The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Boat Race

Category: Customs + Festivals

With the exception of the F. A. Cup,* there is no sporting event in Britain enjoying greater popular attraction than the boat race. This is one event that is amateur in the truest sense, with no cups, medals or other tangible prizes, the only reward being the satisfaction and pride of having had a part in it, win or lose.

The annual contest between the oarsmen of Oxford and Cambridge Universities had its inceptionin 1829 and became an established day in 1839. The race was first rowed at Henley,* and the present course between Putney* and Mortlake* was adopted some years later.

Two years before the boat race was transferred from Henley, Oxford won the 1843 contest with only seven men. To perpetuate the memory of this remarkable feat, part of the Oxford boat was made into a ceremonial chair used at Oxford on special occasions.

To be a member of a boat race crew — to win a rowing blue — is the most cherished honour that can be gained by an undergraduate of either of the Universities. The crews of the boats, chosen from the members of the college Boat Clubs, train together for twelve weeks before the race. There are eight oarsmen and a cox (coxwain) in each boat.

On boat race Saturday the banks along the Thames and the bridges are crowded with people who come out to watch the race sporting a dark-blueor a pale-blue rosette thus demonstrating their preference.

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