Club History

Perhaps due to the lack of women in the Boat Club's earliest days, the men of the club saw fit to express their femininity by rowing with pink blades, and sporting a white racing strip with pink jacket and neck scarf. However, a ten year debate ensued in 1845, illustrated by numerous discussions in the Club minutes about 'changes in the style, colour and cloth' of the uniform, a topic still a source of much controversy amongst the present committee. By 1852 Clare had adopted a more manly light blue with navy trim, with the present 'yellow fire' taking over soon after. Members of Clare are therefore afforded the small pleasure of seeing the less well established 'modern' colleges such as Churchill mincing past in our cast-off colours.

The earlier days also saw much lively debate amongst the Boat Club committee on such burning issues as the importance of bread roll throwing in the termly Boat Club dinners - the tradition was retained due to the support of the College Dean - 'a staunch bread-roll thrower himself'. Rowers were also afforded more respect in those days, with a separate buttery-provided diet for the first boat, and a choice of not one but two latrines at their summer training camp 'providing consequently better air' over lesser locations. We can but hope that these days of heightened respect for sporting achievement are due a return.

After entering their first Bumps race in 1831, the men of Clare rapidly made their mark, climbing to second place by the end of 1832. Sadly, this new found success was not to last. Clare dropped steadily over the following decade, reaching an all-time low of forty-first in 1845. Twenty years of mediocre performance were followed by twenty better years, the Mays boat reaching fourth in 1886, the year before the Lent races began. However, it was to be nearly half a century before this position was reached again.

Clare’s first headship was in the 1939 Lents, and was followed by four successive Mays headships in the war years of 1941-44. Proof that success could also be gained in peacetime came with the Mays headship in 1949. This boat was stroked by David Jennens, Olympian and Clare’s most successful rower. The boats maintained respectable positions in the first divisions through the 50s and 60s, culminating in a Lents headship in 1973. A period of good performances in the 70s and 80s was followed by a lean patch in the 90s, with both the Lents and Mays boats flirting with their second divisions on several occasions. The new millennium saw residence in the first divisions re-established, with the Lents boat up to 4th by 2009.

Clare entered the women’s races from the outset, and was a strong force for the first decade. The Mays boat went Head of the River in the first races of 1974, and then again in 1979 and 1980. The boats maintained positions in the upper half of the first divisions, except for dips in the early 90s in the Mays and later 90s in the Lents. The highlight of the past decade was the impressive rise of the Lents boat to the headship in 2006, fittingly the 175th Anniversary of Clare Boat Club.

Clare now typically produces eight crews for the Mays. This level of participation represents one of the highest proportions of students to row in any Cambridge college, a testament to the continuing success of the Boat Club in providing sporting enjoyment as a counterbalance to studies.

Based on text by Adam Bradley (Captain 2003-4)