10 Jun: The Very First ‘Boat Race’

The Oxford v Cambridge Men’s Boat Race has been an annual tradition since 1856 – but the first one was the result of a light-hearted bet between two friends called Charles on 10th June, 1829.

When Wordsworth (Christ Church College, Oxford) and Merivale (St. John’s, Cambridge) challenged each other to race up the Thames in Henley, they never could have known their schoolboy jape would attract 20,000 spectators, nor that it would go on to become one of the major sporting events in the British calendar. 

In this episode, Rebecca, Olly and Arion consider if rowing is still an elitist sport; whether Oxbridge colleges should now ditch the pretence that they never admit postgraduate students specifically to participate in the race; and reveal Hugh Laurie’s consolation prize for losing for Cambridge in 1980…

Further Reading: 

• ‘Origins of the Boat Race’ at the Boat Race’s official website:


• 111 years after the original race, Oxford and Cambridge compete in Henley again (British Pathé, 1940):

• ‘Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Boat Race’ from Sky History: https://www.history.co.uk/article/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-boat-race

If you enjoy this episode, there’s more of Olly, Arion and Rebecca chatting about the boat race over on our Patreon page, patreon.com/Retrospectors.

The Retrospectors are Olly Mann, Rebecca Messina & Arion McNicoll, with Matt Hill.

Theme Music: Pass The Peas. Announcer: Bob Ravelli. Graphic Design: Terry Saunders. Edit Producer: Emma Corsham.

Copyright: Rethink Audio / Olly Mann 2021.