Reliving a university challenge

PUBLISHED: 13:11 30 January 2008 | UPDATED: 10:01 04 May 2010

Ely’s former mayor John Ison and the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Rev Dr Anthony Russell out on the river.

Ely's former mayor John Ison and the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Rev Dr Anthony Russell out on the river.

DESCENDANTS of the two men responsible for starting the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race will gather in Ely on March 8 for a day of special events - including the launching of the Boat Race Founders Society. The single aim of the society is to celebrate

DESCENDANTS of the two men responsible for starting the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race will gather in Ely on March 8 for a day of special events - including the launching of the Boat Race Founders' Society.

The single aim of the society is "to celebrate the founders of the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race" - Charles Merivale, later Dean of Ely Cathedral, and his schoolfriend Charles Wordsworth, nephew of poet William Wordsworth, later Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane.

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.

During the Christmas vacation in 1828, 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 in heavy, clinker-built gigs.

Replicas of one of the original gigs were built and raced on the Tideway 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 celebrations on March 8 - the bicentenary of Charles Merivale's birth.

The gigs will race again on the Great Ouse crewed, it is hoped, by some of the 60 descendants of the two founders who will be attending a special Evensong service in Ely Cathedral followed by a Cambridgeshire bangers and mash supper in the Lady Chapel.

Among those taking part will be the Rt Rev Dr Anthony Russell, Bishop of Ely, the Very Rev Dr Michael Chandler, Dean of Ely, the Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke, former Bishop of St Andrews, and the Mayor of Ely Cllr Ron Bradney. The two bishops are also sponsoring the gig race.

Anyone interested is invited to watch the gigs race at 1.30pm and to attend the service in the cathedral at 5.30pm.

A commemorative plaque will be unveiled in Ely's Jubilee Gardens at 2.30pm, and the first meeting of the Boat Race Founders' Society will be held in the cathedral at 4.45pm.

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