University College Boat Club

In 2005, Wolfson College hosted a series of events commemorating the 40th anniversary of the foundation of University College - renamed Wolfson College in 1973. In one of the events, six of us from the 1967-1969 era, complemented by three much younger crew, climbed into a boat and paddled along the river. (One of the younger members was seen making sure that a defibrillator was easily available.)  A member of the College who was watching asked about the history of the Boat Club and I promised to write it all down for him. However, years passed by and I let the project slip. In the meantime, at least one of the early crew – Mike Bayliss, captain of the 1970 boat – sadly passed away. So did several of the senior members of College who were crucial players in the formation of the Club – notably Jack King and John Shaw. I covered the year 1968 of the club’s history in The Wolfson Review 2011-2012 and here come some additional reflections on the later years.

As a disclaimer, both pieces were written from memory with the aid of some contemporaneous press clippings, and the passage of 40+ years makes memory an imprecise tool. My apologies to anyone I omitted or, worse, misrepresented.


University College in 1968

A present-day Wolfson student would have difficulty recognising the University College of 1968. Physically it consisted solely of the old Bredon House – now a relatively small part of the College. It had not yet developed the structures and processes essential for the efficient running of any organisation, and seemed in no hurry to do so. All matters culinary and social were run by Jenny – the niece of President John Morrison.  Jenny and her girlfriends all enjoyed cooking – the larger and more extravagant the meal the better. They were unencumbered by any concerns for economy, resulting in a dining experience worthy of a five star restaurant at the price of a McDonalds. Predictably, the kitchen was turned over to more professional management a year later by a Council alarmed at the mounting losses. On the day I arrived in College, Jenny and the Wine Steward were arguing about how many standard measures of spirits were contained in a bottle. They had decided that the matter was better resolved by experimentation than by calculation!


The feedback I received on the draft of my  Boat Club history of the year 1968  included several requests to cover the evolution of the Club from 1968 to 1970. In 1969 we were an all-male crew. To the great amusement of our female former crew members, we were bumped twice in the Lents. Fortunately the crew qualified for the Mays and won University College’s first oar with little difficulty, even managing an ‘over-bump’ to move up a total of six positions. The crew was a collection of colourful characters, whom I had the privilege of leading as acting Captain and stroke. Heinz Lemke (7) was undoubtedly the strongest man in the boat – possibly on the river. Whenever we encountered challenging situations, I would see a huge whirlpool pass on my left from his oar accompanied by a muttered Germanic “Paddy – we must do something”.  Randy Henry (6), at 6’ 7”, was a former college basketball player from Houston who barely fitted into the boat. Jonathan King (5) had rowed for Yale first boat and was definitely slumming it in our crew – being the end of the sixties he would appear dressed as if he had come directly from Woodstock with hair to match. The crew was completed by Hugo Darlington (4) who had perfected the art of being a permanent student by stretching his PhD to 7 years; our Newfie ice hockey player, Dave Hyslop, was at 3 and Welsh rugby player, Wyn Richards, was at bow. Lastly, the late Mike Bayliss at 2 was one of the gentlest and kindest people I had ever met.  Mike went on to Captain the 1970 boat. My image of Mike will always be of him labouring over his beloved Morris Minor in the College car park late into the night, smiling patiently even when the car refused to start for the umpteenth time. We all miss you, Mike.

Pat Fosh kindly contacted me to point out a major omission – the 1970 Lents Boat. My apologies to Pat and the crew: since I had bowed to pressure from my supervisor and given up rowing for that term, I had forgotten the details. Pat reminds me that this was the second University College boat to win its oars – and also the first mixed boat to do so, with Pat at bow. She provided the following crew list and list of bumps:

1 Ms P Fosh

2 J Hughes

3 P Marcell

4 M W Bayiss

5 A Burns

6 G Galluzzo

7 J Schriener

8 J Olley

Cox R Scrutton

Overbumped Corpus Christi 4, Bumped Selwyn 5, Overbumped Magdalene 4 and Bumped Emmanuel 4.

For the 1970 Mays we were promoted to row sandwich boat between the 4th and 5th Divisions. The crew benefitted from the coaching of Johan Schreiner – a former Norwegian international oarsman who rows and skis competitively even today, at an age I promised never to disclose. Despite being one of the fastest boats in these divisions, the mechanism of the bumps meant that everything on the river got bumped ahead of us on day one and we had to settle with three bumps and go home without the coveted third oar. After 1970, pressure from my thesis supervisor made me reduce my participation significantly, but luckily Madeleine Devey’s memoirs of the following few years are also published in the Wolfson Review 2011-2012 as a companion article to mine.

Oh – and the official College scarf? It was the creation of Randy Henry – who felt that he needed a memento of his year at University College and therefore got an informal committee together to create a college scarf. Most of the committee were Boat Club members, so blue and yellow were essential ingredients. However, the racing colours (as in horse racing) of the College President were black and red, so the scarf incorporated all of these. The first batch used Cambridge Blue by accident, making them rare collectors’ items. I left mine in the overhead bin of a plane many years ago, and still pine for it.