The first boat race between Oxford University and Cambridge University was held in 1829 but was only an annual event after 1856. The only years missed since then have been the years of the Two World Wars. In 1927 the first woman’s race took place, with significant opposition from some men who believed women should not be allowed to race or be on the river and has been run every year since then (except during the War).
When two friends from Harrod School met in Cambridge during the holidays they decided to set up a boat race between the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford and a letter of the challenge was sent from Cambridge to Oxford requesting them to meet near London each to be with an eight-man boat. The two instigators, Staniforth and Snow were accomplished rowers from Eton School. The two teams met at Henley on the Thames on the 10th June 1829, and Oxford won easily. The winning boat can still be seen at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley. Over the next 25 years, the races were irregular and then, in 1836 the two teams met in London.
The first lady’s race was in 1927, but it was not held regularly until the mid-1960s when it was held on the Isis in Oxford. As the two teams were not allowed to be on the water at the same time they were judged on time and style only! The venue alternated between the river Cay and the Isis and once on the Tideway at Barnes. Oxford were usually the winners and won the six races from 1930 to 1941.
The Four Clubs
The crews from Cambridge (both the men and the women of the CUBC/CUWBC) wear light blue kits, and those from Oxford (from the OUBC and the OUWBC) wear dark blue outfits. The rowing boats are always eight-oared and are steered by the cox who sits at the stern and is the only crew member facing forward. All rowers are students from the two universities. Both teams are allowed a reserve team and a reserve boat in case of a non-start by the first team.
These days the race starts on the Thames at Putney and ends at Mortlake in London. The river has twists and turns so, at the toss of a coin, the winner can choose which side to start on although there is no definite advantage. The four-mile course, which begins below the Putney Bridge, passes under the Hammersmith and the Barnes Bridge and finishes just before the Chiswick Bridge. This course has been used since 1845 and has been used ever since, excepting for 1846, 1856 and 1863 when the race was held in the other direction –upstream!
In the men’s race, the record is 16 minutes and 19 seconds (Cambridge 1998), and in the women’s race, the history is 18 minutes and 33 seconds (also Cambridge 2017).