The Report That My Dog Ate: The 2015 Cambridge May Bumps, Part 1

Pic 1. The Goldie Boathouse, the spiritual home of Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC). Strictly speaking, it has no connection with the bumps, the peculiar form of boat racing in which a number of boats chase each other in single file, each crew attempting to catch and ‘bump’ the boat in front without being caught by the boat behind. All members of CUBC, Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club and the Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club row for their respective colleges during the Lent (in February) and May (in June) Bumps.
The Goldie Boathouse, the spiritual home of Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC). ‘Bumps’ (the peculiar form of boat racing in which a number of boats chase each other in single file, each crew attempting to catch and ‘bump’ the boat in front without being caught by the boat behind) take place twice a year. All members of CUBC, Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club and the Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club row for their respective colleges during the May Bumps (which are actually held in June) but not in February’s ‘Lent’ Bumps when they are busy training for their respective University boats.

Tim Koch writes:

In Britain the traditional excuses given by schoolchildren who fail to hand in homework on time is ‘my dog ate it’ or ‘I left it on the bus’. These days I suppose a more believable plea is ‘my computer crashed’. I am not sure which one I should choose to explain the fact that my report on the Cambridge University May Bumps is three months late. In some ways this is not important as HTBS is not really a results service and anyone who was interested in who went ‘head’, who got ‘spoons’ and who did something in-between would have found plenty of places on the Internet that would have satisfied their curiosity. The main reason that I regret my tardiness is that it is discourteous to my charming guide for the day, Brielle (Brie) Stark.

Pic 2. Brie Stark, Captain of Boats at Caius 2014 -15 and cox of the college’s women’s first eight.
Brie Stark, Captain of Boats at Caius 2014 -15 and cox of the college’s women’s first eight.

Brie has steered on many of the world’s most famous rowing courses; for Bryn Mawr on the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, for St Anne’s on the Isis in Oxford and for Caius on the Cam in Cambridge. She has also competed at Henley, Dorney, on the Charles and on the Thames Tideway. In non-rowing hours she is working for a PhD in Clinical Neuroscience, ‘investigating the potential for computerised therapy in expressive, chronic aphasia after stroke’. Clearly, times have changed since rowers traditionally read ‘Land Economy’, something that was once a rather undemanding degree.

Pic 3. Brie is standing in the doorway of a ‘staircase’ in Caius College which houses the study of another ‘clever cox’, Professor Stephen Hawking.
A close up of the sign that Brie is pictured standing next to. It is painted next to the entrance of the ‘staircase’ in Caius College that houses the study of another ‘clever cox’, Professor Stephen Hawking.

HTBS has written about Stephen Hawking’s rowing days before and has looked at the parts of his autobiography that talk about his time with the boat club. Hawking’s study is on the third floor but his staircase is one of the few in Cambridge with a lift (elevator) and I suspect that Caius is now the most wheelchair accessible of all the colleges. This is ironic as the man who refounded the college in the sixteenth century, John Caius, insisted that it should admit no disabled or Welsh students.

Before racing started, Brie took me on a quick ‘grand tour’ of Cambridge and this, the first part of my report, looks at some rowing and some non-rowing aspects of this ancient university town on the Cam. We started at Caius College (pronounced ‘keez’), strictly called ‘Gonville and Caius’. Originally founded in 1348, refounded in 1557, it is one of the oldest, richest and most academically prestigious of all Cambridge’s colleges.

Pic 4. Tim at the ‘Gate of Honour’ in Caius Court, built c.1565. The college’s three gates symbolise the path of academic life. The student arrives at the Gate of Humility, in the centre of the college, they regularly passes through the Gate of Virtue and finally, the graduands pass through the Gate of Honour on their way to the Senate House to receive their degrees. Only Fellows https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fellow of the college can routinely use the Honour gate – or walk on the grass in the quad.
Tim at the ‘Gate of Honour’ in Caius Court, built c.1565. The college’s three gates symbolise the path of academic life. The students first enter through the Gate of Humility by the porters’ lodge, during their studies they regularly pass through the Gate of Virtue sited in the centre of the college and finally, as graduands, they go through the Gate of Honour on their way out of Caius to the Senate House to receive their degrees. Only Fellows of the college can routinely use the ‘Honour’ gate – or walk on the grass in the quad.
Pic 5. The college chapel of 1353. It is the oldest continuously used chapel at either Cambridge or Oxford.
The college chapel of 1353. It is the oldest continuously used chapel at either Cambridge or Oxford.
Pic 6. The College’s Hall, though magnificent, is new by Cambridge standards, dating from 1853.
The College’s Hall, though magnificent, is new by Cambridge standards, dating from 1853.
Pic 7. The Hall’s stained glass windows celebrate many distinguished members of Caius College. This window honours PhD student and honorary fellow, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, and also Charles Sherrington, student and fellow who received the Nobel Prize for his work on neurones. Between 1932 and 2013, Caius produced thirteen Nobel Prize laureates.
The Hall’s stained glass windows celebrate many distinguished members of Caius College. This window honours PhD student and honorary fellow, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, and also Charles Sherrington, student and fellow who received the Nobel Prize for his work on neurones. Between 1932 and 2013, Caius produced thirteen Nobel Prize laureates.

Brie then took me to Trinity, one of the few colleges with more Nobel laureates (32 in total) and more money than Caius. Legend has it that you can walk from Cambridge to Oxford solely on land owned by what is officially called ‘The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity within the Town and University of Cambridge of King Henry the Eighth’s foundation’.

Pic 8. Trinity College’s ‘Great Gate’ with the statue of its founder, Henry VIII.
Trinity College’s ‘Great Gate’ with the statue of its founder, Henry VIII.

Alumni who have passed through the Great Gate include Issac Newton, Lord Byron and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I once knew someone who had Wittgenstein’s old room – it was in a freezing cold tower and she was plagued at odd hours by fans of the philosophy of logic asking to see where the great man slept.

Pic 9. A close-up of the statue of Henry VIII. He holds a wooden table leg instead of the original stone sceptre in his hand. Myths abound as to how the switch was carried out and by whom.
A close-up of the statue of Henry VIII. He holds a wooden table leg instead of the original stone sceptre in his hand. Myths abound as to how the switch was carried out and by whom.
Pic 10. Trinity’s ‘Great Court’.
Trinity’s ‘Great Court’.

Famously the quad at Trinity is the site of the ‘Great Court Run’, an attempt to run its 401 yard / 367 metre perimeter in the 43 seconds of the college clock striking twelve. The event was depicted in a fictitious race in the film Chariots of Fire where Harold Abrahams beats a character based on Lord Burghley. In fact, in 1927 Burghley was the first man to successfully do the run. The next year he won the 400 metres at the Amsterdam Olympics and at the 1968 Olympics he presented the medals which culminated in the Black Power salute incident.

Pic 11
Shops aimed at the student market usually specialise in Pot Noodles and cheap alcohol but Ryder and Armies on King’s Parade in Cambridge (established 1850) is a more sophisticated purveyor of scholars’ needs. While even its ‘hoodies’ are attractive, it would be nice to think that the undergraduates would, in preference, choose a college cricket sweater.
Pic 12. Time for a drink at the Champion of the Thames pub in King Street.
Time for a drink at the Champion of the Thames pub in King Street.

Allegedly, the Champion of the Thames pub was named after a sculler who had won the title and then moved to Cambridge. He lodged at a house in Kings Street and all his letters were addressed to ‘The Champion of the Thames, Kings Street, Cambridge’. When the house became a pub, the name stuck. If there is any truth in the story, it could refer to Robert Coombes, who held the title, ‘Champion of the Thames’ from 1846 until 1851 and who coached CUBC both in 1846 and 1849.

Pic 13. The pub sign for the Champion of the Thames. Whoever the ‘Champion’ was, this picture incorrectly shows a ‘gentleman amateur’ and not a working class, professional waterman. He also needs to sort out his peculiar riggers.
The pub sign for the Champion of the Thames. Whoever the ‘Champion’ was, this picture incorrectly shows a ‘gentleman amateur’ and not a working class, professional waterman. He also needs to sort out his peculiar riggers.

Moving down to the river, I had time to photograph a few of the more attractive boathouses and also to visit to one of rowing’s holy sites, the Goldie Boathouse. In my 2013 piece on the boathouses of Oxford, I noted that, as a generalisation, the Cambridge boathouses are more pleasing to the eye than those of ‘the other place’. The main reason for this is that for much of their history Oxford college boat clubs based themselves in moored barges, slowing moving to more suitable land based buildings between the 1930s and 1970s. With the Cam unsuitable for mooring barges, Cambridge clubs have always based themselves on terra firma. Thus, Cambridge had mostly built when money was easier to come by while Oxford looked for much of its building funds in cash-strapped times. Further, the Tabs have spread their ‘boathouse row’ along a much longer stretch than the Oxonians. While this gives many buildings along the Cam more space, I rather like the crowded intimacy of the Oxford set up, particularly when viewing their version of the Mays, ‘Eights Week’.

Pic 14. The Jesus College boathouse, built in 1932 to replace a Victorian structure that had been destroyed by fire. It boasts both a weather vane (meaning that a college has gone Head of the River for five consecutive years) and a clocktower (meaning that it has had ten years consecutive Headships). Some interpret this unwritten rule as meaning going ‘Head’ ten consecutive times, not years, that is five Lent Headships and five May Headships.
The Jesus College boathouse, built in 1932 to replace a Victorian structure that had been destroyed by fire. It boasts both a weather vane (meaning that a college has gone Head of the River for five consecutive years) and a clocktower (meaning that it has had ten years consecutive Headships). Some interpret this unwritten rule as meaning going ‘Head’ ten consecutive times, not years, that is five Lent Headships and five May Headships.

 

Pic 15. The Downing College boathouse. The first was built in 1895, then it was rebuilt in 1938 and again in 2000.
The Downing College boathouse. The first was built in 1895, then it was rebuilt in 1938 and again in 2000.

 

Pic 16. The boat club at St John’s College is called Lady Margaret. Its boathouse dates from 1905.
The boat club at St John’s College is called Lady Margaret. Its boathouse dates from 1905.
Pic 17. The attractive Clare College boathouse was built in 1898 and is Grade II Listed.
The attractive Clare College boathouse was built in 1898 and is Grade II Listed.
Pic 18. Another fine boathouse, this belonging to Trinity Hall, dating from 1905.
Another fine boathouse, this belonging to Trinity Hall, dating from 1905.
Pic 19. The 1895 Grade II Listed Pembroke College boathouse.
The 1895 Grade II Listed Pembroke College boathouse.
Pic 20. Peterhouse’s 1928 boathouse replaced a previous Victorian building.
Peterhouse’s 1928 boathouse replaced a previous Victorian building.

Finally, a visit to CUBC Central, the Goldie Boathouse.

Pic 21. A detail of the Goldie Boathouse. It was built in 1882 and is the oldest surviving intact boathouse on the river. These days no boats are stored there but all gymnasium work, tanking, ergometer and weight training takes place at ‘the Goldie’. The physiotherapy treatment centre and the administrative offices are also there as well as accommodation for visiting coaches.
A detail of the Goldie Boathouse. It was built in 1882 and is the oldest surviving intact boathouse on the river. These days no boats are stored there but all gymnasium work, tanking, ergometer and weight training takes place at ‘the Goldie’. The physiotherapy treatment centre and the administrative offices are also there as well as accommodation for visiting coaches.

Brie and I were kindly given permission to visit the Captain’s Room, a wonderful meeting room painted in Cambridge Blue, adorned with trophies and memorabilia and, most importantly, plaques recording every Light Blue oarsman and cox who has ever taken part in the Boat Race against Oxford.

Pic 22. Tim pretends that he is not excited to be in the Captain’s Room in Goldie Boathouse.
Tim pretends that he is not excited to be in the Captain’s Room in Goldie Boathouse.
Pic 23. Brie finds that there are still plenty of empty spaces for future CUBC crews to be immortalised.
Brie finds that there are still plenty of empty spaces for future CUBC crews to be immortalised.
Pic 24. Brie takes the chair.
Brie takes the chair.

The best description that I have found of what the Captain’s Room means comes from Will Greenwood, a Daily Telegraph reporter who, in 2008, wrote a piece on the day he spent training with CUBC:

The Goldie Boat House has history, of that there is no doubt…… Everyone who has taken part in the annual race against their great, dark blue rival Oxford is commemorated. But to be honest, I had expected this musty sense of the past. What drew me up short were the two words painted above each year’s Boat Race crew. They read only ‘won’ or ‘lost’. Stunning in their beauty, unsettling in their simplicity, and damning in their conclusion. No pictures of how close the race was, or of how much effort was put in. All that matters, all the crews will ever be judged on, was whether they were winners or losers. Welcome to the strange and supremely harsh world of the rower.

Pic 25. A famous picture from Jack Carlson’s wonderful ‘Rowing Blazers’ book. http://www.rowingblazers.com/signed-copy/ It shows Geoff Roth, who rowed for CUBC in 2010, wearing his ‘Blue’ blazer in the Captain’s Room. Behind him are some of the ‘Won’ and ‘Lost’ plaques. © Carlson Media Inc.
A famous picture from Jack Carlson’s wonderful Rowing Blazers book. It shows Geoff Roth, who rowed for CUBC in 2010, wearing his ‘Blue’ blazer in the Captain’s Room. Behind him are some of the ‘Won’ and ‘Lost’ plaques. © Carlson Media Inc.

Part 2 will follow soon.

3 comments

  1. Sorry, one correction. The CUBC (and CUWBC and CULRC) athletes don’t row for their colleges in the Lent Bumps, as the bumps are while they are still training with their University clubs for their respective Boat Races. This is why the May Bumps are considered more prestigious, as they have the Blues- which can mean Olympic medallists- taking part so the standard is higher. Plenty of oarsmen, myself included, have competed in their college’s top crew in the Lent Races but found themselves displaced by “returners” from the University crews for the Mays.

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