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The Boathouse: Advent Doors 2018

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Friday, December 14, 2018

This door is quite different to the others found around college, and you'll have to go further afield to find it. But it'll be well known to the generations of rowers who've passed through this door in our boathouse whilst carrying boats down to the river.

Interior of the Christ Church BoathouseGo back less than a hundred years, and the stretch of riverbank known as Boathouse Island would have looked very different. For a start, there wouldn’t have been any boathouses – which may be why at that time this bit of land was instead known as Earl’s Ham. Christ Church’s was the first boathouse to appear on the island, and before then each college instead had a barge. Club barges came from the livery companies in the City, and had been adopted by college boat clubs as Eights Week became increasingly popular. Used as club houses and grandstands, they became part of the traditional Oxford river scene, until 1930, when some modernisation was in order.

At this time Christ Church’s barge was in disrepair, and the preferred option was to replace it with a new barge. However, at £2,250 the cost was too high, so it was decided that a boathouse would be a better option.

The site was chosen quickly, at the far end of the island, but the brick boathouse that still stands here today was not completed until Summer Eights in 1936, with a ninety-nine-year lease given to Christ Church Boat Club. There was initial scepticism, with many people bemoaning the disappearance of a traditional image of Oxford when the Isis became bereft of barges. However, other colleges were quick to follow suit in applying for permission to build them, and by 1939 Christ Church’s had been joined by those of Magdalen, Trinity, Merton and Worcester.

In all cases, the buildings were designed to allow for the storage and maintenance of boats on the ground floor, with a top floor providing club facilities and a viewing balcony – so this particular door is designed with functionality in mind, providing plenty of space to carry out the largest boats and get them onto the river. From the 1950s many more colleges joined in with building their own boathouses, each becoming more modern and functional as the years progressed – and now many people’s memories of Oxford summers will no doubt include sunny days spent watching Summer Eights from their college’s small piece of the riverbank.

There is further information about the History of the Boatclub, as well as additional archive images, on our website.