Bumps to the Head: The 2014 Oxford Summer Eights. Part 2 – An Oriel Picture Diary

Oriel College, part of Oxford University, was founded in 1324 though nothing survives of the original buildings. ‘Front Quad’, pictured above was built between 1620 and 1642. There are few places that are more tranquil than an ancient Oxbridge quad with its honey coloured stone and the unbelievably green grass. It moves a person to philosophy.

Tim Koch writes:

Yesterday, in my report on the 2014 Oxford Summer Eights, I mentioned that I was the guest of Jack Carlson, coach of the Men’s First VIII. This second report from Oxford is a ‘picture diary’ focusing on Oriel and their final day of racing. Calum Pontin, Captain of the Oriel College Boat Club, was kind enough to show me around college. The boat club’s website says:

For the past 35 years Oriel has dominated the Oxford intercollegiate rowing scene, topping the Easter bumps races (Torpids) for 25 consecutive years and the Summer bumps races… more than any other college. The astonishing ascent up the bumps chart of Oriel’s women’s crews, following their admittance to the college in 1986, saw Oriel take the first ever Double Headship in Torpids in 2006.

The progress of Oriel Men’s rowing, 1980 – 2013 can be seen on the red lines on this bump chart. Less importantly, Oriel is 9th out of 30 in the most recent Norrington Table which ranks the undergraduate degree results of Oxford Colleges.

At both Oxford and Cambridge, victorious boat clubs are allowed to mark the walls of college with graffiti marking rowing successes. The door shown leads to the rooms allocated to the Captain of the Men’s Boat Club.

An officially approved chalk which lasts about ten years before it becomes unintelligible should be used (though in this case something more permanent seems to have been applied).

The Tortoise Club is for those who have rowed in the Men’s 1st Summer VIII and 1st Torpid VIII.

The women’s equivalent of the Tortoise Club is The Blessed Virgins Club, whose emblem is a pair of angelic wings. The name is a pun on the official name of the college, ‘The House of Blessed Mary the Virgin in Oxford’. Oriel was a bit of a late developer and only got interested in girls at the age of 660. It was the last all-male Oxford college to admit women and the first female undergraduates (and the Women’s Boat Club) started in 1986.

The Boat Club Captain’s sitting room. Calum Pontin, this year’s Captain and ‘4’ in the First VIII, here studies a worthy text. The room is splendidly decorated with Oriel rowing memorabilia. In the past all the rooms in this ‘staircase’ were allocated to members of the First Eight.

Calum in the other half of the sitting room. Photographs of his predecessors look down upon him and he knows that when he leaves, his picture will join them. A similar room for the Women’s Captain is planned.

This slightly unnerving mascot is called ‘George’ after George Moody, a great benefactor of Oriel and of the boat club. Presumably it belongs to the Tortoise Club, but I think it is a turtle, which would possibly be a better (more aquatic) choice from members of the Chelonian family.

A chalk board by the Porters’ Lodge records Oriel’s progress up to the final day. The final results were as follows. The Women’s 3rd VIII did spectacularly badly, they won ‘spoons’ (i.e. were bumped every day) and on the Friday were ‘overbumped’ (i.e. bumped by a crew that started three boats behind them). The 3rd Men went up two places and the 2nd Women up three. The 2nd Men bumped every day and so won blades, finishing the top 2nd VIII. The 1st Women eventually stayed level, 12th in Division One, and the 1st Men went Head of the River.

The vital bump that secured Oriel’s Headship in 2014 was recorded by this bow camera:

Oriel Men’s First VIII plus coaches: Head of the River.

Oriel Women’s Third VIII: Bottom of the River. They are pictured in front of the portico of the (dining) Hall. The stonework carving ‘REGNANTE CAROLO’ (‘Charles, being King’) commemorates the construction of the building during the reign of Charles I.

Jack Carlson, coach of the victorious Oriel Men’s First VIII, stands by the figure of Victory which once adorned the former Oriel college barge but is now in the club boathouse. The sunglasses are to provide some relief from hay fever but, even if this were not the case, Jack is cool enough to wear shades indoors. Just in the last year, while continuing his PhD he has coxed winning crews at Henley Royal, Canadian Henley and the Head of the Charles, plus he has published a handsome book on rowing blazers (more about his book in a HTBS post coming soon).

The college boat club that goes Head of the River carries out a remarkable tradition. The winning cox, wrapped in the winning college flag, is carried on an old wooden eight from the boathouse, through the City of Oxford and into college. Members of college follow, noisily chanting and banging on the boat to ensure that everyone knows who is Head of the River. The man nearest the camera is wearing an Oriel College Boat Club blazer. The three ostrich feathers are the badge of The Prince of Wales (though which of the Princes it refers to is disputed). The three rings on his sleeve indicate that he has rowed in a 1st Summer VIII.

Cox Olivia Cleary is carried high alongside Christ Church Meadow. The college flag she is wearing bears the three lions of Edward II. The slightly worried looking gentleman in the blue blazer is the Oriel College Bursar, Mr. Wilf Stephenson, who has the role of ‘responsible adult’ and attempts to see that the college does not get sued as high spirited students wave a 64 foot boat around in public.

A bucolic scene in Christ Church Meadow. As the victorious Oriel party goes past, this cow looks as though she has seen it all before.

The educated rabble make their way into Oxford’s main street, ‘the High’. The Oriel Head Porter holds up the traffic for them.

Once in Oriel’s First Quad, the boat is broken up.

When the supply of wooden boats runs out, this will not be so much fun.

The boat’s final bump.

The Oriel College Hall, ready for the Bumps Supper. Completed around 1642, the room has a splendid hammerbeam roof. The large portrait above the High Table is of Edward II (1284 – 1327) who gave permission for the college to be established. The picture to the left of this is of alumnus, Sir Walter Raleigh (1554 – 1618). The place calls to mind a verse from “He Fell Among Thieves” by Henry Newbolt:

He saw the dark wainscot and timbered roof,
The long tables, and the faces merry and keen;
The College Eight and their trainer dining aloof,
The Dons on the dais serene.

Following the Bumps Supper, the smashed boat is burned in the quad. Traditionally the students jump over the burning hull though, in these more safety conscious days, this is discouraged. I was not able to stay for this part of the proceedings and this picture was taken by Jonathan Craven in 2012, yet another year when Oriel were Head of the River.

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