10 September 2014
Running and rowing with the smallest
pub and the smallest club in Cambridge
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 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 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 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.”
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.
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.
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.