Today Is Boat Race Day: Let Battle Commence

The date on this London Transport poster is correct – but the year is 1951.

24 March 2018 – Boat Race Day

Tim Koch meanders from Putney to Mortlake.

Today, 24 March, sees the 73rd Women’s Boat Race and the 164th Men’s Boat Race, both run over the 4 mile 374 yard (6,779 m) Putney to Mortlake ‘Championship Course’. The first race was held over approximately 2 miles and 630 yards (3,800 m) between Hambledon Lock and Henley Bridge in 1829, and the next five (1836, 1839, 1840, 1841 and 1842) took place on a five-and-three-quarter-mile stretch (9,200 m) between Westminster Bridge and Putney Bridge. There was failure to agree on a location for the races in 1843 and 1844, increasing central London river traffic making the old course increasingly unusable.

The 1841 race passes Lambeth Palace near Westminster.
The course used in the five races between 1836 and 1842 from a map of 1842.

The current Putney to Mortlake course was first used in the seventh race in 1845. The women’s race, first run in 1927, has had many locations but has taken place on the ‘P to M’ stretch since 2015.

The above two illustrations of the P to M Course are from 1875 and 1926 respectively. Neither show the Chiswick Bridge of 1933.

In typical HTBS style, we can ‘preview’ today’s races with the help of those that have gone before.

Crowds gather at Putney for Boat Race Day 1906.
The coin toss for stations, 1875.
When the BBC’s 45-times Boat Race commentator, John Snagge, presented the race with an 1829 gold sovereign for the toss it was feared that, if the winning crew kept the coin, they would be in danger of losing their amateur status, having received money for the victory. The problem was solved by the suggestion that the losing crew keep the coin instead.
‘Tops off’ – known as ‘peeling’ in 1879.
Anticipation at the start, 1869.
‘Are you ready?’ 1873.
Passing the Crabtree, 1865.
In Fulham Reach, 1952.
Approaching Hammersmith Bridge, 1879.
Through Hammersmith Bridge, 1967.
At Chiswick, 2016.
Approaching Barnes Bridge, 1954.
Passing Mortlake Brewery, 1938
The Finish, 1870.
Victors ashore at Mortlake, 1882.

I conclude by quoting myself from last year:

Most of these intelligent young people will… probably achieve things in life that, looked at logically, will be considerably more important than making one long, thin boat move a little faster than another long, thin boat. However, when in the future they make conversation with strangers, whatever else they have done, it will probably be the fact that they once took part in ‘The Boat Race’ that these new acquaintances will want to hear about. Once they first pass the Fulham Wall, they will be ‘A Rowing Blue’ for the rest of their lives.

2018 Men’s Race Umpire, John Garrett, with the 10 simple rules by which The Boat Race is run (double click to enlarge). The Boat Race is always umpired by an ‘old Blue’, with an ex-Oxford umpire alternating with an ex-Cambridge umpire – a wonderful and rare example of the Corinthian ethos (in the days when soccer was a game played by gentlemen, there were no referees, disputes were settled between the two team captains).

Timetable in GMT:

2.41 Coin Toss: The Cancer Research UK Women’s Boat Race
3.26 Coin Toss: The Cancer Research UK Men’s Boat Race
3.43 OUWBC leave Boathouse
3.46 CUWBC leave Boathouse
4.31 The Cancer Research UK Women’s Boat Race
4.44 CUBC leave Boathouse
4.47 OUBC leave Boathouse
5.32 The Cancer Research UK Men’s Boat Race


  1. I believe that the first race was from Hambledon Lock to Henley Bridge, so two and a quarter miles, rather than HRR’s 1 mile & 550 yards.

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