Observing Oxford, Contemplating Cambridge: Viewing the Boat Race

Young naval cadets get a good view of the 1948 Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race from the rigging of the training ship HMS Stork, moored at Hammersmith between 1913 and 1950.

2 April 2017

Tim Koch wonders what to do today:

There are some sorts of boat races on the Thames today, Sunday, 2 April. I’m not sure what it’s all about but it may be worth watching. If you have nothing better to do, you could personally join the 250,000 that line the riverbanks between Putney and Mortlake. ‘Line’, however, implies an even spread – if fact there tends to be severe bunching around the pubs. Once out of Putney, the Surrey Bank is less crowded if serious viewing rather than serious drinking is your priority.

There have been a few changes since London Transport published this poster in 1926 but it still holds up as a general guide (though it was never a good idea to go to the course via Turnham Green or Chiswick Park underground stations).

The viewing points are Putney Embankment and Bishop’s Park at the start, Hammersmith and Barnes mid-course, and Dukes Meadows and Chiswick Bridge at the finish. Bishop’s Park is located opposite the start by Putney Bridge and is one of the two hubs of free entertainment laid on by the local Hammersmith and Fulham Council providing family friendly fun, beer tents, food, and with the race relayed live on big screens. A similar (though smaller) set-up is at Furnivall Gardens near Hammersmith Bridge, mid-way along the course.

In 1926, before Health and Safety, this was a good way to see the race close up. The building in the centre was then the National Provincial Bank Rowing Club, today it is the headquarters of British Rowing.

If West London is too far for you to travel, you could be one of the seven million in Britain or tens of millions around the world who view via terrestrial, satellite and internet sources. However, I do expect all regular HTBS readers to attend in person, and I will be noting the names of those who are absent.

Sir Malik Mohammed Umar Hayat Khan views the 1932 Boat Race.

The following timetable is in British Summer Time.

The coin toss for stations
Women’s Boat Race: 14:45
Women’s Reserves: 15:00
Men’s Reserves: 15:15
Men’s Boat Race: 15:30

The gold sovereign dated 1829 (the year of the first race) that was presented to the event by BBC commentator, John Snagge, the ‘Voice of the Boat Race’ between 1931 and 1980. It is used to toss for stations.

Women’s Boat Race: 15:47
Women’s Reserves: 16:02
Men’s Reserves: 16:17
Men’s Boat Race: 16:47

Osiris boat for the 2016 Race.

Women’s Boat Race: 16:35
Women’s Reserves Race: 16:50
Men’s Reserves Race: 17:05
Men’s Boat Race: 17:35

The 1926 race reaches Hammersmith. Here, Oxford have a narrow lead but the Dark Blues eventually lost by five lengths.

(BBC live from 16.00)
BBC 1 (UK)
BBC World News (Worldwide)
BBC iPlayer (UK playback)
Supersport (Pan Africa)
CCTV5 (China)
Universal HD (USA)
SKY Mexico (Pan Central America)
OSN (Pan Middle East)

In 1946, attempts at having an onboard camera in the Women’s Boat Race were not successful.

bbc.com (Radio)
bbc.com (TV)
bbc.co.uk (TV, live and playback)
theboatrace.org (TV, live and playback)

Radio broadcasting from a launch in 1928.

An article by Drew Schwartz about watching the 2016 race from the riverbank is online here. It has the non too snappy title, “Trying to Understand the Britishness of the Boat Race as an American”, but it is not as bad as it could have been. I think Drew rather enjoyed his day by the Thames with us strange Brits.

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