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A Short History of Bumps, Part 2

In this two-part series we’re looking at the history of the Bumps races to try and understand where they come from and why they happen.  Today is all about Bumps Facts.

2017 lent bumps (4) small

One of the Pembroke women’s boats before Lent Bumps 2017

Bumps fun facts

  • The top boat of a lower division rows at the bottom of the division above it and is known as a ‘sandwich boat’
  • Boats with different number of oars used to be allowed, but a four can’t catch an eight and a ten doesn’t fit well on the Cam, so the eight became the standard.
  • No boats with more than six oars existed on the cam before 1825
  • The sport took longer to reach Cambridge than it did Oxford, because the Cam of the early 19th century was a narrow, industrial canal.
  • The Cambridge University Boat Club was formed in 1926-7 for the purpose of arranging Bumps
  • The original Bumps were held three days a week through to the end of Lent and Easter. The crews weren’t really College crews because of the confusing mix of people who took part.
  • Trinity and St John’s were the only colleges to take part at first
  • Races originally took place in Michaelmas as well, but the bad weather and intensity of racing made this unsustainable.
  • The ‘Getting On’ race started in 1844 as a consequence of so many boats wanting to take part. At the time it was called ‘The Sloggers’ and was also a bumping race. This race decides which of the lower boats – 4th and 5th boats – qualify to take part in the main event.
  • Food and drink has always been part of Bumps; with Bumps suppers and meetings in the Captains rooms supplied with ale and food, the original culture around Bumps was much more social than athletic.


Pembroke in Bumps

Pembroke was a latecomer, appearing with regularity only since 1856, when our yellow uniforms were greeted with amusement by the rest of the river.  It is only since 1887 that Pembroke has had an improved position and we are now rarely out of the top half of the first division.

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