Phelps, Richard William

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Phelps, Richard William

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  • Phelps, Dick

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Dick Phelps was a Thames waterman, one of the many members of the Phelps family to work in that profession.

He was hired by Thames as club boatman in 1931 and remained in the role until his retirement in 1966.

His son Mike, grandson Richard, granddaughter-in-law Annamarie and great-grandson Thomas have all rowed for the club.

The 1967 Journal included this account of his life and career on the occasion of his retirement:

"Our Boatmen tend to stay with the Club for a long time, and Dick Phelps has been no exception to that rule. In the 70 years before he came to us we had had only three boatmen, and the last of these Laurie Bedell, had been with us for many years. Laurie seems to have known little about the water before he came, having been secretary to an actress, but he proved one of the best of all boatmen; and Dick had plenty to live up to in his new job. It must not be thought though that he did not know us by then; on the contrary, he had steered many crews for us in his young days, in practice.

Dick has been with the Club since 1931, and those who know him well—and this now includes almost all the rowing world— agree that he has filled the post superbly. He has been friendly with all and most helpful to all; no one on the water has ever appealed to him for help in vain. His willingness to help is matched only by his skill in boat building and repairing.
Dick’s family is famous. In 1961 they celebrated the centenary of their first winning Doggett’s Coat & Badge. Honest John Phelps, who won in 1861, was Dick’s great- uncle, and he is possibly better remembered for his perhaps apocryphal verdict given when he judged the Oxford & Cambridge boat race of 1875: “dead heat by five yards”. He was a Fulham man, but the rest of the family have all been Putney men. John was followed by two nephews, William, who won Doggett’s in 1875, and Charles, Dick’s father, who won it in 1884. Three of Dick’s brothers have won the race, and so has his nephew, Edwin. Harry, who is Bargemaster to the Fishmongers Company, won in 1919; Tom, Boatman to London R.C., won in 1922, Dick won in 1923, and Jack, now Boatman to Winchester College, won in 1928.

It is clear that Dick took as readily to the water as the rest of his family. As I have noted, he started young and steered many crews for Thames and other Clubs, and he travelled to regattas with the boats —then sent by horse and dray—and earned the strictures and more grudging praise of Bossy Phelps for real or imagined misdemeanours.

He settled in quickly at Thames and was soon introduced to success. The Club won the Stewards at Henley the year after he came to us, and he had his first experience of international rowing that same year, when he went to Los Angeles for the Olympic Games of 1932. He has said: “I well remember this trip. What a proud fellow I felt when I was asked to travel as Boatman to the Olympic rowing team, and what a team it was! I shall never forget the fine win of the Thames four that had included T. H. Tyler, R. D. George and Jack Beresford, with J. C. Badcock at stroke. What a pity it was that Mr. Tyler fell ill and had to be replaced at the last minute; but Mr. Jumbo Edwards stepped into his place and the Olympic win is a matter of proud Club history, and indeed English history.”

“In 1934,” he continues, “I went to the Continent for the first time with a Thames Eight to the Ghent International Regatta, and though this crew lost to the S.N. Basse Seine in the final, it did so only by 4 feet; and most of the crew won the Thames Cup at Henley later in the year.”

Since then he has been to almost innumerable international regattas, but he never seems to regard them as commonplace. He records that he went to Ostende Regatta 15 times by 1962. In 1936 he had his second Olympic Games, when the Thames Double, Jack Beresford and Dick Southwood, won handsomely after being level at 1500 metres and proved itself one of the very few crews capable of standing up to the Germans at that time. Later on this double deadheated in the final of the Double Sculls with the Italians at the Centenary Regatta at Henley in 1939. “ What great victories,” says Dick, “ especially the one at Berlin in front of Hitler and Goering.”

Since then Dick has taken boats and crews to Dinant and Namur in Belgium, as well as to Ostende and Ghent, to Macon for the European Championships, to Vancouver and North Wales for the Empire and Commonwealth Games, to Paris, Amsterdam, Dunkirk, and so on. But these visits are incidental to his work with us at Putney. The routine of the home regattas, with Henley as their climax, and international regattas interspersed among these, has occupied him fully for all but the war years —and even then he was to be found at the Club whenever his war-time duties of boatbuilding for the forces at Teddington allowed. After the war he received the honour of appointment by Royal Warrant “into the place and quality of a Waterman to Her Majesty the Queen”, joining his brothers in this well-deserved mark of distinction.

Dick has been firmly ensconced at the Club for thirty-five years, but he has now retired. He seems inseparable from us, and we have made him an Honorary Life Member to mark our friendship—and we hope that it will continue for many years to come.

To mark his retirement, Dick was made the Guest of Honour at our Annual Dinner, held early in December last at the Clubhouse. Ian Fairbairn took the Chair at the Dinner, and the Club was filled with over 150 members and guests who had come to pay their tributes to Dick. Tributes were paid to Dick by Ian Fairbairn and by Gully Nickalls, and Dick not only thanked the speakers and the Club generally, but he also proposed the toast of the Club in most felicitous terms."


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Phelps, Michael (1932-)

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Phelps, Michael is the child of Phelps, Richard William

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Phelps, Richard Charles (21 November 1965-)

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Phelps, Richard Charles is the grandchild of Phelps, Richard William

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