The Road To Henley
Monica Fisher (née Pring-Mill) went up to Lady Margaret Hall (LMH), Oxford in 1972 to study Zoology, little knowing that she would be instrumental in bringing about one of the biggest changes in Women’s Boat Race history.More
The Women’s Boat Race, up until 1977, had alternated between the Isis and the Cam, and indeed had had rather a chequered history - some years not having been rowed at all.
In 1974 women were admitted to five men’s colleges, significantly increasing the number of oarswomen in Oxford. (This successful trial period resulted in the majority of colleges becoming mixed in the 80’s.) Thus, in the mid ‘70s, there was a groundswell of feeling in the women’s and mixed colleges regarding the lack of access for women to rowing and mainstream racing. This culminated in St Hugh’s 1st eight, captained by Beverley Knight (née Mather) (then the OUWBC President) entering the ‘rowing on’ race for the men’s divisions in the 1975 Summer Eights, and qualifying the crew, which went on to bump!
Monica having been taught to row by her boyfriend in January 1974, rowed in the Blue Boat in ‘75 and ’76 and restarted the LMH Boat Club for the Wolfson Women’s Fours Regatta. She took over the OUWBC Presidency from Bev in Trinity Term 1976, and building on the St Hugh’s success in 1975, Monica worked with OUBC to introduce two Women’s Divisions for the 1976 Summer Eights.
Additionally, Celia Duff had crossed the great divide and come to Oxford from the ‘other place’, with a rowing Blue from Cambridge. With her guidance, the Oxford squad revamped their training and introduced weights, running and circuits. And Penny Chuter was asked to come and help with some coaching and crew selection. 1976 also saw the introduction of a women’s 2nd eight.
Alongside these developments in the women’s squad, OUBC had been considering the introduction of a men’s lightweight crew to race against Cambridge, and the possible location of that race. Visiting Andy Baird, the OUBC President at the men’s training base in Radley, Monica and Andy laid plans for a regatta to be held at Henley to include the Women’s Boat Race, the newly named Osiris v. Blondie race and the Men’s Lightweight Race.
The argument to move the races from alternating between the Isis and the Cam to a permanent home in Henley was based on several factors:
- The difficulties faced in racing side be side on the Cam due to its narrowness and endless bends,
- The severe lack of funds to travel, even every other year, to Cambridge to race,
- The opportunity to use a 1,000m stretch of neutral water (the standard women’s race at the time was 1,000m),
- And the possibility to combine with the lightweights to significantly raise the profile of the Women’s Boat Race, and with this bring significantly more visibility and followers on the bank.
A sponsored row over the Easter of 1976 resulted in the purchase of the very first OUWBC boat, from St Edward’s School, Oxford, although it was not considered of a sufficient standard to use in the Henley Race.
Alongside this, negotiations took place with Leander Club to allow the crew to boat from their landing stage, rack the shell on the grass in the garden, and use the downstairs loo (not upstairs!!)
So, on March 20th 1977, boating from Leander Club in a shell borrowed from Oriel College, the first OUWBC Blue Boat to race at Henley took to the water.
Records show that, during a heavy thunderstorm, the 1,000m race was very close, but Cambridge won by 1/4 length having never had clear water.
The final word, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first Henley race, should go to Monica, who has had the unique privilege of racing in the Women’s Boat Race on the Cam, the Isis and at Henley.
“ I think that moving the races to Henley contributed to the seriousness with which women’s rowing became regarded. Generations of oarswomen have started their rowing careers at Oxford in the last forty years and I am delighted to have played a part in facilitating the pleasure we have all derived from our sport.”
Back row from L to R: Bryony Cottrell (Stroke, Wadham), Monica Fisher (7, LMH, President), Tarn Phillips (5, LMH), Robin Throssell (3, St Catherine's), Sue Jones (4, Jesus)
Front row from L to R: Fiona Lea-Wilson (Bow, St Hugh's), Kim Adams (6, St Catherine's), Catherine Hatch (2, St Hugh's)
On ground: Christine Maggs (Cox, St Catherine's)
Windrush BBQ September 11th 2016
Last Sunday saw the alumnae, friends, family, coaches and current athletes of OUWBC come together at the Fleming Boathouse for a celebration of past, present and future.More
Despite being blessed with the weather, we started indoors with the election of a new President and Vice President for the 2017 Boat Race Campaign. Welcome to Isa von Loga and Issy Dodds.
With the tantalising smell of cooking singing in our nostrils, the current Executive Committee introduced themselves, before we heard from the newly appointed Chief Coach Ali Williams. Catherine Tomkies gave us an insight into the physiotherapist’s role in the squad’s success, before the hunger overcame, and we headed for the superb barbeque cooked by Greg (Ali’s Dad – a true Aussie at the barbie) and David (supervisor!), ably assisted in the kitchen by Ole and Jamie, but basically organised and kept under control by Barbara and Liz!!
Having promised some water-based entertainment for after lunch, Austen duly obliged with boat trips on the river in Bosporus, the beautiful old OUBC launch. This was a first for most, especially the athletes who usually never get to sit in the launch; but are watched from it during Trial 8s, or fixtures! Thank you to Austen for this privilege.
With the luxury of the launch ride over, the current squad swapped motor power for oar power to take family and alumnae out on the water in racing shells. They did a fantastic job, so thanks to them all and to Ali and Jamie for organising. I think we may have tempted some of the alumnae back into a boat on a more regular basis!
Our afternoon closed as the Committee disappeared off for a committee meeting and the athletes dispersed back home to continue their studies - Much fun was had by all; a great means to bring together the OUWBC community in all its guises.
Last Wednesday saw a bevy of Boat Race Sponsors descend upon the Fleming Boat House to spend the day with the OUWBC and OUBC squads.More
After a rowers’ lunch with a mixture of current athletes from both Clubs, the Sponsors and representatives from Cancer Research UK joined the OUWBC squad members in the Isis Room. Here, some of the current triallists shared their own particular stories and how they had come to be rowing at Oxford and how it now steers their daily life. Following these testimonies, it was the CR-UK representatives and the sponsors’ turn to introduce themselves, and explain what their companies did exactly, how they support the Boat Races, and why they wanted to be involved at all!
After these formalities were over, the rowers took to the water in a great show of force, for their afternoon outing and the guests took to Bosporus, the beautiful old launch, to try to get a feel and an understanding of the physical efforts involved for each of the crew members in getting to the start line on April 2nd 2017.
Sponsors and athletes had a great time alike, organised by Maria and her team from PSG. Thank you for your support, Newton Investment Management, BNY Mellon, Adnams Southwold, Parmigiani Fleurier, and we look forward to supporting CR_UK for our 2017 campaign.
Windrush Volunteer Role - Journalist/Writer in Residence
Alongside the development of our Communications Strategy and social media presence, Windrush is looking for a volunteer Writer for the organisation.More
Working closely with the Social Media /Communications Manager in the first instance, the plan would be to develop a web/twitter/Facebook Campaign introducing alumnae who have gone on to achieve great things, be they in the sporting or business field or indeed both. The jobholder would be responsible for managing and writing those interviews/articles and developing the ideas further. However, there is also much scope for writing about reunions, reporting on the alumnae races at the Henley Boat Races, interviewing the coaches, the President, and indeed anything that the jobholder decides is relevant and of interest to the alumnae.
The jobholder would join the Windrush Executive Committee at an exciting time, which is seeing the resurgence of the alumnae association alongside the move of the Boat Race to the Tideway.
Windrush Volunteer Role - Social Media /Communications Manager
Windrush has members spread across many countries and many rowing years, which means that the task of making contact and keeping in touch with OUWBC alumnae is no longer straightforward. The Committee is therefore looking for a volunteer to take charge of Communications for Windrush.More
The job-holder will review, maintain and update the Windrush internet presence, through the pages on the OUWBC website, the Facebook page, but also manage communications at both a less technical level, and using ‘the next big thing’ (from Linkedin to Twitter).
The Social Media and Communications Manager would join the Windrush Executive Committee at an exciting time which is seeing the resurgence of the alumnae association alongside the move of the Boat Race to the Tideway.
Windrush Volunteer Role - Archivist
The Windrush archives currently consist of a ‘red box’, a ‘blue book’ and a patchy selection of photos, scrapbooks, newspaper cuttings and race programmes. The Committee is therefore looking for a volunteer to take on the task of Archivist for our various scattered memorabilia.More
In the first instance, the Archivist would investigate the best way and location in which to store/collate our existing ‘stuff’’ (maybe in partnership with the River and Rowing Museum?), and propose a route forward. It would then fall to the job-holder to set about sorting and cataloguing the existing collection before acquiring/absorbing other donations from alumnae.
The Archivist would join the Windrush Executive Committee at an exciting time, which is seeing the resurgence of the alumnae association alongside the move of the Boat Race to the Tideway.
Windrush Westminster Reception February 2016
OUWBC alumnae experienced a rare treat on Monday evening courtesy of Claire Perry MP (BB 1984 & 1985 and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport) when they toured the Houses of Parliament prior to joining a Reception in Portcullis House.More
Claire accompanied the group on a whistle-stop tour of all the parliamentary sights and even managed to ‘procure’ seats in the public gallery of the Commons Chamber to allow us to observe a debate. Drinks followed in Portcullis House, where there was a chance for crewmembers to reunite for some reminiscing before Sarah Outen, London-to-London adventurer and erstwhile OUWBC trialist, spoke with passion about her recent journey and the challenges she met and overcame. I suspect that more than one of the audience rather hankered after a similar adventure if only they were brave, young or mad enough! Carriages at 9pm brought many hugs, accompanied by promises of further reunions and historic photographs and press cuttings to boot. An evening to repeat and remember!
Next stop: Boat Race Day (Easter Sunday March 27th) where we hope that many will join friends and family to cheer this year’s Osiris and Blue Boat on to victory. Alumnae are also invited to the Annual Boat Race Dinner in the evening. It would be lovely to see as many of you as possible taking pride in being alumnae of the OUWBC and initiating this year’s athletes into our great history. Invitations to the dinner have already been circulated and information about access to the Imperial College Boat House on Boat Race day will follow shortly.
Windrush Autumn Drinks November 2015
On Wednesday 25th November, St Hilda’s College Oxford played host to the inaugural Windrush Autumn Drinks. Long time members of Windrush mingled with more recent graduates of the OUWBC programme comparing notes on training methods past and present, the move to the Tideway, and life after rowing (is there one?!)
Conversation turned to the imminent Trial 8s event on Thursday 10th December, racing the Boat Race course. All alumnae are enthusiastically invited to join friends and family of the current squad at Imperial College Boat House, Putney Hard.
Further information can be found in the most recent Windrush newsletter, or from firstname.lastname@example.org