Photograph submitted by David Booth, story by David Jack.
Corpus Second Torpid 1957
Bow – David Booth
2 – John Bowden
3 – David Joyce
4 – Bill Dacombe
6 – Brian Cox
7 – Peter McCaffery
Cox – Chris Akester
A view from the wrong side of the piles above Iffley Weir by David Jack
A Dudhia in his ‘History of Oxford College Rowing’ writes “today it is extremely unusual to find a student who has experienced the dubious pleasure of being stuck against the piles above Iffley Lock”. Well, here is one such former undergraduate and Torpids 1st VIII cox. To be strictly true, I did not get stuck against the piles. Something rather more nerve racking – being cox of an Eight in which Cox, Stroke and Seven were below the piles, and being threatened with an all-too-close view of the weir itself.
In those days the rule was to come down on the left hand side of the river, and turn just above the lock into the towpath side, where the faults of the crew would be outlined (sometimes at length) by the coach.
On this particular day, March 1957 or 1958, the river was running high, and there was a build up of boats waiting to turn. I had almost completed our turn, but we were waiting to draw up to the towpath to receive our coach’s wisdom. However, as we waited, we found ourselves being swept down towards, and indeed beyond, the piles of the weir. Fortunately we were by then facing up-river, so that we avoided being fastened broadside-on against the piles, but we ended up with myself, Stroke and Seven below the piles, Six and Five unable to use their oars for fear of contact with the piles, and the whole boat in imminent danger of being swept on to the weir. We did manage to extricate ourselves by using innovative combinations of oars, as different parts of the boat drew clear of the piles; fortunately there were always 4 oars able to function. We then drew up to the towpath, where we received comments from the coach that were even more scathing than usual.
An hour or so later, another crew were not so fortunate: their boat went over the weir, with some oarsmen’s bodies never being found. The rules of the river were changed, both for the position of turning, and also the use of the red flag, which (as far as I’m aware) had not been employed prior to that time.