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Rowing at University in Cambridge

The May Bumps in The Times, 1963 - 1967

In the May Bumps, First and Third last held the Headship of the river Cam for a number of years consecutively in the 1960s, from 1964 to 1967. The following accounts (and charts) are reproduced from the relevant Monday morning issues of The Times during that period. There are some entertaining comments, such as "excitement does not depend on quality", and "Lady Margaret, plugging on with determination but little else...". Of our 1967 crew, which famously beat the Cambridge Blue Boat in the Hardesty Cup (Elite VIIIs) at the Cambridge Regatta and went on to win the Ladies' Plate at Henley, the correspondent claims that "it is a long time since any college showed such superiority as 1st and 3rd Trinity in retaining the headship of the river".

The formal mounted and framed photograph of the 1967 crew at Henley
The 1967 crew, Winners of the Ladies Plate at Henley and Head of the River

The Times, 10th June 1963
   Touch and go for Trinity, from our rowing correspondent

Bumps chart of top 3 divisions, Mays 1963
Top 3 divisions, Mays 1963

It was hot and thundery for the last night of the May races, with only an apology of a breeze from the east. Any uncertainty about Queens' ability to hold the headship which they won last year disappeared in the first minute. First and Third Trinity started at over 40, but Queens' at 39, gained at once. They were two lengths ahead at Grassy, striding nicely at 35, and they held this advantage all over the course.

What might have been an anti-climax, however, was rendered highly exciting by Trinity and Jesus. Trinity surely made a tactical error, perhaps due to inexperience. One cannot jump the head of the river crew off the start. Trinity went right round Grassy at something near 40, making no impression on Queens. But Jesus closed on them rapidly in the Plough Reach, and at Ditton Corner were right on their tails. At the railings Jesus, at 40, were within a few feet of regaining the place they lost to Trinity on Friday. It was touch and go, or rather, no touch for Jesus and go for Trinity. At the glasshouses Jesus had shot their bolt.

At the finish, Trinity were two lengths behind Queens' and about a length and a half ahead of Jesus. There were three lengths between Jesus and Pembroke, and the same distance between Pembroke and Clare. Lady Margaret went down in the Gut, and Magdalene just managed what they failed to accomplish on Friday, catching St. Catharine's at the railings. For the rest, the chart tells the story of apparently inevitable bumps in an unequal field, for which, to some extent, lack of preparation, due to the hard winter, may be blamed. The relatively novice crews were of a much lower standard than usual.

Compared with the Oxford crews, Jesus and First and Third Trinity were roughly on a par with Christ Church, St Edmund Hall and Balliol. In considering Keble and Queens' we suffered from the same inhibitions which make boat race forecasting so difficult. Keble have the advantage in technique and experience, and are almost certainly faster. But experience over many years suggests that the odds against an Oxford college eight succeeding at Henley are long. This ought to be one of the years when it could happen. If the two crews were to meet in the final of the Grand my money would be on Keble. If they met in an early round of the Ladies' or Thames Cup, as an Oxford man, I would be very apprehensive.

The Times, 15th June 1964
   Trinity retain Headship from our rowing correspondent

Bumps chart of top 3 divisions, Mays 1964
Top 3 divisions, Mays 1964

In spite of a determined assault by Pembroke, First and Third Trinity retained the headship of the river when the May races were concluded on Saturday night.

Trinity did not get away at the start, as they had done on Friday, and Pembroke closed, slowly but steadily, until they came within a canvas at the Railings. Here Trinity held them, and in the long reach drew away a little. Pembroke attacked again at the railway bridge, but Trinity did not falter, and the danger was passed. First and Third were rough and strong, and obviously fitter than some of their recent crews have been. Pembroke were neat and well together, and showed a great racing spirit.

Bumps chart of the 8th division, Mays 1964
8th division '64. CUWBC fell a total of 26 places in 5 years, '63 - '67

Trinity Hall made their fourth bump in the Gut. They obviously had the pace, and whether they also had the stamina was never put to the test. Downing made their third bump in the Plough reach, but it is doubtful whether they were as fast as was claimed. Selwyn, on the other hand, and also Fitzwilliam House were clearly faster than had been realized. Both made their bumps at first post corner.

The affairs in the eighth division, centred on the Cambridge University women's boat club, were frankly burlesque, and did no good to the cause of women's rowing, which a few dedicated oarswomen and scullers, elsewhere, have worked hard to advance in recent years.

The Times, 14th June 1965
   Queens' gamble comes off; Triumph after days in wilderness from our rowing correspondent

After three perilous nights at Cambridge, First and Third Trinity were never in any danger on Saturday and finished several lengths clear of Pembroke. Jesus came within half a length of Pembroke.

Queens', in desparation, moved D. G. Benson down to stroke in place of J. D. C. Martin, and their gamble came off. St. Catharine's closed on them rapidly and were almost overlapping in the Plough reach. But at the same time Queens' were closing steadily on Jesus. In the long reach St. Catharine's suddenly faded and Queens' caught Jesus near the glasshouses. Rumour has it that the Jesus boat had sprung a leak, but it was none the less a triumph for Queens' after three days in the wilderness.

In the meantime Lady Margaret, plugging on with determination but little else, suddenly found themselves within reach of a demoralized St. Catharine's, and duly caught them at Morley's Holt. Fitzwilliam House made an early bump on Trinity Hall.

Bumps chart of top 3 divisions, Mays 1965 and Mays 1966
Top 3 divisions, Mays 1965 (left) and Mays 1966 (right)

The Times, 13th June 1966
   Lady Margaret too slow at start from our rowing correspondent

Bumps chart, Mays 1967
Full bumps chart, Mays 1967. A popular year for rowing at Trinity, with 4 boats in division 8

First and Third Trinity deservedly remain head of the river at Cambridge. They were never threatened, and gained confidence and pace during the week. Lady Margaret lost their chance of challenging for the headship by a slow start last Wednesday, but caught Jesus at the railings on Saturday to finish second.

Excitement does not depend on quality, and so the 1966 May Week, helped by the glorious weather, will doubtless be remembered as one of the best for many years.

The Times, 12th June 1967
   Trinity not extended, by Richard Burnell

It is a long time since any college showed such superiority as 1st and 3rd Trinity in retaining the headship of the river at Cambridge last week. They were never extended and finished about eight lengths ahead of Pembroke on Saturday.

Pembroke should not have been there, for Queens' touched them near Peter's Posts but they had to wait for the umpire to award the bump afterwards.

There is no value in speculating whether Trinity are better than Lady Margaret in 1950, or for that matter Pembroke in 1935. Using different technique, and different equipment, they probably go faster, and they certainly deserve their success.

But if they earn a place in rowing history it should be as the first Cambridge crew effectively to adopt the continental techniques which have revolutionized the sport in the past five years. That they have learned this at second hand, from Paul Wilson, a Harvard man, makes it the more remarkable.

Trinity would surely beat Keble on the Oxford head crew's form in Eights. But that was two weeks ago and Keble will be strengthened for Henley.

There were no outstanding crews at Cambridge, but Fitzwilliam, who made their bump soon after Ditton certainly had by far the best crew they have ever had. Magdalene, making another early bump, and Churchill, could both have gone higher, given more time.

St. Catharine's deserved great credit for finishing eighth and ninth, though some error of selection must have deprived them of finishing with one boat even higher. Their first boat came within feet of Clare, above Grassy, but dropped back, and once again were under pressure from their second boat at the finish.

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