In the Beginning
Pembroke College Boat Club traces its lineage back to the early 19th Century when students first started spending time on The Isis. However, there is no exact record of when the Boat Club was formed and indeed there are no official records from early years of Torpids and Summer Eights races from 1815 to 1837. Pembroke’s first formal appearance in Torpids and Eights was in 1842, five years after official records started being kept. In it’s first Eights appearance, Pembroke’s crew climbed from 12th to 6th on the river over eight races. This impressive start for Pembroke set the tempo for generations of rowers to come.
Pembroke won its first Torpids Headship in 1858, six years after the race came into its present form. The Torpids Headship was not reclaimed until 1877, when it was then held for three years. The first Eights Headship for Pembroke came in 1872.
A Place in Rowing History
Pembroke College Boat Club began to be viewed as serious rowing college around 1871. Robert Lesley, an Old Radleian who was three Oxford University Boat Club President from 1871 to 1873 (and Vincent’s Club President in 1871), and R S Mitchison, an Old Etonian and Oxford University Boat Club oarsman formed the base of the Pembroke crew that took the Eights Headship in 1872 and that won the Ladies’ Challenge Cup at Henley in 1871.
Part of this success for Pembroke can be attributed to a piece of technology now taken for granted in rowing – the wheeled sliding seat. Pembroke became the first college to use wheeled sliding seats at Oxford in 1872 for Fours racing. Later that year Pembroke and London Rowing Club also became the first clubs to use sliding seats at Henley, where Pembroke came second in the Ladies’ Challenge Cup but won the Visitor’s Challenge Cup.
Pembroke’s use of the wheeled sliding seat is particularly of note. At this time sliding seats in general were a novel technological advancement in rowing, but most were made of greased glass or steel grooves. It took nearly two decades before wheeled sliding seats became commonplace.
Women began rowing for Pembroke in 1979 when women first started studying at the College. Violando (Mo) Percival (nee Goulandris) became the first Women’s Captain after sitting down next to the Men’s Captain at the time who suggested she form a women’s crew.
“None of us had ever rowed before, but somehow I managed to brow-beat 8 other ladies to have a go at this sport, and, with one of the fellas coaching us, the women’s boat club was born.” – Mo Percival
Since then, Pembroke’s women have gone on to earn an equally respected reputation as rowers as Pembroke’s men.
Pembroke College Boat Club has been an undisputable dominant force in Oxford rowing since the turn of the 21st century. The Women held the Eights Headship, for their first time, from 2000 to 2003. The combined indefatigable determination of the Men and Women 1st VIIIs created history in 2003 when the Men also won the Eights Headship, making Pembroke the first college to ever simultaneously hold both the Women’s and Men’s Eights Headships. This feat has yet to be repeated by another college.
The past few years have been especially prominent for Pembroke College Boat Club. The Women reclaimed the Torpid’s Headship in 2012. The Men’s 1st VIII has been in the top three crews on the river since 1992, except for 2008 when it fell to fourth, claiming the Headship again in 2013. The Men’s 1st Torpid reclaimed the Torpid’s Headship in 2012.