Rowing seems to have become a recreation for Etonians in the final years of the 18th century. The Eton authorities considered it a dangerous activity, however, since the Thames was much used by commercial traffic (and was also the local sewer), and they did their best to discourage the boys. Eton nevertheless challenged Westminster to a race in 1818, but it was not until 1829 that the first race between the two schools actually took place. 2004 saw the 175th anniversary of the race. Rowing was not formally recognised by the school authorities until 1840, and not actively encouraged until about 1860.

Rowing is nowadays a hugely popular sport at Eton, and the Boat Club has more members and boats than any other boat club in the world.

There are internal competitions for boys of all ages and levels of skill, ranging from the F Sculling and Quads for boys in their first year to the School Pulling and the House Fours for the most skilful senior boys. Although many club activities have moved to the Rowing Lake, many outings and events still take place on the three stretches of the Thames surrounding the School, including the Bumping Fours.

After their initial Summer Half on the river, boys become eligible to row for the School. There are Junior Colts eights for the Under 15s, Colts eights for the Under 16s, and Upper Boats eights for the rest, with the Eight at the very top of the pyramid. All these eights train and compete in regattas (and ‘Head of the River’ events) throughout the Lent and Summer Halves, and the most committed boys devote themselves to the sport in the Michaelmas Half as well.

Having set the pace in 1818, Eton remains one of the most successful rowing schools. Few other schools can match our record in competitive events, and a very large number of our boys have been selected for Great Britain Junior, Senior and Olympic crews, including Sir Matthew Pinsent, Ed Coode and Andrew Lindsay – gold medalists in Athens and Sydney.

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