BERESFORD, Jack (1899-1977)
Plaque erected in 2005 by English Heritage at 19 Grove Park Gardens, Chiswick, London, W4 3RY, London Borough of Hounslow
JACK BERESFORD 1899-1977 Olympic Rowing Champion lived here 1903-1940
Jack Beresford is one of the most illustrious rowing champions in history. His record of winning five medals – three of them gold – in five consecutive Olympic Games remained unsurpassed until the triumphs of Sir Steve Redgrave in 2000.
TRAINING ON THE THAMES
Outside of competition, Beresford was based firmly in London. Living by the River Thames for over 40 years, he worked for his father’s furniture business and trained ferociously. Jack Beresford Wiszniewski, as he was originally known, was born at 36 St Mary’s Grove – a short distance away from the commemorated address at 19 Grove Park Gardens. His father Julius, a Polish émigré furniture manufacturer, was himself a keen oarsman, and won a silver medal in the 1912 Olympics. The family moved in 1903 to ‘Belfairs’ in the Grove Park area of Chiswick, known for its boating and river sports. The house, which dates from the late 19th century, backs onto the railway and survives largely intact. It was while living here that he learned how to row and won all his major awards.
Bereford’s first taste of Olympic success was a silver medal at Antwerp in 1920, when he missed winning gold by a second in a legendary race against the Irish–American Jack Kelly. In all, Beresford competed at five consecutive Olympic Games, winning medals at all of them. The last of his medals – and the third of his golds – was won in the double sculls at the infamous Berlin Olympics of 1936. In front of Adolf Hitler, Beresford and his colleague Dick Southwood beat the highly fancied German team, who nicknamed their ageing English rival ‘The Old Fox’. For Beresford’s part, he proclaimed it ‘the sweetest race I ever rode in’.
Beresford also won the Wingfield Sculls, the amateur sculling championship of Great Britain, every year from 1920 to 1926, and was a frequent victor at Henley. In later years, Beresford continued to race, but was shaken by a tragic incident in the 1969 National Schools Regatta. He dived from his umpire's launch to rescue a boy knocked out of his boat, but was unable to save him, and the boy drowned. It was a courageous act, but Beresford was haunted by the boy’s death. He died at his home in Shiplake, Oxfordshire, in December 1977.