This page is designed to document some of the people and events that have shaped the history of Churchill College Boat Club since it was founded in 1961. If you have a story about your rowing days at Churchill, or any other information that may be relevant, please contact the webmaster via the email address on the Committee page.
There is also a selection of old photographs in the Alumni section, and we would welcome any others that previous members of the boat club might have lying around.
The Churchill College Boat Club was founded in 1961 under the guidance and leadership of the Canon J.N. Duckworth. Julia Smyth offered these reflections on the Canon Duckworth:
“Short of stature, great of heart – that is how many will remember the Canon. He first came to prominence as a cox of the winning Blue boats from 1934-36 and then cox of the British VIII in the 1936 Olympics. During World War II, his example of pugnacity, resolute determination and refusal to succumb even under torture inspired his fellow prisoners to make the extra physical and mental effort to stay alive. Noel Duckworth joined Churchill as a Chaplain in 1961. His pastoral and religious duties, though important to him, were not sufficient to fully occupy his energies. A Boat Club had to be established and without doubt Noel was the primary driving force. This is the reason we continue to toast the Canon at each Boat Club dinner.”
More stories and reflections from early members of the College who knew the Canon Duckworth:
“Rowing was his lasting love and through his enthusiasm, knowledge and encouragement, many men at Churchill experienced, some for the first time, the meaning of physical endeavour and team spirit with the rewards that follow.”
– J. Hamilton
“He had a gift of making an oarsman from the most unpromising material, but no-one who found themselves going through that mill has since regretted it.”
– A. Bainbridge
“He was just as happy coaching the fourth boat as well as the first and was almost solely responsible for the tremendous progress that Churchill made in the early years. Bumps and overbumps were almost completely routine and if a Churchill boat was bumped it was a College tragedy.”
– M. Bomford
“We were a small band but rapidly became a force on the river. The boatclub became a potent symbol of collegiate life even before we had the buildings that make up a college. That was Noel Duckworth’s achievement.”
– H. Davies (CCBC 1961-63)
“The Thames Head of the River Race may have been the last time he coxed on the Thames. We ended tired and dehydrated but of course had to paddle back upstream. The Canon refused to believe that the Thames had changed since 1938 and as a result we ran aground at least twice. In deference to his grey hairs we refrained from throwing him overboard.”
– D. Glass (CCBC 1963-66)
“One of Noel’s abilities was to make the most of a situation. We won our event and whilst celebrating one of the officials mentioned that they were going to Antwerp to compete, and that we ought to come along. The Canon instantly accepted. I recall that we acquitted ourselves reasonably well in the race. We got to the bar to discover nine glasses of beer, six deep waiting for us.”
– P. Merson (CCBC 1st VIII 1971)
“He was capable of almost apoplectic excitement and regularly cycled into the river during races.”
– A. Ramsay (CCBC 1st VIII cox 1968-70)
“He was a very generous man – I remember him once lending me his car to drive a girlfriend home to Kent.”
– P. Samworth (CCBC Captain 1968-69)
“Noel’s generosity extended to recently graduated members wishing to get married. He liked to say: ‘Once you’re wed by Duckworth you’re wed for life.'”
– B. Yates (CCBC 1st VIII 1963-65)
“The canon was not the archetypal cleric! His graces at the bumps supper were: ‘Bumps done – Food’s up – Sit down – Amen’.”
– R. Larkin (CCBC 1967-71)
“I was known by Noel as Bluebeard, for reasons I shall not explain. Many members of the College and families throughout Cambridgeshire have much to thank Noel for. His enthusiasm was infectious. There is no cure – Thank God.”
– Jack Miller (CCBC ex-President)
A story about the Canon from Michael Cooper (CCBC 1961-64):
When Captain of Boats in 1963/64, I received a letter, copied as accurately as possible below, from Canon Noel Duckworth. He had a habit of labelling some members of the Boat Club with an epithet, the first and most memorable of which was The Monarch (aka D K Macrae); and because I was a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers he called me Mon Kapitan.
The incident which prompted his outburst I can not now recall but on receipt of his letter – which I still have, written in red ink on a sheet of exam paper, which in his scrawl and style of writing was a little difficult to decipher – I was quite shocked and worried by how upset he clearly was and immediately went to his lodgings to speak with him. He greeted me with his usual expansive, friendly manner and I was more than happy to reassure him, when I could get a word in, of my continued support for him. I am pleased to say that he quickly forgot any slight that he felt by the incident on the river and continued to coach and inspire the boat crews in his usual inimitable style.
I now suffer the other way of a self-righteous nothing-doing interfering wretch who minds my business, does nothing himself that is needed and resorts to courts of honour of the “Saints” to sit in judgement over me! Yesterday’s decision to drop Peter Jackson was a case in point.
Now who is in charge? You have either by inference or directly on occasions asked me to take overall charge. I do so and will not relinquish it until you sack me or I sack myself! In this case I have done what I know is necessary and therefore stand by it and by all I do in every boat until the Mays. After that I have Finished Completely with the Boat Club, only until I am asked to do something and I do it entirely on my own terms and on none else. To have an astonishing childish outburst of ignorant ?? over nothing as yesterday filled my belly with bile!
The matter is for you to settle. ……… But I will not be subject to a Cabal of holy indignant young men who haven’t yet learnt what I have forgotten!
Will you please deal with it. I can not and will not bemean myself by pandering to their puerility.”
(Some of the words and phrases in the original were heavily underlined to give them added emphasis! Bemean is not misspelt: just an old fashioned word for demean)
Some examples of the Canon’s unique language, “Noelspeak” (courtesy of Dr Knight, with additional contributions from other alumni…keep them coming in!):
Ancestral Nissen Hut — Residence of rower or cox, where oars and rudders awarded as trophies for success in the bumps were to be proudly displayed
Annual procession from Putney to Mortlake — University Boat Race
Bellywhistle — Non-alcoholic beverage
Bungalow Bill — Professor Sir William Hawthorne FRS, FREng, FIMechE (Master 1968-1983)
Choompf — Sound of water falling back in behind the blade after the catch, if quick enough for Canon’s liking. Not to be confused with the sound of the blade entering the water (any fool can do that).
Choompfer chariot — Boat
Choompfer Choompfer — Row hard!
Choompfer juice — Any form of alcohol
Choompfer shawl — Boat club scarf
Choompfer sticks — Oars
Choompfer wagon — Coach’s bicycle
Cocoa and cakes — Unlimited amounts of Entre Deux Mers served in Noel’s room on Sunday evenings and on Sir Winston’s birthday
D. O. — Dr Knight himself (“disgruntled oarsman”)
Dung barge — Blue Boat
Fire in the belly — Competitive spirit, determination to succeed
Fornication barge — Cabin cruiser
Friendly endeavour — Impromptu race
Going round Aunty Maggie’s to get to mother’s — Awkward rowing style
I don’t come here for the benefit of my health — Reproach directed at crews/individuals not showing enough “fire in the belly”
Maid of the Mountains — Rowena, “Man Mountain’s” girlfriend/wife
Man Mountain — Pete Merson (1st boat stroke, 1971)
The Monarch — Captain of rowing
Onkers-tonkers — Dutch or Afrikaaner. By extension, any South African
The pink sloshers — Churchill College Boat Club
Red and Black Cocks — Jesus College boat
Scarlet Woman — LMBC boat
Shag we had the Newnham night — Impolite expression for a woman, usually a girlfriend
Sweaty Betty / Perspiring Persephone — Oarswoman (non-“p.c.”)
The Sweaty Betties — CUWBC first boat
Sloshing suit — Dinner suit
‘The dog returns to its vomit’ – Standard greeting to returning members (see: Proverbs 26:11)
Tweedledum — Robert Fulton (Captain 1972/73). One of two novice coxes in Michaelmas 1970; no prizes for guessing the other’s name in Canon-speak.
Wiggle-waggle — Rudder
Canon’s retirement in 1973
(From the Cambridge Evening News: they got the Captain’s name wrong, but no matter)
Some recollections from Dr Frank Maine, the very first Captain of the Boat Club:
“For the Churchill College Boat Club, the time markers BC and AD stand for ‘Before the Canon’ and ‘After Duckworth’. In the fall of 1960, when 24 postgraduate students became the first students at Churchill College, it was BC. There wasn’t even a boat club. A remark made by one of the Fellows at the Lent Races in the Spring of 1961 to the effect that a college was not really a College until it was on the River, lead to Ed Markham and my efforts to make Churchill College a real college.
“We had no boat. We had no oars. We had no boat house. We had only one student who had rowed before – and that was at Oxford.
“Undaunted, we set about to overcome these handicaps.
“Because, as postgraduate students, we had labs to be at all day, we decided to have our daily practices on the river starting at 6:00 a.m. and finishing with breakfast at the College at 9:00 a.m. This was a good thing, because as we were novices, we needed all the river to ourselves as we learned, among other things, to steer this long hunk of wood with nine bodies in it along this winding and narrow river. In the spring of 1961, the only thing on the river at 6:00 a.m. were the swans and ducks who were all hatching the next generation. One of our first battles was learning to survive a swan attack.
“We used the Jesus boat house and a Jesus boat. We bought second hand oars and had the blades painted pink with a brown ‘V’ (which the first year was a chevron). Brian Cherry coached all the newcomers how to make Jesus ‘bell notes’ and Churchill College’s first 1st boat took to the river and prepared to participate in the May Races. As every College has the right to one boat on the river, we did not have to enter the ‘getting-on race’. We were put behind the previous year’s last boat and ahead of the boats that filled out the 7th division via the ‘getting-on race’. This was position 104 on the river with the 17 boats of the 7th division occupying positions 97 to 113. Ahead of us was LMBC 11 and behind us was Trinity Hall 6.
“From June 7 to 10, 1961, we made history and did just about everything except earn our oars. The first two days we enjoyed glorious bumps and were feeling very pleased with ourselves. Then fate intervened. On the third day, boats ahead of us clogged the river and we were not able to pass. It was serious enough to cause a rerow – a pretty rare thing. And so after all the other divisions had rowed, we had to have another go. We only succeeded in rowing over – an utterly exhausting thing for a boat of novices in the 7th division. Of course, this put us in the downstream instead of in the upstream of boats moving up and down the river. Sadly, on the final day, we experienced for the first time the agony of being bumped. It was quite a week. We were now a full College as we were on the river and with quite a variety of experiences.
“My supervisor, a Churchill College fellow who was not into sports, enquired as to whether I wanted a degree in Chemistry or rowing. With that request, I retired from active rowing with only one season under my belt. Kenny Macrae (whom the Canon nicknamed ‘The Monarch’) took over as Captain. I came back to help the CCBC, but not as an oarsman.”
The 1961 crew were:
B – M.R. Postgate (11st 0)
2 – D.K. Macrae (11st 10)
3 – G.M. Lindberg (11st 10)
4 – J.A. Haines (11st 11)
5 – M.J. Rycroft (13st 9)
6 – F.W. Maine (16st 0)
7 – D. Dew-Hughes (12st 7)
8 – D.H. Peregrine (11st 4)
C – D.R. Wolstenholme (11st 0)
“At 16 stone, I was the heaviest on the river by almost 2 stone.”
– Dr Frank Maine
The first of two entertaining stories from Dr Stefan Kukula, Vice-Captain and May Boat crew member in 1986-87.
Stefan later rowed for Agecroft R.C., Northwich R.C., Imperial College B.C., Sons of the Thames R.C. and Walton R.C. at various times after leaving Churchill.
The Second VIII disqualification – May Bumps 1986:
“We had a good second eight that year, and an old shell, painted bright blue, that some ten years beforehand had been an Oxford Blue Boat. Couldn’t balance it, of course, but we believed in the triumph of brute force and ignorance. We started in the third division, behind Girton I, and in front of a confident Robinson I (seven was Richard Hull, later to end up in Oxford’s ‘mutiny’ eight), confident of their blades. Well, we got away from Robinson, much to their surprise, bumping Girton with a solid ‘smack’ that removed a fair chunk of their cheap & nasty Burgashell just at the end of the Gut. The next day we were told that we had been disqualified, and had a technical bump against us. The Robinson captain had dug out an old rule which stated that only 1st boats could use shell boats in divisions lower than the 2nd. We rowed over behind Robinson the next day, and some of the one after (before Robinson finally bumped out), in an old restricted, never more than about a couple of feet from their stern, but could never quite make it. Finally got the bump to stay where we were on the last day. Our stroke sent a sea shell decorated to look like an eight to the Robinson and Girton BC dinners, with the message, ‘The only shell you caught all Bumps’.
“It turns out the ‘rule’ concerned had actually been scrapped some years before, but they’d forgotten to amend the copy issued to college boat clubs.
“Many years later I rowed with another of the Oxford ‘Mutiny’ crew, who said that despite all the troubles with the Oxford mutiny, Richard Hull still described his worst experience ever in rowing as struggling down a full course in an Aylings shell, chased all the way by a bunch of maniacs in a beat-in restricted eight, who rowed like they wanted to tear their hearts out. (In fact, when introduced to the Oxford guy I rowed with, I said, ‘You rowed with that cheating Robinson *deleted* Richard Hull, didn’t you?’ His reply was ‘Ah, you must have been in that Churchill boat he told us about.’)
“(The 2 man that year voluntarily stayed in the second eight the next year, and put together one of the most dangerous (as opposed to ‘fast’) boats I’ve ever seen. They got oars in both Lents and Mays, I think, bumping Girton I and Robinson in the process. Whenever I saw them row, I always thought ‘Thank God they’re on our side. I hope.’ Unhinged, in my opinion.)”
– Dr Stefan Kukula
A second story from Dr Stefan Kukula:
The First VIII amphibious landing – Lent Bumps 1987
“The photo still crops up from time to time: a white plastic boat, obviously not in too good a shape, halfway up the bank at the corner coming into Long Reach. The crew standing forlornly, or struggling to get out. One guy looks as though he’s wet himself. Well, I hadn’t (but if you’ve ever hit the bank at speed, you’ll know how close it was!) The result of a crew bumping out just before we got them, and *STOPPING*. Our cox decided to save injuring them, and steered round. (Why? It was only Magdalene!) We ended up getting a borrowed boat, which took a while getting used to, turning what could have been a good bumps into just average, but, boy, does that photo get around! (*Finally* caught Magdalene in the Mays – and did that feel good!)”
– Dr Stefan Kukula
An amusing tale from Mat Hubbard, a Churchill rower from 1994-98:
Fourth VIII bares all – May Bumps 1996
“In the May term of 1996 we got together a 4th boat made up of reasonable novices coupled with a few guys who’d previously rowed at a decent level; our aim being to win blades the easy way. We managed two or three outings a week and midway through the term we persuaded the Senior Treasurer, Dr Tristram to sub in the boat for the rest of term. Additionally, the vice Captain had failed to find coaches for us due to other (female) commitments and the BC commitee at the time didn’t want us to wear lycra during Bumps.
“Seeking revenge we hatched a plan to get ourselves noticed. We popped down to the boathouse early one morning and had a hands-naked photograph taken for the boat club dinner menu.
“What about bumps? Fitness failed us and we were bumped on day one and double-overbumped on day two. Feeling a bit depressed stern four and cox spent the evening in the bar and drank 57 pints between the five of us. Luckily we bumped Selwyn on the third day off the start thus avoiding spoons, but Selwyn bumped back on the fourth day.
“The moral of the story is that ringer crews are unlikely to win blades, but they can be great fun!”