12th March 1829. ‘Varsity’ Boat Race.

‘Sport is being made too much of with men rowing until there comes upon us a fear that they are killing themselves or they are nothing’: Anthony Trollope 1868.

Spring Red-Letter-Days in English Sporting Calendar: Boat Race, Grand National and Cup Final.

The Boat Race now attracts 400 million TV viewers across 180 countries which would have surprised two ‘Oxbridge’ friends whose idea it was to organise a rowing match between the two ancient Universities (‘Varsities’).(1)

Today in 1829 Cambridge issued a challenge to Oxford resulting in the first University Boat Race.

It took five years of controversy to organise a second race on a route from Westminster to Putney and this time Cambridge changed its colour to pale blue in honour of its sister college Eton.

In 1845  came the familiar course we know today from Putney to Mortlake over 4 ¼ miles.

There were no races 1847/8 probably due to the construction of Barnes Bridge completed in 1849, the same year when there were two races after Oxford said they were unfit in March, their reason for losing, so Cambridge agreed to a re-run on 15th December: Sporting!

The second race was decided by a foul under the then regulations (for the only time), when Oxford was bumped in a ‘crossing-over’ and though Cambridge led, the Umpire Mr Barlow of Leander awarded the race to Oxford.

By 1873 the Boat Race had become so popular that the FA Cup Final was moved forward to 11.0 am, so as to avoid a clash. On March 24th 1877 there was a dead heat.

The first radio commentary came on 1927, and televised in 1938. There were no races in wartime except in 1944 when the Race took place on the Great Ouse on February 28th at Ely with a winning Oxford.

1952 was rowed with snow on the ground and in probably the most adverse conditions in its history. In 1981 history was made when Oxford with a girl Cox, Susan Brown, led them to victory.

The cosy days of BBC TV monopoly was broken in 2005 when ITV took over for the first time.

Sinkings and collidings: Non aficionados of rowing are always hoping for drama, preferably a sinking which first happened in 1859 when the Cambridge boat sank at Barnes. On 28th March 1912 both teams sank. 

In 1951 Oxford sank  On March 17th 1984 the race was postponed for a day as the Cambridge boat collided with a barge before the start and sank.


1936 by Walter Goetz

London Underground 1936 Poster by Walter Goetz.






London Underground Poster 1930’s.

(1) Charles Wordsworth nephew of the poet from Oxford and Charles Merivale from Cambridge both old Harrovians hatched the idea.

Ref: bobthebrit.net/sports/boat_race.

Ref: Greenbuzzz.com. 1936 Walter Goetz. London Transport Museum/Pic of Tower Bridge.

Ref: perfectpaper.com/Pic of Underground Advert.



About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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