Etonians And Their ‘Boaters’

This time, Tim Koch, was very quick sending me some comments about my entry from yesterday about Eton and ‘boaters’. I hand over to Tim – and this time let’s call him ‘Guest writer’ – who writes:

Your recent comments about ‘boaters’ (flat topped straw hats) at Eton School in England prompts me to send a picture of such an item from my collection of rowing memorabilia [see above]. It was worn sometime in the 1880s by one of the crew of the boat ‘Victory’ in the ‘Procession of Boats’ which takes place every year on the school’s ‘parents’ day” known as the ‘Fourth of June’.

Eton School (more correctly called ‘Eton College’, though the boys are aged 13 to 18) is the most famous fee paying school in the world. Founded in 1440 by Henry VI, it has produced eighteen British Prime Ministers (however, by the time you read this, David Cameron could have made the number nineteen). Our interest is in the fact that it can lay claim to have invented rowing as an amateur sport – though Westminster School, founded 1179, may disagree. The earliest record of rowing for pleasure at the school dates from 1793. Until perhaps the First World War, it produced the majority of University Boat Race and Henley winners.

The ‘Fourth of June’ is a celebration of the birthday of King George III (1738-1820), Eton’s greatest patron. This year it is on 2nd June. Various events take place on this day but the most famous is ‘The Procession of Boats’, in which the best crews from the top four years row past in clinker built, fixed pin eights. They wear uniforms of eighteenth century midshipmen, with the cox dressed as an admiral. The rowers have boaters sporting the name of their boat on their hat-bands and the school arms in metal, all decorated with fresh flowers. At a certain point, the entire crew and cox stand up in the boat with their oars erect. They face Windsor Castle, remove their hats and cheer the memory of George III. The ever reliable British Pathe web-site provides filmed evidence of these seemingly unlikely events.

This film from 1904 also shows Edward VII’s Royal Barge which would have been rowed by professional Watermen:


Here is some nice colour film from 1960. Interestingly, the boys seem less confident than those in 1907:


Some nice sound film from 1938. At forty seconds in, there is a brief shot of the ‘Monarch’, a ten-oar.


The ‘Monarch’ was retired in 1990 after at least 100 years service and is now in the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth here in England.

My collection also contains a programme from ‘The Procession of Boats’ of 1885. It shows many famous rowing names, notably Guy Nickalls, S.D. Muttlebury, C.M. Pitman and Lord Ampthill.

Many thanks to Tim for this lovely contribution!


  1. Interesting to see how the standing up manoeuvre changed – in confident 1904 when Britannia ruled the waves, they all get down together. By 1938 when many believed Britain was finished and half the boys at Eton were communists and the other half fascists, they go down extremely carefully, in pairs, and one crew even leaves its blades in the water for stability. The 1960s lot are all hippies and clearly just want to drop out to Slough for sex and drugs.

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