Murray Edwards College Boat Club: A Brief History
‘History is always written wrong and so always needs to be re-written’- George Santayana. In light of this we are appealing for more information on the history of MECBC. Evidence concerning the boat club’s history is hard to come by and so any further contributions (or indeed corrections) would be much appreciated.
Rowing has been an established sport in Cambridge since the early nineteenth century and its characteristic Bumps race was first instituted in 1827. As of 1887, two such races were rowed, one in Lent term and the other in Easter term.
The history of women’s rowing at Cambridge is naturally shorter than that of men’s as they only started to gain a presence at the university in the second half of the nineteenth century. However, Newnham College is known to have had a boat club from 1893 onwards and has been racing against other women’s crews since 1919. In 1941, Newnham and Girton rowers joined forces to create the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club and the first women’s boat race against Oxford University took place. Women continued racing throughout the second world war, competing against both men’s and women’s crews. Women started rowing in VIIIs as early as 1954 but were only started rowing in Bumps in 1962, even though there had been opportunities to compete in other events such as Tideway and the Annual Regatta.
The Fairbairn Cup, Lent Bumps and May Bumps are widely held to be the main competitions of each Cambridge term and these are now commonly rowed in VIIIs but between the years 1974-1989, it was traditional for the women’s senior crews to row Fairbairns and May Bumps in IVs and Lent Bumps in VIIIs. Before 1974, women had competed in Fairbairns in VIIIs and the decision to create the Women’s IVs division was largely fuelled by concerns that women’s boat clubs were generally not large enough to provide eight rowers of similar standard and that training, technique and race performance suffered as a consequence. However, larger and more established women’s crews such as Girton and Newnham initially boycotted this by insisting upon rowing in VIIIs.
New Hall College is one of Cambridge’s youngest colleges, founded in 1954 and only gaining its full status as a college in 1972. The New Hall Boat Club was officially founded in 1974 but had already been successful in the previous year, winning the Clare Novice Race and performing strongly in the Anjou Regatta. New Hall students had been rowing as early as 1962 with Newnham in VIIIs and been active in providing oarswomen for the CUWBC, a tradition that the college is proud to have maintained, providing more than a dozen Blues rowers and even an Olympic rower, Sarah Hunter Jones.
The Boat Club performed particularly strongly in its early years, being Head of the River in May Bumps in 1977, 1981 and 1984, winning their division in Tideway in 1989, being Head of the Cam in 1979, winning Queens Ergs in 1988 and 1989 when the competition was founded as well as winning many of the various regattas that are held throughout the year. The Boat Club has subsequently had a variable success rate but has generally managed to support two senior crews and has been known to have as many as five crews entered for May Bumps (1989). More recently, the club has started to regain some of its former glories, with the W1 achieving blades in Lent Bumps 2011, W1 and W2 achieving double blades and the Pegasus Cup in May Bumps 2011 and W1 finishing head of college women’s crews in the 2011 Winter Head race.
In 2008, the Boat Club was renamed Murray Edwards College Boat Club, keeping in line with the renaming of the college following the generous endowment of Ros Smith and Steve Edwards.
The Boat Club has never had its own Boat House and initially shared one with Fitzwilliam College Boat Club from 1979 until 1999 before moving into the larger Peterhouse Boat House in Lent 1999 where the club is still based.
The Club currently owns three VIIIs: Owen purchased in 2004 and named after the college’s previous Senior Tutor Owen Saxton and Winston purchased in 1995 as a novice boat and named after a past college porter Winston Fielding. The final boat is our newest acquisition, Octopussy, for our W1 crew, indirectly replacing the recently lost Harald. Harald was bought in 1993 and named after a past head Head Porter, Harald Gogolek, and lost in Lent Bumps 2011 after his bow was snapped off following a collision with the bank. Octopussy was named after the James Bond film of that title, due to the boat code being MEC007.
Fiona Stedl (nee Langham, NH 1968-1971), rowed for the only University women’s boat during her time at New Hall and wrote an article for the boat club newsletter, Neptunes, in October 2013.