The Race of a Thousand Oarsmen – All With Shiny Shoes

The 1935 Tideway Head of the River Race as reported at the time.

26 March 2022

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch on when a race is not a race.

When Steve Fairbairn founded the Head of the River Race (HoRR) for men’s eights over the Mortlake to Putney course in 1926, he held that, “It is not a race, it is merely a means of getting crews to do long rows”. That idea of not racing never really caught on but the event itself did – save when wars, weather, unsuitable tides and, in the early days, the Lord’s Day Observance Society interrupted proceedings. In 2020 and 2021, COVID was added to this list of impediments meaning that seven of the last twenty years has seen the race cancelled or abandoned. 

However, Saturday, 26 March however should see the 87th Head of the River Race go off smoothly as a warm, sunny day with a gentle breeze is forecast. There will be a livestream via YouTube from 9.45 GMT and the starting order is on the event’s website.

While the return of the Tideway Head of the River Race after a two-year hiatus is very welcome, sadly there will be no paper programme printed, I think that the last one produced was for the 2015 Race. While this is understandable since the arrival of the Internet, such apparently ephemeral items were in fact lovely souvenirs, important historical documents and, through the advertisements, a snapshot of a certain time and place. 

Below are the pages from the 1935 HoRR Programme, a year when most of the eights and oars on the river had been made in Putney, when boats were lovingly varnished, when men polished their shoes, when beef extract fought fatigue, when Simpsons operated in the Strand and when beer was best. Only the last of these is still true.

A HoRR photo diary will follow soon – possibly with advertisements for Spam, wireless sets and pipe tobacco.

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