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"Head of the River!" The first 100 years of the Lady Margaret Boat Club

"Head of the River!" The first 100 years of the Lady Margaret Boat Club

The Lady Margaret Boat Club, originally the 'Johnian Boat Club', was founded in 1825 and was the first to use an 8-oared boat on the Cam. Two Johnians were part of the Cambridge crew in the first ever Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in 1829. This exhibitions contains a selection of manuscripts and artefacts from approximately the first 100 years of the Lady Margaret Boat Club's history.

More information about the history of the Lady Margaret Boat Club can be found on its website: https://www.ladymargaretboatclub.org/history

 

President's Book 1

Contents page of the first President's Book, 1825-1833, opposite a hand-painted copy of a portrait of Lady Margaret Beaufort at prayer. At the time, the Club was named the Johnian Boat Club. Presidents' Books include laws of the club, racing calendars (from 1827), lists of members and their honours, descriptions of some races, and in the case of the first volume only, accounts. This volume was conserved by the Cambridge Conservation Consortium in 2019, to reinforce the sewing structure and joints, which had been damaged through repeated handling. The volume was also cleaned and a case was made to house it.

Ref: SJCS/2/1/1

President's Book with portrait of Lady Margaret Beaufort

President's Book 2

Pages of the first President's Book with, on the left-hand page, a painted map of the River Cam between Cambridge and Chesterton Locks. On the right-hand page is a list of Members of the Boat Club, with symbols by each name which are explained on another page of the book. Later annotations have been made showing the years in which some men on the list died.

Ref: SJCS/2/1/1

President's Book with map of the Cam

President's Book 3

This page of the President's Book explains the abbreviations used in the book. The illustration of the two flags is curious: on the green flag is a representation of the arms of the royal house of Hanover, but the origins of the devices on the blue flag, a gold lion passant guardant and gold crown, are at present unclear. The two stand either side of a banner bearing the initials of St John's College on a staff surmounted by the College's eagle crest, and are connected by the motto 'Who will separate us.' The whole arrangement could simply be artistic licence on the part of the illustrator.

Ref: SJCS/2/1/1

President's Book with picture of flags and list of abbreviations

Lady Margaret Boat Song

The Lady Margaret Boat Song, first sung at the College May Term Concert in 1895, was written by T. R. Glover and composed by G. M. Garrett. It takes the form of an imagined conversation between Lady Margaret Beaufort and Bishop John Fisher, suggesting that the College was founded for rowing. The chorus, loosely translated, goes: “live happily, Margaret, in the isles of the blessed; if we can, we will always have been, head of the river!”

Ref: SJCS/2/5/2

Lady Margaret Boat Club Song

Concert programme cover, 1901

Cover of programme for a Lady Margaret Boat Club 'smoker', or 'smoking concert', a popular form of entertainment in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. This particular event was, paradoxically, non-smoking, but there are examples in the archives of smoking concerts which were just that.

Ref: SJCS/2/9/2/a

Concert programme cover, 1901

Concert programme, early 1900s

Concert programme from the first decade of the 1900s. It contains a selection of classical pieces, folk tunes, and popular pieces such as 'Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes' from the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, The Gondoliers. Also included were two musical sketches by J. C. H. How, who came up to St John's in 1900, held two Hebrew Scholarships, graduated BA in 1903, MA in 1907, and was Hebrew Lecturer at St John's, 1906-1920. He was ordained a priest in 1906, served as a Chaplain in the First World War, and held many offices in the Church of England, including Chaplain to the King, 1933-38. In 1938 he was made Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway and from 1942 was Primus (presiding bishop) of the Scottish Episcopalian Church.

Ref: SJCS/2/9/2/a

Concert programme, early 1900s

Back cover of concert programme, early 1900s

The back cover of this programme from the early 1900s contains several in-jokes, the meaning of which we shall never know.

Ref: SJCS/2/9/2/a

Back cover of concert programme, early 1900s

Eagle

Brass eagle from boat, date unknown (c 1854-1950). The eagle is one of the symbols of St John’s College, as in ancient Christian tradition there is a creature to symbolise each of the four Evangelists (for example, in Gospel Books such as the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Book of Kells), with the eagle representing St John.

Ref: SJCS/2/13/1

Brass eagle

The team at breakfast

This small photograph shows the team at breakfast in Hall before training. It is undated, but can be dated to between 1905 and 1928.

Ref: SJCS/2/9/1/1

Photo of team at breakfast c 1905-28

Breakfast menu, 1909

Breakfast menu for the 1st Lent Boat crew, 23rd February 1909. The college boat races known as the ‘Bumps’ are a regular part of Cambridge college life, extending over a few weeks in both Lent and May. They began as a bit of informal rivalry between the Lady Margaret Boat Club and the four-oar boat from Trinity College, although Trinity quickly got itself an eight-oar boat too. At that time, they were the only two Colleges with boats on the Cam. The Cam is too narrow to allow for boats to race each other side by side and so a type of chase came about between the Trinity and John’s boats where one boat would lie in wait for the other and sound a bugle to indicate its whereabouts. The other boat would then attempt to find and catch the first and if it did they would make contact with that boat – this contact became known as a bump. Gradually a more formal set of rules were established and other colleges became involved. The boat that finished first was named the ‘head of the river’ – a title which has often fallen to the Lady Margaret Boat Club and has been won again by them in this Lent term of 2020.

Ref: SJCS/2/9/1/1

Breakfast menu and 'Ballad of the Boat', 1909

Rowing cap

Lady Margaret Boat Club cap in red velvet with eagle and crown badge brocade and gold tassel. It is said to have belonged to Loftus Henry Kendal Bushe-Fox, who entered St John's in 1882 and was President of the Club 1897-1916. Bushe-Fox (1863-1916) studied Maths and Law at St John’s, was made a Fellow and Junior Dean in 1903, and from 1905 was a Tutor and Lecturer.

Ref: SJCS/2/13/9

Red velvet rowing cap

Day brothers, 1912

The Lowe Double Sculls, organised by the Cambridge University Boat Club (now by the Cambridge University Combined Boat Clubs), was won in 1912 by brothers D. I. Day and G. L. Day of St John’s College. The brothers won other races together, including the Forster-Fairbairn Pairs in 1913 and the Magdalene Pairs in 1914. Dennis Ivor Day was part of the team that won the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in 1914; tragically, he was killed in action the following year. George Lewis Day survived the war despite being badly wounded, becoming a solicitor in his home town of St Ives, Huntingdonshire.

Ref: SJCS/2/6/7/3

Day brothers in the Lowe Double Sculls