This month, we hear from Rosemary Allen, who coxed the CUWBC VIII (there was no second eight back then) for 4 years speak about her experiences with the club.
Rosemary Allen (née Green)
Crew 1955 – 1958 (cox)
60 years ago, rowing was a very different sport at Cambridge, especially for women. Women were first admitted when the first women’s only college was founded in 1869, with Newnham opening in 1872. Despite being allowed to study there, women weren’t considered full members of the university until 1947. Male colleges only began admitting women in 1972. The Women’s Boat Race began in 1927, represented first only by a crew from Newnham College. This race barely resembles the race on the Tideway today – it was held on the Isis in Oxford with (according to the Times) “large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath” as the men of the university objected to women rowing. CUWBC was formed when rowers from Girton also joined. The first proper race against OUWBC was in 1941, though side-by-side racing had begun in 1935. In 1953, OUWBC had an “incident with a weir” the day before the race and were banned from the river, and there was no direct racing for the next decade until 1964.
Combining sport and academics was no problem, in fact it made a good balance to life. Although we took being the CUWBC VIII seriously, training was not remotely as rigorous as it is today. As the cox, I honestly can’t remember doing anything to improve my performance! I fortunately didn’t have to watch my weight. Rowing was considered a very minor sport and there was a very limited number from which to select a crew (no mixed colleges) and I don’t recollect any members who had been rowers before they came up. I had certainly had had nothing to do with water sports and only went along to try it out because my friend Brenda (Bland now Thomson) wanted to row. We are still in touch.
We didn’t have a Boat Race Campaign as such, in fact, as you will see from the records, Oxford never raised an VIII in my three years. We rowed against London, Reading, Southampton, and the United Universities and never won a race! We did once come behind Reading but ahead of Southampton in a three-boat race on the Thames.
My one ambition when leaving Cambridge was to travel which I did then, and am still doing. Sadly, the opportunity to be involved in rowing never came again. I married a naval officer, raised four children, and travelled the world. Now widowed I keep busy with my family and voluntary work, much of it centered on Salisbury Cathedral, and go on holiday as frequently as possible while I still have the health and strength to do so.