UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
JESUS COLLEGE
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© 2019-20 by JESUS COLLEGE BOAT CLUB. 

HISTORY - FROM THE BEGINNING

Jesus College boat club was founded in 1827, but its first 45 years were somewhat undistinguished with no Henley wins, a lowly position in the May races and only six Blues.

FOUNDATIONS

1872 proved to be something of a turning point in the club’s history – the first VIII finished second on the river and carried off the Ladies’ Plate from Henley . The club entered a golden age in 1875 when it finished at the head of the river for the first time in its history and stayed there for no fewer than eleven consecutive years – a feat still unequalled by any other club. During those eleven years the college won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley twice (1879 and 1885), the Ladies’ Plate five times and the Stewards’, Visitors’ and Wyfold cups once each. In addition, it produced seventeen rowing Blues, provided four of the oarsmen in the University boat in four years out of the eleven, and in 1876 no fewer than five of them.

FAMOUS NAMES

Among the outstanding Jesuans of the time were H. E. Rhodes, C. Gurdon, Steve Fairbairn and T. E. Hockin, the latter of whom was head of the river seven times, a record unlikely to be broken. The period after 1885 was somewhat barren, but Steve Fairbairn’s return to the College in 1904 heralded a return to the club’s former eminence. The headship of the Lents was regained in 1905, and the headship of the river in 1909. Steve Fairbairn was the dominant figure behind the success of the boat club in the years between 1904 and 1938.

'MILEAGE MAKES CHAMPIONS'

His influence on College rowing and indeed world of rowing is hard to overestimate. He is the father of the oft-quoted phrase ‘Mileage makes champions’, and the races which he founded reflect this maxim. The Head of the River race on the Thames Tideway was first run in 1926 and now has over 400 boats competing every year. The winner’s trophy is a bust of Fairbairn. In 1929, the Fairbairn Cup race was founded on the River Cam, which the club still runs today. This head race is the longest in the University rowing calendar and is the major rowing event for Michaelmas term. The technique which Fairbairn coached remained the basis of Jesus style for many decades. This ‘Jesus style’ focussed on applying the weight of the body to the oar, rather than just pure muscle and involved ‘rowing the blade into the water’ so that the weight was moving before the oarsman took the full strain. Many still talk fondly of ‘bell notes’ – the sound that this technique produced. Fairbairn and the J.C.B.C. were also at the forefront of changing the equipment on which people have rowed – the most significant of these being the change from fixed to sliding seats.

SLIDING TO THE TOP

The Fairbairn style was kept alive within the college by Percy Bullock, the boatman from 1924 to 1971. This period was one of continued success for the club. The year 1946-7 was something of an annus mirabilis – the red and black held the headship of the Lents and the Mays, won the Thames Tideway Head of the River Race by some 20 seconds and the Marlow Grand. The club went on to win the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley for the third time in its history. The Jesus crew, which beat crews from Leander, Zurich and Delft , in each case winning by a devastating spurt which began at, or just before the mile post, was brilliantly coached by D. H. Mays-Smith and brilliantly stroked by C. B. R. Barton. The latter was one of two Olympians who competed for the college during this period, the other being M.G. Delahooke.When Percy retired in 1971, he was succeeded by Tony Willson. The 70s were somewhat leaner times for J.C.B.C., despite some marked individual successes for, amongst others, Chris Rodrigues, D. L. Maxwell (who won a silver in the Olympic VIII in 1976) and Chris Baillieu (who won a silver in the double sculls at the same Olympics). 16th October 1979 marked the inauguration of J.C.W.B.C. and soon worked their way into the top rank of women’s college rowing, gaining the headship in 1993 and holding on to it the next year. The men’s crews of the late eighties and early nineties returned to successful ways, working their way up to second on the river. But, despite a lengthy period in the top three crews, the headship still proved elusive.

Taken from 'The Jesus College Boat Club 1827-1994'

Copyright is vested by the Authors in the Master, Fellows and Scholars of the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin St. Radegund, called Jesus College, Cambridge.