Adrian Stokes: A Happy Coincidence

The article writer’s 1949 Torpids tankard. “Wear them down!”

15 October 2020

By Adrian Stokes

HTBS is excited to present the next installment in our series of show-and-tell. Adrian Stokes, Oxford Blue in 1951 and 1952, writes about a tankard that he received as a birthday present shortly after winning the 1949 Torpids.

Adrian Stokes has always been a keen photographer. This self-portrait – what we today call a ‘selfie’ – he took in his room at New College, Oxford, in 1949.

Back in 1948, I extricated myself from the Army just in time to take up my scholarship at New College, Oxford. Having rowed at school, I immediately joined the college Boat Club, and soon found myself at stroke in the college Torpid, training in the traditional clinker-built eight which gave the name to the boat and the winter bumping races on the Thames.

So, on 16 February we started in third place behind Christ Church and Trinity, but just failed to catch Trinity on the first day. But on the second day, which happened to be my 21st birthday, there came a strange synchronistic episode. In a Greek tragedy I was studying that morning there jumped out of the page a line which read: Επου μαραινε, δευτεροισ διωγμασιν which means “Wear them down! Go after them again!” And this is exactly what happened: we bumped Trinity and on the third day deprived Christ Church of the headship of the river and rowed safely over at the Head position for the remaining races.

This success started the lead-up to New College’s glory year of 1950, going Head of the River and winning the Ladies’ Plate at Henley, and set me personally on the way to being President of the winning Oxford crew of 1952.

The best surprise present for my 21st birthday was this tankard. The crew had clubbed together and had it engraved with the original Greek quotation on one side and all their signatures on the other. A treasured reminder of happy days on the river…

Birthday tankard with the crew’s signatures.

Following is a silent and unedited footage of the Oxford Torpids of 1946, which gives a very good impression of the Torpids – bitterly cold and some pretty awful rowing.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 28 November to correct some minor errors and to add the video from YouTube above.


  1. I remember watching the previous race on a black and white, tiny TV at Scaitcliffe in front of my fellow schoolboys when the boat sunk. As I had previously boasted that my uncle was in the race, I burst into tears. At the time I was aged ). It just goes to show Churchill had a classical education with his famous motto of ‘keep buggering on’

    • Oh dear, cousin Richard, that is rather sad! You were only nine. I hope you watched it the following year when they won by a canvas and that would have made up for it.

  2. It is so good to hear these stories first hand, especially when they come from venerable Old Blues.

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