The story behind the names Iris, Bates and Merivale.

The namesakes of the Iris, Bates & Merivale Dinner acknowledge the important contribution made by Iris Preston, Richard Bates and Charles Merivale to Cambridge University rowing. Each name represents the founder of one of our 3 legacy clubs, whose traditions and successes the next generation of Light Blue oarsmen and oarswomen continue to uphold.

This year’s Iris, Bates & Merivale Dinner will take place on 26 November. Event and ticket information can be found below here.

Iris Preston

The first Women’s Boat Race was raced between OUWBC and Newnham College on the Isis despite considerable protest from a hostile crowd. Oxford won that day and would win 6 of the first 8 races. In 1941, Iris Preston, a Chemistry undergraduate at Newnham College persuaded the oarswomen of Girton College to join with those at Newnham and founded a joint rowing club so that those who rowed against Oxford could be awarded a Blue. The 1941 race was rowed on a flooded Cam and with Iris Preston rowing at 5, the new CUWBC were beaten by Oxford. Preston chronicled the early history of the club in her book From Newnham College Boat Club to CUWBC.

Iris Preston’s new club was a success, between 1942 and 1975, Cambridge won all but 3 races. By 1966, a Reserve race was contested and after alternating between the Cam and the Isis, both races found a permanent home at Henley in 1977 where they were joined by a Lightweight Women’s race in 1984. In 2015, CUWBC moved to the Tideway to join CUBC with the lightweights following in 2020.

Cambridge lead Oxford 46-30 in the Women’s Boat Race Blondie lead Osiris 29-20 in the Women’s Reserve Race Cambridge lead Oxford 22-17 in the Lightweight Women’s Boat Race.

Richard Bates

Lightweight rowing for men had been added to the World Championships in 1974. At the same time a St. John’s undergraduate, Richard Bates founded CULRC. In 1975, Bates challenged an Oxford lightweight crew to a race over Henley Reach, echoing the first Boat Race of 1829. Cambridge won in 1975 with Bates at bow. Between 1978 to 1991, CULRC won 14 races, this remains the longest winning streak in Oxbridge sporting history. OULRC hold the reciprocal record. The Lightweight Men’s Boat Race was joined at Henley by the Women’s Race in 1977 and so began the successful formula of Oxbridge racing at the Henley Boat Races. The lightweight men moved to the Tideway in 2019 and recorded a first win on the Championship Course in 2022.

Cambridge lead Oxford 29-19 in the Lightweight Men’s Boat Race.

Charles Merivale

In December 1828, inspired by the first University March at Lord’s the previous year, the first meeting of the CUBC took place at Gonville and Caius College. Charles Wordsworth of Christ Church had organised the cricketing fixture and with fellow Old Harrovian, Charles Merivale of St John’s, the pair organised the first race between Oxford and Cambridge. Merivale issued a challenge to Oxford “to row a match at or near London,each in an eight-oared boat during the ensuing Easter vacation”. The first Boat Race was rowed in 1829 at Henley, Oxford wearing the Dark Blue of Christ Church easily beat a Cambridge crew wearing the Pink of LMBC. A colour change to Light Blue has been proven to yield better results.

After rowing at 4 in the inaugural race, Merivale was Dean of Ely from 1869 until his death in 1893. Meanwhile, the race alternated between Henley and a London course from Westminster to Putney, before finding a home on the Tideway since 1839. The race was first broadcast on radio in 1927, televised by the BBC in 1938 and a reserve race has been contested since 1965. Despite world wars, pandemics, mutinies, sinkings, dead heats and the odd Oxford victory, the Boat Race continues to capture the imagination of the public.

Cambridge lead Oxford 85-81 in the Men’s Boat Race

Goldie lead Isis 32-25 in the Men’s Reserve Race

It is with an appreciation for the foresight of these 3 pioneers that the new CUBC moves forward to the future.

“Grant, Oh Lord, that Oxford shall win the Boat Race, but not this year” James Crowden (CUBC President, 1952)