10 September 2014

Running and rowing with the smallest
pub and the smallest club in Cambridge

King Street, behind Blundell Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ... the street gives its name to the King Street Run, although there are only half a dozen pubs there today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

King Street runs from the corner behind Blundell Court, where I am staying in Sidney Sussex College, to the junction with Jesus Lane. The student bar is below me on the ground floor, but King Street is behind me and has been a more interesting place for some of the participants in the summer school to find a place to meet and talk in the evenings. The street is well-known for its pubs, but it is also notorious for the King Street Run, a pub crawl in which students try to quaff a pint in each pub on the street in quick succession and in the quickest time.

Today there are only half a dozen pubs on King Street – far fewer than the number at the height of great student pranks, and they are better known for their individual charm than their reputation for student drinking binges.

The King Street Run … the pub takes its name from the race (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The King Street Run continues, and although only four pubs are listed in the race, runners are still required to consume eight pints. The run was banned in 1964 by the Cambridge University Proctors, but was revived in the mid-1970s and again in 1982. The current record of 14 minutes 05 seconds is held by John Philips of the Cambridge Hash House Harriers, but ties are awarded to anyone who completes the run in under an hour.

The Champion of the Thames … was this Scullion’s favourite club? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Champion of the Thames is named after an oarsman who won a sculling race on the Thames before moving to Cambridge in 1860. He asked that all mail to him should be addressed to “The Champion of the River Thames, King Street, Cambridge.”

The rowing connection continues, and a rowing club known as the “Champion of the Thames” is sponsored by the pub.

The pub is thinly disguised in Tom Sharpe’s novel Porterhouse Blue, where Scullion’s favourite pub is named ‘The Thames Boatman.’

The sign on the corner of The Champion of the Thames (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Champion of the Thames is one of the smaller pubs in Cambridge and is also known for a corner sign directed at students taking part in the King Street Run:

“This HOUSE is dedicated towards those splendid FELLOWS who make DRINKING a pleasure, who reach CONTENTMENT before CAPACITY and who, whatever the DRINK, can take it, hold it, enjoy it, and STILL remain GENTLEMEN.”

Saint Radegund … the smallest pub in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

At the top of King Street, at the Four Lamps Roundabout and the junction with Jesus Lane, opposite the Wesley Methodist Church, is Saint Radegund. This is neither a church nor a college. Although Saint Radegund’s College is a fictional, all-female college in Rosy Thornton’s campus satire, Hearts and Mind (2007), Saint Radegund is the smallest pub in Cambridge.

The pub is the starting point, or the finishing point, of the King Street Run and is named after a sixth century Thuringian princess and Frankish queen who is associated with Jesus College: the full name of Jesus College is the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge.

Jesus College was established in 1496 by John Alcock, Bishop of Ely, on the site of the 12th century Benedictine nunnery of Saint Mary and Saint Radegund. The nuns’ refectory, became the college hall, and the former lodging of the prioress became the Master’s Lodge.

The sign outside Saint Radegund bears an uncanny resemblance to the coat of arms of Jesus College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On first looking at it, the sign outside Saint Radegund bears an uncanny resemblance to the coat of arms of Jesus College (right). The pub is home to the Cantabrigensis Hash House Harriers, a successful rowing club, a well-known cricket team – all encouraged or started by the late Terry Kavanagh, who was the landlord between 1992 and 2009. The present landlord is James Hoskins.

Inside, the pub is decorated with blades, photographs, plaques and other ephemera celebrating the successes of the Saint Radegund Boat Club.

The Saint Radegund Boat Club was formally ratified in 2001, being initially a “bumps only” crew for three years. This was due mainly to the enthusiasm and patience of the club’s original coach and captain John Whitney. The club has been the holder of the John Jenner Trophy for two consecutive years and runners-up twice more. Saint Radegund crews have also “won their blades” in the town bumps on a number of occasions.

The first boat to compete on the River Cam in the name of the St Radegund did so in 1998, when members of the Cantabrigensis Hash House Harriers entered a boat in that year’s Town Bumps.

Saint Radegund’s successes on the river are celebrated in the interior decoration of the pub (Photograph: Patrick Cmerford, 2014)

For the succeeding two years, the Saint Radegund ‘River Rats’ rowed under the banner of the Free Press Boat Club, and began the new Millennium near the top of the Third Division. In 2001, a second Saint Radegund crew entered the Bumps in the ‘Metric Tonne’ boat. In the 2002, the men’s ‘River Rats’ and ‘Son of Tonne’ boats were joined by the St Radegund’s first ever women’s boat.

The St Radegund Boat Club was then formed with the landlord Terry Kavanagh as commodore and John Whitney as captain. The club became independent of the Free Press (by then the X-Press Boat Club) and joined the Cambridgeshire Rowing Association in its own right. Other non-college clubs on the river include the Cambridge ’99 Boat Club, the Cantabrigian Rowing Club, the City of Cambridge Rowing Club, the Rob Roy Boat Club, the X-Press Boat Club and the Champion of the Thames Boat Club, some of them based in the CRA boathouse.

The X-Press Boat Club was once the boat club of the Free Press Public House, but is now associated with The Cambridge Blue after the landlord switched pubs. The name of the club was supposed to change to the Cambridge Blue Boat Club, but this was blocked after objections were raised by the university.

The St Radegund Boat Club bought its first boat from Saint Neot’s Rowing Club after the 2006 Bumps, and renamed the boat Vera after Dame Vera Lynn. Soon afterwards it bought its first set of oars, and painted them in the distinctive club colours.

For a time, the club used the facilities of Jesus College boathouse and then rowed from Corpus Christi. The club currently occupies the Joint Colleges Boat House and has four boats on the river, one Four and three Eights.

The club says “serious training takes place of course in the St Radegund Pub after outings.” The smallest club on the River Cam is proud of its roots in the smallest pub in Cambridge.

Like the Eagle on Bene’t Street, the pub ceiling has been adorned with the candle signatures of locals and notable guests. Friday night in Saint Radegund is Vera Lynn Appreciation Society night, when large G&Ts are served to the sounds of the wartime forces sweetheart.

Perhaps the Saint Radegund Boat Club is just a more mature version of the King Street Run.

Celebrating the excesses of the King Street Run in a sign at the King Street Run (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Trotsky’s surprising encounter with
a Russian theologian and priest

Joining the queue for meals in the Hall in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The final speaker at this year’s summer conference in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies was Dr Christoph Schneider, Academic Director of IOCS.

Dr Schneider was the principal organiser of this week’s conference in Sidney Sussex College and spoke this afternoon [10 September 2014] on “Pavel A Florensky’s ‘Critique of Impure Reason’ and the debate about fideism and onto-theology.”

For the past week, we have been discussing the “Horizons and Limitations of Russian Religious Philosophy.”

Before Vespers in the college chapel, we had an extensive discussion of Russian theology and religious philosophy and the conference papers and contributions later in the afternoon.

Dr Natalia Vaganova from Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University stimulated an unexpected discussion on the unusual working relationship between Father Floensky and Leon Trotsky in the early years of Soviet Russia. Trotsky strongly believed in Florensky’s ability in the electrification of rural Russia, and there are contemporary accounts of the remarkable sight of Father Florensky wearing his priest’s cassock and cross as he worked alongside other leaders of a Government department.

Although Trotsky asked him to wear a suit, Florensky insisted that while he had no parish he was still a priest, and insisted on wearing his cassock and cross and keeping his long priest’s beard. He continued to hold teaching and research positions until 1934.

The discussion later turned to the appropriate use of icons by individuals and in the prayer life of the Church.

The speakers and participants have been truly international this year, with people coming to Cambridge for this conference from Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Austria, Russia, Hungary Greece, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, the US and many other countries.

The conference ends tomorrow with the annual pilgrimage to the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex.

Taking part in the Divine community
and the mystery of the Resurrection

At Orthodox Vespers in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

In Orthodox theology, theosis (θέωσις) or deification is a transformative process in which the goal is the attainment of likeness to or union with God. As a process of transformation, theosis is brought about by the effects of katharsis (κάθαρσις) or purification of mind and body and theoria (θεωρία).

In Orthodox theology, theosis is the purpose of human life. It offers a very different approach to thinking about salvation than the western theological thinking about redemption and atonement.

This morning [10 September 2014], at the international summer conference in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, we were introduced to theosis in the thinking of Russian philosophers and theologians.

The conference in Sidney Sussex College, which began on Monday morning, is looking at “Horizons and Limitations of Russian Religious Philosophy.”

Dr Ruth Coates speaking at the IOCS summer school in Sidney Sussex College this morning (Photograph: IOCS)

Dr Ruth Coates, senior lecturer in the Russian Department in the University of Bristol, spoke on “Nikolai Berdyaev and the Silver Age Reception of the doctrine of deification.” Dr Clemena Antonova of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, spoke on “Seeing God ‘Face to Face’: the visual implications of theosis in Byzantine Theology and Russian Religious Philosophy.”

Ruth Coates specialises in nineteenth-century Russian literature and 19th and early 20th century intellectual history. Her research interests are in the work of the 20th century philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin; in 20th and early 20th century Russian thought; and in Russian Orthodox culture and its influence on secular Russian thought. She has edited The Emancipation of Russian Christianity, and is the author of Christianity in Bakhtin: God and the Exiled Author.

In 2009 she organised the “Vekhi Centenary Conference 1909-2009.” She is the co-organiser, with Dr Sarah Hudspith of Leeds University, of the BASEES 19th century Study Group. Her current project concerns the reception of the doctrine of deification in Russian culture, with a focus on the thought of the late imperial period.

The Russian theologian and political philosopher Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (1874-1948) was born near Kiev into an aristocratic military. He spent a solitary childhood at home, reading widely in his father’s library and learning many languages.

In 1904, he moved with his wife Lydia Trusheff to Saint Petersburg, then the centre of Russian intellectual and revolutionary life. In 1913, after criticising the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, he was charged with blasphemy, but the trial never took place because of the outbreak of World War I and the subsequent Bolshevik Revolution.

Surprisingly, Berdyaev was able to continue writing, lecturing and publishing for another five years after the October Revolution of 1917. In 1920, he became Professor of Philosophy at the University of Moscow, but he was soon arrested for conspiracy soon after and jailed, and in 1922 he was expelled from Russia in September 1922 with a select group of 160 prominent writers, scholars, and intellectuals.

From Berlin, Berdyaev moved to Paris in 1923, where he continued to write, publish and lecture. He never returned to Russia and died in 1948 in Clamart, near Paris.

Berdyaev was an often critical but practising member of the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote in Dream and Reality: “When I became conscious of myself as a Christian, I came to confess a religion of God-manhood [Orthodoxy]; that is to say, in becoming a believer in God, I did not cease to believe in man’s dignity and creative freedom. I became a Christian because I was seeking for a deeper and truer foundation for belief in man.”

He was an existentialist and a mystical philosopher, and he felt it was the mystics of the world who came closest to understanding the role of spirit. Many of the philosophers he drew on were mystics, including Meister Eckhart and Jacob Boehme, and he was deeply influenced by Dostoevsky.

The concept of theosis is a central theme in Orthodox theology and spirituality. For Berdyaev, the mystical experience reveals the specific status of humanity as created in God’s image. In our creative life, we can be divinised and, consequently, participate in the divine community.

Berdyaev analyses the process of theosis referring to the most perfect example of Christ. Theosis, in his view, is the aim of human existence. He wrote:

“The idea of theosis was the central and correct idea, the Deification of man and of the whole created world. Salvation is that Deification. And the whole created world, the whole cosmos is subject to Deification. Salvation is the enlightenment and transfiguration of creation and not a juridical justification. Orthodoxy turns to the mystery of the Resurrection as the summit and the final aim of Christianity. Thus the central feast in the life of the Orthodox Church is the feast of Pascha, Christ’s Glorious Resurrection. The shining rays of the Resurrection permeates the Orthodox world.

“The feast of the Resurrection has an immeasurably greater significance in the Orthodox liturgy than in Catholicism where the apex is the feast of the Birth of Christ. In Catholicism we primarily meet the crucified Christ and in Orthodoxy – the Resurrected Christ. The way of the Cross is man's path but it leads man, along with the rest of the world, towards the Resurrection. The mystery of the Crucifixion may be hidden behind the mystery of the Resurrection. But the mystery of the Resurrection is the utmost mystery of Orthodoxy. The Resurrection mystery is not only for man, it is cosmic. The East is always more cosmic than the West. The West is anthropocentric; in this is its strength and meaning, but also its limitation.

“The spiritual basis of Orthodoxy engenders a desire for universal salvation. Salvation is understood not only as an individual one but a collective one, along with the whole world…The greater part of Eastern teachers of the Church, from Clement of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor, were supporters of apokatastasis, of universal salvation and resurrection. And this is characteristic of (contemporary) Russian religious thought. Orthodox thought has never been suppressed by the idea of Divine justice and it never forgot the idea of Divine love. Chiefly – it did not define man from the point of view of Divine justice but from the idea of transfiguration and Deification of man and cosmos.”

The Cloisters in Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later this morning, Dr Clemena Antonova spoke on “Seeing God ‘Face to Face’: the visual implications of theosis in Byzantine Theology and Russian Religious Philosophy.” She has studied at Edinburgh and Oxford and lectured in England, Bulgaria, Scotland and the US. Her most recent book, based on her PhD thesis at Oxford, is Space, Time, and Presence in the Icon: Seeing the World with the Eyes of God (Ashgate, 2013).

She asked why the corpus of writings on theosis is so often conceptualised in visual terms and through visual metaphors and terms that describe human vision. And she tried to reconstruct a concrete model for the way divine perception works.

She drew on the work of Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky (1882-1937), including his Beyond Vision: Essays on the Perception of Art. Florensky was murdered on the night of 8 December 1937 in a wood near Saint Petersburg, and is listed as a New Martyr and Confessor.

She also drew on the writings of Archbishop Rowan Williams on icons and theosis.

She spoke about “vision beyond vision” which is beyond pure aesthetic experience.

Dr Antonova illustrated her lecture generously with icons, and compared perspective in iconography, which invites us to move beyond time and space, and the use of perspective in the work of the Cubists, especially Picasso.

Getting away from it all on
Robinson Crusoe Island

Robinson Crusoe Island is a tiny islet in Cambridge where the River Cam splits between Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

There is an island in the South Pacific that is known as Robinson Crusoe Island or Isla Robinson Crusoe. It is the second largest of the Juan Fernández Islands, and lies 670 km west of the coast of Chile. A neighbouring island is known as Alejandro Selkirk Island.

Robinson Crusoe Island was once known as Más a Tierra (Closer to Land). It was the island that became home to the Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk from 1704 to 1709, and is said to have inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe (1719).

To reflect the literary associations of Más a Tierra – but more especially to attract tourists – the Chilean government renamed the place Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.

I was on Robinson Crusoe Island on Tuesday [9 September 2014] – but not in the South Pacific. Instead, I visited Robinson Crusoe Island, a tiny islet in the River Cam, between Coe Fen to the east and Sheep’s Green to the west, on a point on the river south of the weir where Scurdamore’s Punts are moored at Silver Street Bridge and immediately north of the Fen Causeway.

Cattle grazing on Coe Fen in the late summer sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Coe Fen is known beyond Anglicanism as the name the tune composed by Ken Naylor for the hymn How shall I sing that majesty. And during an afternoon break from the IOCS summer school in Sidney Sussex College I had decided to go for a walk by the river at Coe Fen, inspired, of course, by that tune.

Naylor was the music master at the Leys School, at the corner of Trumpington Street and the Fen Causeway, and named his tune after Coe Fen, an open space beside the school.

Coe Fen on the east bank of the Cam and Sheep’s Green on the west bank form a natural area that was once important for commercial activity in Cambridge. There was many watermills her, but because the land between the artificially raised banks of the watercourses was liable to flooding it was only suitable for grazing.

Cows grazed on one side of the river on Coe Fen and sheep on the other side, Sheep’s Green, and so they have been named.

By the 19th century, the Fen had become so marshy and boggy that it became necessary to drain it as a measure to prevent the outbreak and spread of diseases. A public subscription in 1833 raised £150 to drain the Fen, and later, in 1912-1914, the level of the Fen was raised by dumping rubbish on it.

In the late afternoon, I walked down Trumpington Street to the Leys School, and turned along the Fen Causeway. The Fen Causeway Bridge opened in 1926, and I am told it is sometimes called the Lesbian Bridge because of the graffiti sometimes written on its underside. Instead of checking this out, I joined a footpath south into Coe Fen, where the land is a semi-natural area and cattle still graze.

I walked south until the path meets Vicar’s Brook and then turned west and crossed a narrow bridge that took me onto Sheep’s Green, a small island formed by the way the river has split further north at the weir at Silver Street Bridge.

Sheep’s Green Bridge is a second narrow bridge that was rebuilt in 2006. Here pedestrians and cyclists jostle to give way to each other, and the bridge led me onto Lammas Land, a town park, with a small open air pool for children and a playground.

Lammas was observed on 1 August in England as a harvest festival when loaves of bread were made from the first ripe corn. Areas of green designated as Lammas lands in law were common land for nine months of the year, but passed to the sole use of their owners for the other three months on Lammas.

To the south of Lammas Land is the aptly-named Paradise, a nature reserve and woodland with a central marsh area, wet woodland and a number of riverside mature willows.

Crusoe Bridge, built in 1898-1899, is a steel footbridge with timber deck and supported on four cast-iron columns (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

I walked back north along Lammas Land and walked east along the Fen Causeway for a brief distance, and then turned to the north side of Coe Fen, where I found the bridge that crosses Robinson Crusoe Island to my left or the west.

Stepping across Robinson Crusoe Island and Crusoe Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Crusoe Bridge, which was built in 1898-1899, is a steel footbridge with timber deck and supported on four cast-iron columns. This is the final bridge on the “Upper River” before it reaches the small weir at the mill pond.

Robinson Crusoe Island was once known as Swan’s Nest, but the present name has been in use for more than a century.

The land is deceptive in places here, and many apparently dry channels running through the grass are filled with marshy water, often filled with reeds and damp growth. These channels date back to the time when this area had many mills grinding corn for Cambridge.

Punters on the river between Crusoe Bridge and the weir at Silver Street Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

I crossed Robinson Crusoe Island and the bridge, and enjoyed the spectacle of people enjoying the late summer sunshine in kayaks and punts. But the old boathouse that has been on Robinson Crusoe Island was closed and fenced off, and difficult to see.

Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green are important thoroughfares for cyclists and pedestrians, particularly between the city centre and Newnham, and part of the pathway along the river out towards Grantchester runs through this space.

We are enjoying an extended summer this week and the river is still busy with tourists and punts. I walked on north to the weir and stopped at the Anchor at Silver Street Bridge for a glass of wine. There I sat watching the bustle at the pubs and the punting station at Scudamore’s.

Before returning to the bustle of academic life at Sidney Sussex College, I had one more look at the Mathematical Bridge that links one side of Queen’s College with the other across the river. The punters below seemed to be deft enough not be marooned on Robinson Crusoe Island further south.

Punts at the Mathematical Bridge below Silver Street Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)