Cambridge: Boathouse Row

The scene along the River Cam looking from Peterhouse Footbridge towards Victoria Road Bridge. Nearest the camera is Peterhouse, its 1928 boathouse replacing a previous Victorian building, next Caius, then some private houses, next the conjoined boathouses of Magdalene and Queens’, and finally the scarlet doors of the home of the St John’s College boat club, Lady Margaret.

28 June 2018

Tim Koch is still on the Cam.

Between the divisions of 2018 May Bumps, I had time to admire the boathouses of various Cambridge colleges. Generally, they are more pleasing to the eye than those of ‘the other place’, Oxford. The reason for this is that, for much of their history, Oxford’s college boat clubs based themselves in moored barges, slowing moving to more practical land-based buildings between the 1930s and 1970s. With the Cam unsuitable for mooring barges, Cambridge clubs have always based themselves on terra firma. Originally, college boats were housed by commercial boatyards along the Cam. The first college boathouse was built for Trinity in 1872, and by the end of the 19th century, most of the colleges had boathouses of their own.

Searle’s at Cambridge, 1863. First and Third Trinity Boat Club now occupies the site.

Thus, Cambridge mostly built their boathouses when money was easier to come by – while Oxford looked for much of its building funds in more cash-strapped times. A further difference is that the Cambridge clubs have spread their ‘boathouse row’ along a much longer stretch than the Oxonians have available. 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”.

Here is a selection of views of some Cambridge boathouses – though it is far from a complete record.

Lady Margaret was founded in 1825, but its boathouse dates from 1905.
Lady Margaret: detail.
The Gonville & Caius Boat Club started in 1827 but its current boathouse was built in 2016, on the outside a very close copy of the 1879 building it replaced.
Caius: detail. The Eustace bird (apparently, a large dove) is the club’s symbol.
Trinity Hall Boat Club dates from 1827, its 1905 boathouse was extensively refurbished in 2015.
Trinity Hall: detail.
Cambridge University Boat Club’s Goldie Boathouse, built in 1882. These days no boats are stored there but it is the centre for all gymnasium work, tanking, ergometer and weight training. The physiotherapy treatment centre and the administrative offices are also there as well as accommodation for visiting coaches.
Goldie: detail.
Another club founded in 1827, Jesus College, built this boathouse in 1932 to replace a Victorian structure that had been destroyed by fire. The rebuild boasted both a weather vane and a clock tower and this may have given rise to the myth that displaying the former means that a college has gone Head of the River for five consecutive years and having the latter means that it has had ten years consecutive Headships (or perhaps five Lents and five Mays). The roof tiles are said to have come from old farm buildings owned by the College. The building was refurbished in 2013.
Jesus: detail.

Not all the boathouses on the Cam are old. Some of the newer ones are replacements for some long-serving structures, others are new homes to newer colleges or to newer boat clubs.

The Downing College boathouse. The first was built in 1895, then, it was rebuilt in 1938 and again in 2000.
Magdalene BC, founded 1828 (left) and Queens’ College BC, founded 1831 (right). The original 1934 boathouse of Magdalene and Queens’ was in Banhams Boatyard. Queens’ bought it in the 1950s and the existing building was constructed in the late 1980s.
Left to right: Girton (1960s?), Sidney Sussex (1837), Corpus Christi (1828), and Wolfson (1968). The centre was built in 1959, extensions to either side were added in the 1980s.
The newest boathouse on the Cam, opened in 2016, is the ‘Combined’, sited the farthest downstream of all the college boathouses. This pleasing structure replaced a very ugly 1960s industrial style building. It is home to The Leys School, Kings (1838), Churchill (1961) and Selwyn (1882).
A combination of old and new. The original 1887 boathouse of Christ’s College Boat Club is on the right (it claims to be the oldest surviving wooden framed boathouse on the Cam). A new extension completed in 2017 is on the left. CCBC was founded in 1830 when St John’s College held a lottery to sell off their oldest boat. Christ’s bought 12 of the 20 £1 tickets and won.

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