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Rowing Round the Corner

Bumps Races at Ditton Corner

Watching the bumps from Ditton Corner

The four-day rowing races between the colleges of the University of Cambridge are known as ‘Bumps and Carnage’, and have been held twice a year since 1827.  The ‘May’ bumps, occur in June, naturally.

Boats try to catch and hit or ‘bump’, the boat ahead.  Boats row in divisions - 17 boats in a line a few yards apart, started by a gun.  The race begins at the Gun Sheds, down the First Post Reach, round the Gut, round Ditton Corner and finishes down the Long Reach to Chesterton.

The objective is to catch up with and bump the boat ahead before being bumped by the boat behind.  The bumper then changes place with the bumped when the race is held again the next day.  The Bumps are held four days running, beginning on Wednesday and the last day, Saturday, being a day of spectacle attended by large crowds of spectators along the river banks.

More than 30 colleges and university affiliated departments take part in the bumps.   Each has its own colours and can be recognised by the blades on their oars.  A guide to recognising the boats is given below

It is possible for a good crew to advance four or more places up the division, in which case the crew wins its 'oar' - a prized possession.  A crew that has won its oar will carry its college flag down the river - to the applause of the crowds.  A crew that makes a bump traditionally signals this by decorating the boat and rowers with foliage for their row back down the river to the boat houses.

About a third of the way down the course is the bend of Ditton Corner where the well-coxed crew can catch their quarry by cutting inside.

Bumps course on the River Cam

The house is named after the bend in the river.  Ditton Corner is a good vantage point to watch the races. Photographs and sketches of the event from the turn of the century show that the present garden of the house at Ditton Corner was a popular perch. Jesus College may have carried out the terracing of the garden to provide viewing platforms. There were timber grandstands built, bands that played and an industry of on-course bookmakers.

Early 19th century painting of rowing at Ditton Corner 

Early painting of rowing around Ditton Corner

Painting of Bumps at Ditton Corner in 1906

Time for Tea; The Bumps of 1906, Ditton Corner

Painting by Percy Robert Craft; 6ft by 4ft; Cambridge Guildhall

This painting was discovered last year in the Cambridge Guildhall and has now been restored.  It shows the gardens of Ditton Corner crowded with spectators for the 1906 Bumps.

The crowds watch the Bumps at Ditton Corner in 1910

Ditton Corner (house in the background) with crowds watching the bumps in 1910

This image can also be viewed in more detail

Crowds watching the May Bumps from Ditton Corner in 2000

Here's the same view in June 2000

See this image larger

Group Photo 2001

Here's the group photo -same view -   in June 2001

larger version

The Group in 2002

and whaddyaknow, we did it again -   in June 2002

larger version 2002

Hats off!!! Bumps party 2003

Getting pretty good at it by 2003

Big 2003 Group Photo

Bumps 2004 Group Photo

Bunch of hat-tossers in 2004

Big 2004 group photo

Another bunch of reprobates in 2005

Big 2005 Group Photo

The obligatory Group Photo

Looks familiar? The gang from 2006

Big 2006 Group Photo

Group Photo Thumbnail

Brollies on the bank in 2007...

Big 2007 Group Photo

Group Photo 2008

With a tandem bicycle in 2008...

Large 2008 Group Photo

Bumps Group Photo 2009

Getting reflective in 2009

Large 2009 Group Photo

Reflections: Past and Present Group Bumps Photo

Bumps Group Photo 2010

The Hundred Year Salute in 2010

Large 2010 Group Photo

Bumps Group Photo 2011

2011 saw us doing the group photo in a new location

Large 2011 Group Photo

Spectators in 1910   

Spectators at Ditton Corner 1910

Class of '76 [Photo Credits: Steve Pennington]

Spectators at Ditton Corner 2000 - (architects class of 1976 reunion)

The social style may not be quite as splendid, but today’s races are still exciting.  In 1994 the Bumps racing occasion was marked by a visit from H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh to the gardens of Ditton Corner, hosted by the previous owners of our house, Gordon and Agatha Woods.  The flagpole at Ditton Corner was built specifically for the occasion in order to fly the Royal Standard.

Duke of Edinburgh with the Woods June 94

Royal visitor to Mr. and Mrs. Wood - the previous owners of Ditton Corner.

For the latest rowing news and race order for the bumps check out

Recognising the Boats

Boats are identifiable by their college colours on the blades of their oars.

[Page Repaired 2010]