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Crews aim to make Cambridgeshire Rowing Association Town Bumps 150th anniversary memorable

By Mark Taylormark.taylor@iliffemedia.co.uk

2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell
2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell

Town clubs seek supremacy on the River Cam

2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell
2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell

The great and good of Cambridge rowing will be out en masse along the River Cam this week in an anniversary year for the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association Town Bumps.

For each of the four days of the showpiece event in the town’s rowing calendar, which started yesterday (Tuesday), there will be approximately 108 crews in action.

Simple mathematics means that with eight members in each crew, plus coxes, and adding in bank parties of coaches, marshals, officials and the tenders at the Beer Tree, there will be in excess of 900 people having a direct involvement in affairs.

And that is even before spectators are taken into account.

2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell
2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell

Now in its 150th year, the event is the highlight of the Cambridge calendar for rowers from all the on-Cam clubs and off-Cam CRA clubs Peterborough, St Neots and Isle of Ely.

It started in 1868, when the 1st Cambridge Town Club finished as Head of the River, and back then it was men only.

In the early years, Rob Roy took up the headship in 1897, and held it for 14 years, with WH ‘Billy’ Odams, now recognised as one of the greatest oarsmen produced by the town, in the stroke seat each year.

During that time, Cambridge 99 Rowing Club were formed, in 1899, as a breakaway of a group of smokers from another town club that had disallowed them from continuing the habit while in training.

2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell
2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell

The size of the bumps nowadays is quite staggering when you think about it in terms of participation levels in the city.

Back in 1924, there were 19 crews entered, which meant that a ‘getting-on’ race was necessary to reduce the numbers to 18, but two years later it dropped to 14, with the Scouts boating three crews.

City of Cambridge left the CRA for a number of years in the 1970s because the bumps were seen as an out-dated event that was holding back oarsmen from achieving international status.

It was not until late the same decade that rowing in Cambridge opened up to women, having previously been the preserve of men, and they first raced in the Town Bumps in 1983.

2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell
2018 Town bumps on the river Cam. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Tunnicliffe Trophy was introduced by JD Tunnicliffe, the father of Hilary Tunnicliffe who rowed in the head boat.

The women first rowed in fours, but in 2001 started competing in eights.

By 2002, five divisions were being rowed, made up of three full men’s divisions of 17 crews, one women’s division now rowed in eights and a fifth division of men’s and women’s crews.

CRA secretary John Jenner had been in charge of the event for nearly 30 years, helping it go from strength to strength, and in 2002, the Cambridge Amateur Rowing Club Challenge Cup was renamed the John Jenner Trophy in recognition of his service. It is presented to the most successful club in the bumps.

Now, there are three men’s divisions of 17 crews and a fourth of 11 boats, while the women’s divisions have two divisions each of 17 and a third of 12.

CRA president Bill Key is rowing in his 58th year of the Town Bumps.

He said: “The importance of the Town Bumps is traditional and it is mainly due to these that we have such a large number of individual clubs on the Cam.

“When I started rowing with the Scouts’ Boat Club in 1960 we boated from King’s College Boathouse and used their equipment so our season didn’t start till after the May Races.

“During this short season the CRA organised the Bumps, Time Race and Regatta.

“Since then many clubs have their own equipment and storage facilities.

“Local clubs have to travel to regattas and head races around the country but the vast proportion remain on the Cam where there are numerous events organised by the various clubs.

“It has often been said that the level of rowing has been held back due to there being so many clubs, indeed the City Rowing Club left the CRA some years ago for this reason.

“The bumps add excitement to the sport for participants and followers and has never been so popular.

“City rowers consider it to be a fun event. However, when the chips are down it is as important to achieve success as in any sporting activity.

“Over the years many feuds between clubs have arisen and then disappeared.

“If it wasn’t for the bumps there would be far less rowers on the Cam taking part in a sport that mixes ability with wellbeing.”

Cantabs have the headship in both the men’s and women’s divisions, completing the first double for one club since Rob Roy in 2003.

It is set to be just as eventful this year, with Greenwoods GRM again sponsoring the Town Bumps.

Robert Dillarstone, managing partner at Greenwoods GRM, said: “We are very pleased to support this well-established Cambridge tradition, especially on its 150th anniversary.

“As a now well-established law firm in Cambridge it is great to be part of something synonymous with the city.”


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