SCCBC in the 1950s

The 1950s were a time of great change and mixed fortunes for the Boat Club, but they ended with St Catharine’s firmly established in the rowing hierarchy of Cambridge.

I arrived at St Catharine’s in 1954 eager to row, having done so at school. However, the College was then the top rugby College, having won Cuppers two years in succession, with several international players. The Boat Club was a rather poor relation, although not lacking in spirit and was in the lower levels of the Lents and Mays. But it showed its fighting spirit by winning the University Clinker Fours in 1952 and 1954.

In 1954 the Captain, Gerry Parrott introduced new training and rowing methods. The 50’s were a period of changes in rowing techniques and equipment (fixed pins and staggered seats were still in use by some colleges in 1950). There were many variations between the extreme styles of Lady Margaret and Jesus, and the Cats version was firm Jesus beginnings with not too much of an LMBC layback. Unfortunately, the club did not do well in the 53, 54 & 55 Lents and Mays, but did better in the Marlow and Henley regattas. The Club was well supported in these regattas, with much of the finance being provided by previous members donations and the Cardinals Ball. The Ball was organised by the Cardinal’s Club and held in the Lent Term in the Guildhall and Corn Exchange being next to the Mays Balls the social highlight of the year.

There was a contest for Captain in 1956, the first vote being a dead heat, in the second vote a week later, I was elected. Earlier, it had been decided not to send the 1st VIII to Henley, so we sent a scratch IV to Marlow and Henley to ensure the college was represented. NO lodgings were available. But Peter Sutherland came to the rescue and found an empty flat in Henley High Street, and provided the coaching, enabling us to get through the prelims. Then the week before the Michaelmas Term, he and Moseley Boat Club kindly looked after a tentative 1st VIII. A recruitment drive before and at the start of term with a coaching team provided by previous members enabled us to build up a strong base of oarsmen, so that we were able to field more boats than before in all the university events. One of the benefits the 1st and 2nd VIII’s had was a steak dinner every night before the Mays: remember rationing has only finished in 1954 and steak was then a luxury. We won the Clinker Fours in ’56 and the 1st VIII won its oars in the Lents, but in the Mays unfortunately only managed to row over every night behind Caius. Marlow and Henley saw a better performance, although in both events we were beaten by a strong Imperial College boat. Then, under Gavin Dunbar’s leadership, the Club went from strength to strength, winning the Clinker fours again in 1958, the 1st May VIII also making three bumps to get back into the 1st Division. In 1959, the 1st, 2nd and 4th May Boats all won their oars and the 1st boat was in the final of the Marlow VIIIs.

During this period, the most significant change for the Boat Club was the offer to the Club in ’57 by 1st&3rd Trinity of their spare boathouse. Until then the Club rented and shared with Sidney Sussex a ramshackle wooden boathouse on the site of the new Fitzwilliam boathouse. Trinity considered Cats to be the best of the clubs without their own boathouse, which led to their offer and the Senior Tutor, Tom Henn, ensured this offer was firmly accepted. This put the club at the centre of Cambridge rowing, next to Goldie Boathouse. At last, the Club was a force to be reckoned with, as its success in the 60’s and subsequent years has proven.

David Bailey (1954)