Torpids is one of two series of bumping races, a type of rowing race, held yearly at Oxford University, the other race being Eights. Over 130 men's and women's crews race for their colleges in six men's divisions and five women's; almost 1,200 participants in total. The racing takes place on the Isis (part of the River Thames) usually in the 7th week of Hilary Term on four successive days from Wednesday to Saturday (around the start of March).
Bumping races evolved in Oxford as the river is too narrow for normal side by side racing. Competing crews start the race lined up in order, one behind another, with their coxes holding ropes attached to the bank, with gaps of about 1.5 boat lengths between the bow of one boat and the stern of the one in front. Racing is started by the firing of a cannon.
Crews attempt to progress up their division by hitting ('bumping') the boat in front without being hit by the boat behind, with the ultimate aim of becoming "Head Of The River" i.e. top of the first division. The Head of the River is awarded the Torpids Challenge Cup, presented to the OUBC by President T.C. Edwards-Moss of Brasenose College Boat Club. Once a bump has taken place, the crew whose boat was hit has to continue racing (and is liable to be bumped again) whilst the bumping crew moves to the side. This can lead to a crew moving down several places during a day's racing. This is the principal difference in the rules between Torpids and Summer Eights, where both crews stop racing.
The first day's starting order is based on the previous year's finishing positions, and each subsequent day's starting order is based on the previous day's finishing positions. A crew that bumps on every day without being bumped itself or that finishes at the Head of the River is awarded 'blades' - the right to get trophy oars painted up in their college colours with the names and weights of the successful crew emblazoned on them. Less sought after is the possibility of getting 'spoons', where the crew has been bumped on every single day. However, the most unusual possibility is 'spades', where the crew is bumped off the start[clarification needed], and then proceeds to bump a crew in front of it before the end of the race, thus being both the bumper and the bumped on the same day. Only two boats have ever managed this feat on every day of the event.
The name 'Torpids' derives from the event's origins as a race for the second boats of the colleges, which were of course slower than the first boats. The status of the event - still adjudged below that of Summer Eights on account of the absence of varsity oarsmen and women - only began to rise at the very end of the nineteenth century, when colleges began to form first boats to compete. Nowadays there is no limit on the number of boats a college may enter, although crews in the last two divisions and crews without a position have to qualify to race by competing in a timed race the preceding Friday, known as 'rowing on'.
The 'Double Headship' is an accolade awarded to any college finishing with both their men's and women's crews at the 'Head of the River'. Oriel College is the only college to have achieved a Double Headship in Torpids, having both men's and women's crews at the Head of the River in 2006.
Men's Head of Torpids
|College||Total Headships||Last Headship||Longest time held|
|St Edmund Hall||5||1966||1962-66|
Torpids has been held since 1838. The following gives the colleges that were Head of the River (Head of Torpids) in these years.
|1893||Brasenose||1894||Brasenose||1895||No races||1896||New College||1897||Balliol|
|1898||Balliol||1899||Balliol||1900||New College||1901||New College||1902||New College|
|1903||New College||1904||New College||1905||University||1906||University||1907||Christ Church|
|1908||Christ Church||1909||Christ Church||1910||Christ Church||1911||Balliol||1912||Magdalen|
|1913||Magdalen||1914||Christ Church||1915-19||No races due to World War I||1920||Christ Church||1921||Christ Church|
|1922||Worcester||1923||Magdalen||1924||Christ Church||1925||Christ Church||1926||University|
|1927||No Racing||1928||Balliol||1929||Balliol||1930-1940||?||1940-45||No races dues to World War II|
|1946-56||?||1957||Queen's||1958||Queen's||1959||Balliol||1960||St Edmund Hall|
|1961||St John's||1962||St Edmund Hall||1963||No Racing||1964||St Edmund Hall||1965||St Edmund Hall|
|1966||St Edmund Hall||1967||St John's||1968||Balliol||1969||Balliol||1970||Balliol|
|2006||Oriel||2007||No Racing||2008||Magdalen||2009||Christ Church||2010||Christ Church|
- In 1986, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2003, racing was held on fewer than four days
- In 1991, Oriel were penalty bumped four places for training while the river was in flood.
- 2000, 2002, 2007 - No racing due to high stream
Women's Head of Torpids
|1983||Jesus||1984||Osler House||1985||St Hugh's||1986||Osler House|
|1987||Somerville||1988||Osler House||1989||Osler House||1990||No Racing|
|1999||Osler-Green||2000||No Racing||2001||St Catherine's||2002||No Racing|
|2007||No Racing||2008||St Catherine's||2009||St Catherine's||2010||Magdalen|
- 1990 - A fast stream meant that only informal racing was held.
- 1977, 2000, 2002, 2007 - No racing due to high stream
- 1963 - No racing due to ice on the river.
- Sherwood, W. E. (1900). "The Torpids". Rowing: A History of Boat-Racing at Oxford from the Earliest Times. Oxford and London: Henry Frowde, Archive.org. pp. 43–49. Retrieved April 11, 2012.
- Sherwood, W. E. (1900). "The Torpids (results)". Rowing: A History of Boat-Racing at Oxford from the Earliest Times. Oxford and London: Henry Frowde, Archive.org. pp. 147–170. Retrieved April 11, 2012.