This weekend the 157th Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race will take place on the Thames, continuing the universities’ storied sporting tradition. Although nowadays the sculls are made of fiberglass and the clothes of Coolmax, in essence the event is largely unchanged since the days of wooden hulls and white flannels. In honor of the occasion, we bring you a look back at a Life magazine photo essay by Mark Kauffman from 1958 on the pleasures of life at Oxford, where “young Britons follow ancient ways of study and enjoyment” in ivy-covered buildings, on bucolic lawns and rambling rivers.
“Every Oxford student is subject to the ancient discipline that polishes and sharpens his mind to the particular grace and urbanity that mark him as an Oxford man,” the magazine noted. He also “finds delight in his leisure hours, the rambles through Oxford’s lush parks and meadows, the bright spectacles and the many happy afternoons spent boating on the lazy river.” The competitive spirit emerges during the Boat Race and Eights Week, when Oxford men and their girlfriends gather on bannered barges to “show off their smart white flannels, blazers and boaters, and root for their colleges’ rowing teams.” As usual we have some outtakes that never saw print.