The Eights Week or Summer Eights regattas are the University of Oxford‘s main intercollegiate rowing event of the year. It takes place in May, from the Wednesday to the Saturday of the fifth week of Trinity Term.
The racing takes place on the Isis, a length of the River Thames, which is generally too narrow for side-by-side racing. Men’s and women’s coxed eights compete in separate divisions for their colleges. For each division, thirteen boats line up at the downstream end of the stretch. Each cox holds onto a rope attached to the bank, leaving around 1.5 boat lengths between each boat.
The start of racing is signalled by the firing of a cannon. The ultimate aim of a crew is to become “Head of the River” and stay there. Winning crews commission trophy oars (or “winning blades”) in their college colours with the names and weights of the successful crew on them.
When are the Eights Happening in 2023?
This year’s Eights Week is happening:
Rowing: Friday 20th May.
Bumps: Wednesday 24th to Saturday 27th May.
Where? South of the city centre on the Isis, from Folly Bridge to Iffley Lock.
Where to Park for the Eights: We recommend the Oxford Station – Long Stay Car Park. It’s £15, but you can park the entire day and enjoy the city in all its spring splendour. Alternatively, Westgate might have parking spaces, too.
How Did the Eights Week Begin?
Regular races between professional watermen have existed since 1715, with the birth of Doggett’s Coat and Badge prize. Te first amateur races between organised clubs in Oxford, however, date back to 1815. This is the year that crews from Brasenose College and Jesus College raced for the Head of the River, from Iffley Lock to Mr King’s Barge.
Both crews rowed in eight oared boats, specially built for the purpose. Because the racing was conducted in eight oared boats, the event became known as Eights.
Which Colleges Participate in the Eights?
The initial event was repeated in 1816, with Brasenose again triumphing. In 1817, Christ Church College joined. They went head and retained that position until 1819. From 1824, Christ Church (after a pause due to a personal dispute) and Exeter College began racing, with Exeter going Head in that year.
A rule banning the use of “out college men” was instituted in 1825, after the entry of Worcester College. University College and Balliol College joined in 1827, and Oriel College and Trinity College in 1828
The Eights Week and the Wars
There was no racing during the Great War or WW1. However, college rowing continued during the Second World War even though they didn’t have enough students. This is why most colleges competed in composite clubs, and the number of crews competing was greatly curtailed.
Who can Visit the Summer Eights?
Summer Eights takes place every year in the 5th week of Trinity term (from Wednesday through to Saturday). This can happen on May or June.
Anyone can visit the Eights Week and advanced tickets are not required.