The Boat Race Founders’ Ely Celebrations

Commemorating Charles Merivale (Dean of Ely 1869 – 1893) and Charles Wordsworth (Bishop of St. Andrews 1852 – 1892) who inspired and rowed in the first Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race in 1829

On 8th March we will celebrate Charles Merivale’s bicentenary and recognise the important part that he and his good friend, Charles Wordsworth, played in establishing the Oxford & Cambridge University Boat Race. The annual encounter is now watched by thousands of people from the banks of the River Thames and viewed by a television audience of many millions around the world.

As you can see from the timetable below, a full day of events is planned for everyone to come to, and I am particularly pleased to welcome those members of the Wordsworth and Merivale families who are able to be with us on this very special day.

Our corporate, civic and private sponsors, and the many event supporters, have enabled us to arrange an interesting programme for you, and on behalf of the society, I thank them all for their generosity.


  • 11.30: Launching the replica 1829 gigs
    @ The Slipway, Waterside
  • 12.30: Crews embark
    @ The Cutter Inn, Annesdale
  • 01.30: The Bishops’ Boat Race
    @ Ely Rowing Club – Festival Course
  • 02.30: Unveiling commemorative tablet
    @ Jubilee Gardens
  • 02.45: Boat Naming Ceremony
    @ Jubilee Gardens
  • 03.00: Gig into the Cathedral
    @ The Slipway, Waterside via Market Place & High Street
  • 04.30: Exhibition of period technology
    @ The Nave, Ely Cathedral
  • 04.45: Boat Race Founders Society
    @ General meeting, South Transept, Ely Cathedral
  • 05.30: Special Evensong Service
    @ Ely Cathedral

Boat Race Founders Association

A meeting to launch the Boat Race Founders Society will be held in Ely Cathedral before the Evensong service. It has been established with the singular purpose of celebrating the lives and achievements of the race founders on any suitable occasion.

The inspiration for the Society came from the laying of wreaths in Ely and Perth ahead of the 150th Boat Race in 2004 and a ceremony in St Ninian’s Cathedral, Perth, to mark the bicentary of Wordsworth’s birth on 22nd August 2006.

Membership is open to anyone wishing to keep the memory of the founders alive for an annual fee of just £5. Why not come along to the inaugural meeting to find out more?

The History

When they left Harrow School in the 1820s, Charles Merivale went to St John’s College, Cambridge while Charles Wordsworth was a student at Christ Church, Oxford.

It was during a vacation that they got together and came up with the idea of a boat race between the two universities. The first – in which they both rowed – was at Henley in 1829 using heavy clinker-built boats.

On leaving university, Merivale and Wordsworth went their separate ways but both achieved high church office.

Charles Merivale undertook college and university work and in 1839 was appointed select preacher at Whitehall. In 1863 he was appointed chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. He declined the professorship of modern history at Cambridge in 1869, but in the same year accepted from William Gladstone the deanery of Ely, a post that he held until his death in 1893.

Charles Wordsworth, nephew of poet William Wordsworth, became warden of Trinity College, Glenalmond. In 1852 he was elected Bishop of Saint Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, one of seven dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church, centred on St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth.

Replicas of the 1829 gigs were built and raced just before the 150th Boat Race in 2004. They are now kept at Dorney Lake, near Eton, but will be brought to Ely for the 8th March celebrations. They will be raced during the afternoon under the auspices of the Rt Rev Dr. Anthony Russell, Bishop of Ely, and the Rt. Rev Michael Hare-Duke, former Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane.