Higher education postcard: Eights Week

This week’s card from Hugh Jones’ postbag enjoys some jolly boating weather

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

Greetings from Oxford!

We’re lazing by the Isis, sipping Pimm’s, and watching athletic types row sleek boats along the river. Eights Week is here.

This is a chance to learn some more Oxbridge lingo. I’m not a native speaker myself, so I hope any infelicities will be looked on kindly.

Eights Week means the rowing races, between the Oxford colleges, which take place in week five of Trinity term (that’s the summer term to you and me). The first such race was in 1815, with a race between Brasenose College and Jesus College – Brasenose won. They won the next year as well, but in 1817 Christ Church College joined in and beat the others. The next few years were between these three colleges, but then there was a row about professionalism (rugby league eat your heart out), with Jesus and Brasenose both employing professional watermen to row at stroke (the seat closest to the stern of the boat).

The races are “bumping” races – which means that boats row in single file, each trying to catch the one ahead without themselves being caught. The postcard is a scorecard which recorded the results of each race, the lines indicating the success (or otherwise) of the college boats as they sought to “bump” the one ahead. You can see that on the third day of races New College bumped University College, and held off subsequent challenges. The lead college at the end of the week is the “head of the river”. Oriel is currently the most successful college, having been head of the river 34 times.

The card was sent on 30 May 1903 – cards were printed with each college’s logo, enabling you to show your support by Royal Mail. The handwritten note at the top says “Wadham caught a crab and so were caught by Oriel. Corpus having bumped Queen’s before.” I have no idea what catching a crab means, in this context.

One response to “Higher education postcard: Eights Week

  1. Catching a crab is when the oar isn’t pulled out of the water cleanly and is dragged through the water the wrong way. It slows you down and can unbalance the boat.

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