The Boat Race, Oxford vs Cambridge, Barnes, London

The Oxford and Cambridge boat race was the brainchild of two student friends in 1829. The first race took place at Henley and Oxford were clear winners after a restart. The first race held on the Thames from Putney to Mortlake was rowed in 1845 and from 1856 apart from the war years it became an annual event. The race passes under Barnes bridge it has been suggested that whichever crew is ahead when they reach Barnes Bridge will go on to win the race. The railway company used to sell tickets to spectators for access to the bridge to watch the race, but in recent years, it has been intentionally closed to pedestrians during the boat race on the grounds of public safety.

The course for the race covers a 4.2-mile stretch of the Thames in West London, from Putney to Mortlake. Confusingly, members of both crews are traditionally known as “blues” and each boat as a “Blue Boat”. The Cambridge boat is light blue and the Oxford boat dark blue. There are separate men’s and women’s races and as of 2019, Cambridge has won the men’s race 84 times and Oxford 80 times, with one dead heat. For the women’s race, Cambridge have won 44 times and Oxford 30.

The Boat Race is still a hugely popular event and over 250,000 people watch the race from the banks of the river each year. In 2009, a record 270,000 people watched the race live and 15 million or more watched it on television.

There is a Wikipedia article with lots more history and details on The Boat Race here

The website of The Boat Race organisation is here


The Boat Race - Oxford vs Cambridge, Barnes, London

Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, Barnes, London – the Oxford crew rowing under Barnes Bridge. © Andrew Wilson, Wild London Books, Wild About Barnes

The Boat Race Course

University Boat Race Thames map.svg
By Pointillist at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


The Head of the River Race

The Boat Race is only one of many events on this stretch of the River Thames. Another, The Head of the River Race, is a timed race for eights, rowed annually on the Thames from Mortlake to Putney (the opposite direction to the Oxford and Cambridge race, though the direction can change depending on whether there is a flood or ebb tide). The first Head of the River Race took place in 1926 with 40 crews competing. Today the entry is limited to 420 crews, several being from abroad and strongly advised to take a practice run on the extremely hazardous course before taking part in the race.


Head of the River Rowing Race, Barnes, London

Head of the River Race – rowing at Barnes, London. © Andrew Wilson, Wild London Books, Wild About Barnes

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