rowing.” From 1860 to 1884, when Warre became headmaster and passed the coaching baton to S.A. Donaldson (Eton ‘72 and later Master of Magdalene, Cambridge), Warre “was practically alone on the towpath” and turned out a succession of eights for Henley starting in 1861, all trained more or less identically, all more or less successful. At Henley in 1866, of the twenty-eight medals awarded for fours and eights, twenty-seven went to nineteen Etonians, seventeen of whom had been or were then students of Warre.
The advent of sliding seats in Oxbridge rowing after 1872 and resulting changes in the physics of rowing -- of style -- caused a religious schism. Detractors such as Guy Nickalls said Warre never fully adapted: “Warre was nothing if not a stickler for form, the arched back (inwards) and the slide held until the swing was almost completed, alone appealed to him. . . . [He] never liked my rowing -- I think merely because I understood the use of a slide (and he did not).” Defenders, such as G.C. Bourne, said Warre did understand:
[I]t has been suggested of late years that Dr. Warre cared only for straight backs and neat form. That is a travesty of the truth. He preferred, and rightly preferred, polished oarsmanship, because, in his experience, it was more commonly than not associated with a sharp catch of the water at the beginning of the stroke. But he was much too good a judge of rowing to prefer a formal straight-backed oarsman without any catch to a rougher one who had a catch. What he cared for more than anything else was the catch at the beginning. Given that, he would overlook many defects in style. It has been said that he never appreciated or understood the use of the slide. The truth is, I believe, that he understood it a great deal better than either the Metropolitan or University oarsmen of the period of which I am writing [c. 1878-81]. He disliked the Metropolitan style because it involved too exclusive use of the legs. The remarkable Canadian sculler, Edward Hanlan, had only recently arrived in England, and the secret of his pace, the perfect combination of slide and body work, was not yet fully understood. The Metropolitan oarsmen were already using 16-in. slides, and even the best of them “shot” their slides. This Dr. Warre would not tolerate, but he avoided falling into the opposite extreme of “holding the slide”. His maxim, often repeated, was “work comes from the stretcher”, and he clearly perceived that, if the sharp catch at the beginning of the stroke is truly taken from the stretcher, the slide must move back to a certain extent. But he insisted on a sharp lift of the body contemporaneously with the movement of the slide, and therefore in practice taught what is the accepted rule to-day, that at the beginning of the stroke slide and swing go back together, but the swing goes much faster than the slide. He never taught us to hold our slides, of that I am positive, and the proof is that every Eton oarsman of those days, when he arrived at Oxford, was told that he was sliding too soon and only too often lost all true stretcher work in his attempt to conform to the prevailing fashion of holding the slide.
On the Grammar of Rowing
At the encouragement of H.G. Gold, Warre returned to the O.U.B.C. in 1907 and 1909 to deliver three lectures on rowing, fifty years after his racing career there ended. His return coincided, and not coincidentally, with a stale patch in Oxford rowing and an assault on Oxford Etonian hegemony, from both Cambridge (in the so-called “sculling” style of Duggie Stuart) and abroad (notably in the Belgians’ 1906 and 1907 victories in the Grand, the first foreign wins in that event). Accordingly, Warre directed his first two lectures to the “Accidence” of rowing, starting in 1907 with the fundamentals of fixed-seat rowing. “If [a novice] learns correctly the art of rowing on the fixed seat there is nothing he will have to unlearn, though he may have some more things to learn, in order to row correctly on a slide.” In 1909, with Oxford since having lost two more Boat Races to Duggie Stuart and looking like it would soon lose another, Warre addressed “Accidence, Part II, The Slide,” conceding its mechanical advantages but subordinating them to fixed-seat fundamentals. He warned his fellow Oxonians: “[I]f you sanction the continuance of coaching based upon false conceptions, if the cult of the slide is allowed to obscure the ideal of first-class oarsmanship, then defeat after defeat will be ensued and deserved, even if victory sometimes occur owing to the inferiority of a rival crew.” Two months later, Oxford had won on orthodox lines with R.C. Bourne at stroke and Warre returned to the University Barge in better spirits to deliver his final lecture, on coaching (“Syntax”). Despite the changes in boats, fittings, and oars, he concluded “the art of rowing is still the same, full of manly endeavour, full of self-sacrifice, full of delight, and if in any way, by these Lectures, I shall have contributed to its flourishing here and elsewhere, it will be a pleasure to me to think that I have been able, through your kindness, to repay in some small degree the debt that I owe to it as a pastime in the days gone by.” The published lectures, collectively entitled “On the Grammar of Rowing,” included as an appendix the following “Notes on the Stroke”:
The moment the oar touches the body, drop the hands smartly straight down, then turn the wrists sharply and at once shoot out the hands in a straight line to the front, inclining the body forward from the thigh joints and simultaneously bring up the slide, regulating the time by the swing forward of the body according to the stroke. Let the chest and stomach come well forward, the shoulders be kept back; the inside arm be straightened, the inside wrist a little raised, the oar grasped in the hands, but not pressed upon more than is necessary to maintain the blade in its proper straight line as it goes back and without constricting the muscles of the arms as they go forward; the head kept up, the eyes fixed on the outside shoulder of the man before you. As the body and arms come forward to their full extent, the wrists having been quickly turned, the hands must be raised sharply, and the blade of the oar brought to its full depth at once. At that moment, without the loss of a thousandth part of a second, the whole weight of the body must be thrown on to the oar and the stretcher, by the body springing back, so that the oar may catch hold of the water sharply, and be driven through it by a force unwavering and uniform. As soon as the oar has got hold of the water, and the beginning of the stroke has been effected as described, continuing the movement of the body and the simultaneous use of the muscles of the legs, keep up the pressure of the beginning, uniform through the backward motion of the body. At the beginning of the stroke let the arms be straight. The elbows should not then be bent. When the body reaches the perpendicular, let the elbows be bent and dropped close past the sides to the rear -- the shoulders dropping and disclosing the chest to the front; the back, if anything, curved inwards rather than outwards but not strained in any way. The body, in fact, should assume natural upright sitting posture, with the shoulders well thrown back. In this position the oar should come to it and the feather commence.
N.B.-- It is important to remember that the body should never stop still. In its motion backwards and forwards it should imitate the pendulum of a clock. When it has ceased to go forward it has begun to go back.
There are, it will appear, from consideration of the above directions, about 27 distinct points, articuli as it were of the stroke. No one should attempt to coach a crew without striving to obtain a practical insight into their nature and order of succession.
Let the Coach also remember that, in teaching men to row, his object should be to economize their strength by using properly their weight. Their weight is always in the boat along with them; their strength, if misapplied, very soon evaporates.
- ^ G. Nickalls, Life’s a Pudding, p. 44. “As I have said, I was only a duffer at lessons. For the really bright, well-grounded boy Eton instruction was all right, but for the dull boy the teaching was hopeless. Before we could write decent English we had to compose Latin verse in pentameters and hexameters, and Greek verse in iambics. Euclid I could learn by rote. I never understood algebra, nor was it ever properly explained to me. Sunday Questions were easier, but the only way I could learn Greek was the method employed by most boys of using a crib or word ‘Key to the Classics.’” Ibid. pp. 48-49.
- ^ Warre began coaching in 1860 and stopped on becoming headmaster in 1885, so the Vanity Fair rowers he coached at Eton were C.B. Lawes, A. Brassey, F.C. Rasch, H.F. Eaton, J.E. Bankes, A.F. Compton, E. Vincent, H.L.B. McCalmont, R. S. de Havilland, D.H. McLean, S.D. Muttlebury, G. Nickalls, W.F.D. Smith, and Lord Ampthill.
- ^ C.R.L. Fletcher, Edmond Warre, p. 276 n.1.
- ^ Eton Boating Book, p. ix.
- ^ G.C. Bourne, Memories of an Eton Wet-Bob of the Seventies, p. 66.
- ^ R. Burnell, Henley Royal Regatta: A Celebration of 150 Years, p. 102 (attributing The Field).
- ^ G. Nickalls, pp. 51, 192.
- ^ G.C. Bourne, pp. 104-05.