The Early Days of the Boat Club
Hertford College Boat Club, (HCBC) was founded in October 1875, one year after the re-foundation of Hertford College as the new embodiment of Magdalen Hall. The first Captain, A. F. Thornhill, was elected and the college colours made their first appearance on the river in the following Hilary term, with the 1st Torpid racing.
The 1st Eight debuted in May 1876, and rose four places. It was far more successful over the following five years than the 1st Torpid, with crews that only went up on one occasion. The 1st Eight started nineteenth in 1878, rising six places that year to thirteenth, five places the following year to eighth, up three places in 1880 to fifth, and the remaining four places to secure ‘Head of the River’ in 1881.
One consequence of being Head of the River in 1881 was that Hertford burnt its boats. The following letter was sent to T.G. Jackson, whilst he was engaged on the restoration of the Bodleian Library:
26 May 1881
Dear Mr Jackson,
Last night at about 10:45 I saw out of my window a blaze of light near the Bodleian, which at once reminded me of Hertford being head of the river and of concomitant festivities, so I went and saw that not only were rockets, bombs, and every form of firework being let off in all directions (chiefly upward) in the front quad of Hertford, but also a huge bonfire was blazing just within the great gates of the College, fed with tables and chairs by a mad set of undergraduates who were chiefly occupied in dancing insanely round it. The sparks were flying straight up to about the level of the Schools tower, which, as you know is swathed in wood-work and tarpaulins. Had there been any touch of east wind there would certainly have been showers of sparks all over the tower…
No notice had been given to any of us of the obvious danger if the wind had blown towards the library and the Senior Proctor (one of the curators) had, I am told, specially sanctioned the fires… We stayed on the scaffolding until 2a.m. when the men seemed to have gone to bed but it is so striking an instance of danger in a quiet summer town that you will pardon my telling you of it…
— J. MADDEN, sub-librarian
Information taken from “Seven Hundred Years of an Oxford College (Hertford College 1284-1984), Andrew Goudie
The new Longbridges Boathouse was opened in 1997, replacing an older boathouse on the same site. The years since the construction of the boat house have been highly successful with both the men’s and women’s sides achieving numerous sets of blades (bumping up on every day of Torpids or Summer Eights). The most recent sets for both mens’ and womens’ crews were won at Torpids 2015.
Longbridges Boathouse caught fire on 4th July 2005, in an incident that the police identified as arson. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by members of the Animal Liberation Front.
The building remained undamaged, but twenty-six boats were destroyed by the heat of the fire. The boat storage area and two club rooms suffered severe smoke damage. The fire destroyed HCBC’s entire fleet of eights, which the Club was fortunate to be able to replace.