Sunday’s Boat Races: Looking Forwards By Looking Backwards

The 1846 Boat Race reaches the finish – at Putney. It was one of the few times that the race was rowed on the ebb tide, from Mortlake to Putney. Also, it was the first time that both boats used outriggers.

24 March 2023

By Tim Koch

Like an aquatic DJ, Tim Koch does a Boat Race Mash Up.  


The first Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race was held on the Henley Reach in 1829. The second ran on a five-and-three-quarter-mile stretch between Westminster and Putney in 1836 and this gave people their first opportunity to say that the race was not as good as it used to be. The cutting below is a good example of this, showing that, in 1896, there was nostalgia for the more simple times of the race illustrated above, that of fifty years before.

The Mirror of Life, 4 April 1896.

From The Archive

The BBC Archive has put a tiny part of its holdings online – including these Boat Race stories. 

This year’s men’s race umpire is Tony Reynolds, the bowman of the luckless Cambridge crew of 1984. As this 1984 television news report shows, the Light Blues’ boat met with another, more immovable craft in practice.

This 1980 news report was concerned whether a woman could command enough respect to cox men (even though Brown had previously coxed at the Moscow Olympics). Strangely, when Cambridge cox Peter Hobson had steered his boat into a very large moored barge in 1984, the subsequent report did not seem concerned that he may have lost the crew’s respect (though Hobson was known as “Blind Pugh” after the crash). 

In the 1948 Boat Race, BBC television pictures came only from the start and the finish. The middle of the race was covered using John Snagge’s radio commentary and illustrated using a map of the river with two model boats moved along it. It was not until 1949 that the BBC was able to televise the whole race to the less than ten percent of the population that owned a television set.

Plus ça change

Cambridge stroke and cox, 1924.
Cambridge stroke and cox, 2023.
Oxford and the Tideway Week crowds, 1930.
Oxford and the Tideway Week crowds, 2023.
Cambridge from above, 1910.
Oxford from above, 2023.
Cambridge, 1877.
Goldie, 2023.
Oxford cox and stern three, 1870.
Oxford cox and stern three, 2023.
Cambridge goes afloat, 1958.
Oxford goes afloat, 2023.

One Hundred Years Ago

Oxford won the 1923 Boat Race by 3/4 length. This was their only win in the 23 years between 1913 and 1937 (there were no races 1915 – 1919 because of the Great War).

The 77th Women’s Boat Race, the 51st Women’s Reserve Race (Osiris v Blondie), the 58th Men’s Reserve Race (Isis v Goldie) and the 168th Men’s Boat Race will be on Sunday, 26 March 2023.

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