Oxford win 1st Boat Race
What has become one of the highlights of the British sporting calendar began in 1829 with a laddish chat between two old Harrow school friends. Charles Merivale, a student at Cambridge , and Charles Wordsworth (yes, he was related, the poet 's nephew in fact) discussed the idea of a boat race, and on March 12 1829 Cambridge sent Oxford a challenge.
The first race took place at Henley-on-Thames , moving afterwards to Westminster and then when things got too crowded there to Putney . On the day the crews wore no special colours or sporting strips, and Oxford (after a restart) won by a distance in front of an excited crowd said to number around 20,000. A tradition had begun.
Oxford having won, Cambridge the following year requested a re-match, and to this day the loser is bound to send the challenge that sets everything else in motion.
The repercussions of the event are wider than might be imagined: Henley Regatta was arranged following the interest generated by the inaugural Boat Race; and Baron de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympics, was influenced in his views about sporting spirit and the amateur ethos by the boat race itself and Henley Regatta.
For many students, real and imaginary, it has had personal repercussions too: hangovers abound on the day after the event, and Bertie Wooster's famous assault on a constable's helmet on Boat Race night is representative of some similar scrapes over the years.
Every year since 1856 when the challenge was made an annual thing, barring 1914 - 1918, and 1940 to 1945 for obvious reasons, the race has been held before an admiring crowd, the crews since 1836 sporting their now traditional colours - dark blue for Oxford, chosen as it was the colour of Christ Church College where their stroke was a student; and light - Eton - blue for Cambridge.
In 1927 the BBC broadcast commentary on the radio for the first time, and in 1938 it became a very early television outside broadcast, seen by very few at the time of course, though nowadays it attracts TV audiences worldwide of many millions, acting as a tourist advert, taking in some of the River Thames 's nicer stretches in the capital - Putney with its boat houses, Hammersmith Bridge, Chiswick Reach with some elegant Georgian mansions in view, and other landmarks along the way like Fulham's Craven Cottage , Harrod's Repository (now luxury flats), and Mortlake Brewery.
Even if as some wags complain the same teams always get to the final, the Boat Race is a national treasure, and spectators cannot help but admire the enormous strength and skill of the crews battling it out year after year just for the honour and the glory.
More famous dates here
6641 views since 10th June 2008
On this day: