The 2016 Eights Week at Oxford, Part I: People and Places

A ‘bump’ is made.
A ‘bump’ is made.

5 June 2016

Tim Koch went up to Oxford (for a day):

Existing in some form since 1096, Oxford University is the oldest such institution in the English-speaking world. Thus, it is little surprise that it is home to many strange, archaic and, to the outsider, impenetrable customs and events. On Saturday, 28 May, I attended one such curious occasion – albeit, at only 200 years old, one of the newer ones. This was the final day of ‘bumps’ at Oxford University’s ‘Eights Week’.

Anyone unfamiliar with ‘bump racing’ may wish to first read my explanation of it in my report on the 2014 Eights Week (also known as ‘Summer Eights’). Briefly, this strange form of contest between crews from most of the 43 colleges and halls that make up the university originated because the River Isis in Oxford is too narrow for side by side racing. In the four-day event, divisions of 14 crews of similar ability chase each other in single file, each trying to catch the boat in front without being caught by the boat behind.

This is the first part of a two-part report. It is a ‘picture diary’ of some of the history, places and people of Eights Week. Part Two, which will be published tomorrow, will look at some of the actual racing, the results and the post-race celebrations.

Bump racing on the Isis (as the Thames at Oxford is known) in 1822. It is a scene that is still very recognisable today. Downstream (on the left here) is the stone built ‘Folly Bridge’. In 2015, HTBS reported on the 200th Anniversary of bump racing at Oxford https://heartheboatsing.com/2015/05/30/200-years-of-oxford-racing/ and on how this was celebrated. https://heartheboatsing.com/2015/05/31/brasenose-won-with-more-than-a-nose/
Bump racing on the Isis (as the Thames at Oxford is known) in 1822. It is a scene that is still very recognisable today. Upstream (on the left here) is the stone built ‘Folly Bridge’. In 2015, HTBS reported on the 200th Anniversary of bump racing at Oxford and on how this was celebrated.
A picture from late Victorian times, showing the same scene as above. As I explained in my 2013 piece on the boathouses of Oxford, https://heartheboatsing.com/2013/04/22/oxford-beer-boathouses-and-barges/ from the 1840s the then unwanted ceremonial barges belonging to London Livery Companies were converted to floating clubhouses for Oxford boat clubs. They were splendid vessels for social occasions but squalid and impractical to row out of. In 1936, Christ Church was the first college to replace their barge with a land based boathouse and St Catherine’s was the last in 1978.
A picture from late Victorian times, showing the same scene as above. As I explained in my 2013 piece on the boathouses of Oxford, from the 1840s the then unwanted ceremonial barges belonging to London Livery Companies were converted to floating clubhouses for Oxford boat clubs. They were splendid vessels for social occasions but squalid and impractical to row out of. In 1936, Christ Church was the first college to replace their barge with a land based boathouse and St Catherine’s was the last in 1978.
Photographed from Folly Bridge looking upstream in the 1920s. At the peak of their popularity, there were 30 barges along this part of the Isis.
Photographed from Folly Bridge looking downstream in the 1920s. At the peak of their popularity, there were 30 barges along this part of the Isis.
This picture is probably from the early 1960s – when there was still a mix of boathouses and barges along Christ Church meadow. As it shows the last boathouse nearest to Folly Bridge as that of Brasenose and Exeter, it is certainly pre-1964 as it was in that year the Jesus/Keble and the Corpus Christi/St John’s boathouses were built to the left of the Brasenose/Exeter building as viewed here.
This picture is probably from the early 1960s – when there was still a mix of boathouses and barges along Christ Church meadow. As it shows the last boathouse nearest to Folly Bridge as that of Brasenose and Exeter, it is certainly pre-1964 as it was in that year the Jesus/Keble and the Corpus Christi/St John’s boathouses were built to the left of the Brasenose/Exeter building as viewed here.
Pic 6a. When this photograph was taken, the last building on the left was that built in 1968 for Pembroke and St Edmund Hall. In 1990, Wadham, St Anne’s and St Hugh’s built their shared boathouse next door, taking the last viable space.
When this photograph was taken, the last building on the left was that built in 1968 for Pembroke and St Edmund Hall. In 1990, Wadham, St Anne’s and St Hugh’s built their shared boathouse next door, taking the last viable space.
Pic 6b. Boathouse Island, Eights Week 2016.
Boathouse Island, Eights Week 2016.
Pic 7. The men of University College II pass, on the left, the boathouse shared by Merton and Worcester, and on the right, by Magdalen, Lady Margaret Hall, Trinity and St Antony’s.
The men of University College II pass, on the left, the boathouse shared by Merton and Worcester, and on the right, by Magdalen, Lady Margaret Hall, Trinity and St Antony’s.
Pic 8. The home to Balliol, New College and Regent’s Park boat clubs. ‘New College’ was founded in 1379 so it is not so new.
The home to Balliol, New College and Regent’s Park boat clubs. ‘New College’ was founded in 1379 so it is not so new.
Pic 9. Oriel, Lincoln and Queen’s live here.
Oriel, Lincoln and Queen’s live here.
Pic 10. The boathouse of Corpus Christi and of St John’s.
The boathouse of Corpus Christi and of St John’s.

Apart from Boathouse Island, there are two other places that house Oxford college boat clubs:

Pic 11. This ultra-modern boathouse is owned by University College who lease parts to Linacre, Somerville, Wolfson, St Benet’s and St Peter’s. It is on the site of the former Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC) boathouse, a more traditional construction built in 1881 but lost to fire in 1999. OUBC did not take a lease on the replacement building as it now trains out of a new boathouse on better water at Wallingford
This ultra-modern boathouse is owned by University College who lease parts to Linacre, Somerville, Wolfson, St Benet’s and St Peter’s. It is on the site of the former Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC) boathouse, a more traditional construction built in 1881 but lost to fire in 1999. OUBC did not take a lease on the replacement building as it now trains out of a new boathouse on better water at Wallingford
Pic 13. The boathouses at Longbridges, a little way up the course, was built by Hertford in 1996. They also lease parts to Mansfield, St Catherine’s, St Hilda’s and Green Templeton.
The boathouses at Longbridges, a little way up the course, was built by Hertford in 1996. They also lease parts to Mansfield, St Catherine’s, St Hilda’s and Green Templeton.

Eights Week provides a great opportunity for ‘people watching’. Reviewing my pictures, I am not sure they all truly reflect the ‘typical’ competitor or spectator but I hope that they still give an idea of the spirit of the occasion.

Pic 14. This splendid outfit is worn by Faiysal AliKhan, President of the Oxford University Pakistan Society. His interpretation of the Pembroke College Boat Club blazer is based on the waistcoat (US: vest) worn by many men in Pakistan. He told me that he usually wears it with a large pink turban ‘which the people of Pembroke know well’, but here he sports a pakol, a hat popular in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This splendid outfit is worn by Faiysal AliKhan, President of the Oxford University Pakistan Society. His interpretation of the Pembroke College Boat Club blazer is based on the waistcoat (US: vest) worn by many men in Pakistan. He told me that he usually wears it with a large pink turban ‘which the people of Pembroke know well’, but here he sports a pakol, a hat popular in Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pic 15. The cox of St Catherine’s Women’s Eight. The joke is that the college is known as ‘Catz’.
The cox of St Catherine’s Women’s Eight. The joke is that the college is known as ‘Catz’.
Pic 16. Stella, from the University College Women’s First Boat, takes her turn at marshalling. A huge number of people are required to make the event run safely and efficiently, so each boat club is assigned a number of marshalling and umpiring slots depending on the number of crews that it entered and it is fined should it fail to fill those slots.
Stella, from the University College Women’s First Boat, takes her turn at marshalling. A huge number of people are required to make the event run safely and efficiently, so each boat club is assigned a number of marshalling and umpiring slots depending on the number of crews that it entered and it is fined should it fail to fill those slots.

Stella was on duty just a couple of hours before her crew was due to chase Pembroke and Wadham at the top of Women’s Division One. She learned to row at Oxford and she told me that rowing is one of the sports that can be taken up for the first time at university and be done well ‘…unlike, say tennis, which if you have not done it since the age of eight, you are not going to be any good at it’.

Pic 17. A member of Regent’s Park College Boat Club, deep in thought, possibly about string theory, possibly about rowing, possibly about having another Pimm’s.
A member of Regent’s Park College Boat Club, deep in thought, possibly about string theory, possibly about rowing, possibly about having another Pimm’s.
Pic 18. The boys from Queen’s II have a group hug before tackling Men’s Division V.
The boys from Queen’s II have a group hug before tackling Men’s Division V.
Pic 19. A ferry service across the river is provided by this Sàndolo, a more common craft in Venice than the better known Gondola. The Sàndolier (if that is what the person rowing it is called) told me that it is the ‘white van’ of Venice, adaptable to many uses. The boathouse of Christ Church College, the first to be built on Boathouse Island, is in the background.
A ferry service across the river is provided by this Sàndolo, a more common craft in Venice than the better known Gondola. The ‘popier’ pictured told me that it is the ‘white van’ of Venice, adaptable to many uses. The boathouse of Christ Church College, the first to be built on Boathouse Island, is in the background.
Pic 20. A rower from Linacre combines modesty and sport.
A rower from Linacre combines modesty and sport.
Pic 21. At the University College Boathouse, rowers from Wolfson and their guests check the ups and downs of the previous three days on a ‘bumps chart’.
At the University College Boathouse, rowers from Wolfson and their guests check the ups and downs of the previous three days on a ‘bumps chart’.
Pic 22. Some striking kit showing the lilies of Magdalen College.
Some striking kit showing the lilies of Magdalen College.
Pic 23. A Wolfson man shows the correct outfit for drinking Pimm’s.
A Wolfson man shows the correct outfit for drinking Pimm’s.
Pic 24. A member of St Catherine’s Boat Club waiting for Women’s Division II. She displays the ‘Catherine Wheel’ in both her face paint and her earring. St Catherine, a Fourth Century martyr, was to be tortured on a spiked breaking wheel but it shattered on her touch. The college claims to be the only one with a torture device as a symbol.
A member of St Catherine’s Boat Club waiting for Women’s Division II. She displays the ‘Catherine Wheel’ in both her face paint and her earring. St Catherine, a Fourth Century martyr, was to be tortured on a spiked breaking wheel but it shattered on her touch. The college claims to be the only one with a torture device as a symbol.
Pic 25. If this gentleman wearing a Merton College First Eight blazer has not seen it all before, then his boater hat certainly has.
If this gentleman wearing a Merton College First Eight blazer has not seen it all before, then his boater hat certainly has.

Part II will have more actual rowing in it!

3 comments

  1. Shock horror — how did you manage to reverse the flow of the Isis. Races are rowed upstream, as any fule kno.

    And Mario, a notable Venetian member of The City Barge (club in Oxford,qv) is the POPIER of his boat.

    Kind regards

    Robin Privett

  2. Thank you Robin, the text has been changed to reflect your comments.

    As to things that any fule kno, Albert Einstein held that ‘Any fool can know. The point is to understand.’

  3. Plans were announced last year for a footbridge crossing the Isis at the downstream end of Boathouse Island connecting the towpath to Iffley Rd. (about where the tree is seen to the right of the boathouses in the 2016 image above). As it was the other side of the Cherwell new cut entrance it would not have even connected to boathouse island! This is also about the widest point of the Isis in Oxford. It would have to have been a single span so as not to be a hazard to navigation and high enough for the Salters steamers to safely navigate. I pointed out that it would have to be very substantial to safely support all the students who would congregate on it for the two bumps races. Looking at the crowds in the 2016 photos it would have to be of motorway quality. Not surprisingly nothing more has been heard of this impractical idea!

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