The Year Hertford Burnt Its Boats

David Wintle, Captain of Boats in 1953 sent us this extract from the college magazine in the year that M1 won blades in both Topics and Eights.

The Year Hertford Burnt Its Boats

The portents were there the year before for keen observers of the god Isis. Four bumps in Torpids and four in the Summer Eights by the 1st crew. Bill Bagley appointed college flag master with the honour of having his trousers flown the flag pole on all ceremonial occasions. Thus the scene was set for the year to remember. 

Ignoring the doubtful value of the long distance held at Radley, the Boat Club concentrated on winning the freshmen’s clinker four race for which the prize was a firkin of beer. From this sound liquid base, the 1st Torpid launched itself – Exeter on the 1st day, Pembroke, St. Johns, Jesus, a row over on the fifth, and then St Peter’s Hall on the last day. Hertford finished second in Division 2 and next year would go into the 1st Division but that’s another story. The author requested the privilege of a bump supper, the Principal, N.R. Murphy, suggested a semi-event with the full supper being held to celebrate a similar number of bumps in the following term’s Eights Week – such confidence by the Principal! – Nevertheless an eight was bought from Salter’s boatyard, and was carried by some thirty members of the college, with francis Rayner the cox sitting on top, to the New Quad. After dinner the boat was set on fire by the Principal, followed by general celebration and the evening was rounded off with the City fire brigade putting out the embers. One could consider this a dress rehearsal. 

Summer Eights – a row over on the 1st day, then BNC II, Christ Church II, Pembroke II, New College II and Keble on the same day, and finally Corpus.  The secret? An electrifying start – most bumps before the gut – BNC in 14 strokes, is this a record? A full bump supper was announced, Salter’s supplied another vintage eight – the College braced itself. This time the procession from Folly Bridge was headed by the secretary Don Bell carrying the boat club flag – the subsequent traffic jam took over an hour to clear itself. The bump supper was attended by a number of defeated boat captains, Gilbert the chef excelled himself, speeches, and then once more en mass to the New Quad. The right had been raised off the ground on two chairs, stuffed with paper, and sprinkled with a gallon of petrol. The Principal bent over to strike a match and was saved just in time. The blaze was spectacular, and at its height the highlight of the evening – the Principal wrapped his gown around him and hurdled over the boat clean through the flames. Cheers at this distinctly athletic feat – whereupon he insisted the other fellows should similarly perform – all clear, although Charles Hignett tripped and needed a quick helping hand. Singing, embibing, Bagley dancing sans trousers in his official capacity, final extinguishing of the remains by the fire brigade. 1953 was a year to remember – Hertford had finally burnt its boats. 

– David Wintle

One Comment Add yours

  1. Michael Harris says:

    I remember this well – It was my first Summer Eights, and I was rowing in the second VIII (two bumps). Many thanks, David, for bringing back these happy memories – Mike Harris


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