Earned their Oars

Cambridge District Scout Archive

This ornamental oar was the prize for bumping (catching up with) the boat ahead of them on all four evenings of the annual Town Bumps.  The Town Bumps are for local boat clubs, the University Bumps are for college boat clubs.  The boats have a staggered start in the narrow River Cam, allowing direct competition for many boats.

The Cambridge Scouts Boat Club second boat, Scouts II ‘earned their oars’ in 1924, the second year of the Scouts Boat Clubs existence.  The boat rose from 18th to 14th position and started the following year (1925) in 14th place.  The nature of the Bumps race is that a boat takes several years to reach the top of the list, however good they are.  Earning their oars or blades recognises the achievements along the way.

The oar lists on the left the boats bumped

  • Rob Roy III
  • Albert Institute II
  • College Servants II

These are all second and third boats from each club sitting near the bottom of the list.

The participants are given with their weights

  • Bow    R J Cunningham         9. 5.     (Nine stone, five pounds)
  • 2          L Mason                    10. 0.
  • 3          C Faircliffe                  9.  8.
  • 4          M Dawson                 9.  0.
  • 5          L H Biggs                   10.11.
  • 6          A Halcrow                  10.4.
  • 7          H R Pettitt                   9.  10.
  • Stroke C Mansfield                 9.  1.
  • Cox      A Papworth                 6.  7.

The Scout Boats achieved this on six occasions:

  • Scouts’  I          1925, 1959, 1972
  • Scouts’  II         1924,
  • Scouts’ III         1961, 1978

Boats also ‘earned their oars’ if they went ‘Head of the River’ being unable to bump more than was ahead of them, and then not being caught in the following races. The rules on this award are not yet clear to me – they certainly vary between Colleges.

  • Scouts’ I 1931 and 1947 (see oar below) and presumably 1939 although I have not seen this stated. The 1931 award was recognition in the local press, it is not known if the oar itself was prepared and awarded.

The decorated oars are often found as a blade, as here, the shaft having been detached. The 1947 blade is held by the son of Snowy Oliver (Bow), Geoff Oliver GSL of the 28th. As can be seen they only bumped once having started in 2nd place at the start of the event.

It is of note that two of the oarsmen were lighter than the cox.

The colours of the Scouts’ Boat Club, Green and Yellow are two of the three Scout Colours. The third, red, can be seen on the shaft of the oar.

Wooden Spoon

The other side of the coin is the awarding of a wooden spoon to a crew that is bumped on all four races in a year.  This is a less formal presentation within the boat club.  The Scouts achieved this on at least 14 occasions.  The records are less clear and it is a less advertised feat.


In 2018 Rowley Douglas, Olympic gold medallist in the eights (Sydney 2000), enquired after a blade given to the Perne Road Scouts circa 1970 – 1980.  Part of his family history the oarsman Leo Mason had passed it on to the then new equivalent of Rovers, the Venture Scouts or more directly to the District of which Perne Road was the headquarters.

It is likely to be that now held by the Cambridgeshire Collection pictured above.

JWR Archivist Nov 2019