The Isis

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Not to be confused with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
For the Oxford University student magazine, see Isis magazine.
Punting on the Isis at Oxford.
Map of Oxford c.1900 showing both the Isis and Thames names.
Rowing on the Isis opposite the Oxford college boathouses.
Oxford college boathouses on the Isis — Jesus College Boat Club on the left, Keble College on the right.

The Isis is the name given to the part of the River Thames above Iffley Lock which flows through the university city of Oxford, England, past Christ Church Meadow and the focal point of rowing for Oxford University.


Historically, and especially in Victorian times, gazetteers and cartographers insisted that the river Thames was correctly named the River Isis[1] from its source until Dorchester-on-Thames, where the river meets the River Thame and becomes the "Thame-isis" (from which the Latin, or pre-Roman Celtic, name Tamesis is derived), subsequently abbreviated to Thames; current Ordnance Survey maps still label the Thames as "River Thames or Isis" until Dorchester. Since the early 20th century this distinction has been lost in common usage even in Oxford, and some historians[2] suggest the name Isis is nothing more than part of Tamesis, the Latin name for the Thames.


The name Isis is especially used in the context of rowing at the University of Oxford. A number of rowing regattas are held on the Isis, including Eights Week, the most important Oxford University regatta, in the Trinity term (summer), Torpids in the Hilary term (spring) and Christ Church Regatta for novices in the Michaelmas term (autumn). Because the width of the river is restricted at Oxford, rowing eights normally have a staggered start near Donnington Bridge and must then aim to "bump" the eight in front (i.e., catch up and touch or overlap with it sufficiently). The leading eight aims to "row over" (i.e., finish the race without being bumped).

There used to be ornate wooden barges on the river bank here on the southern end of Christ Church Meadow to house rowing facilities and for viewing races. Now the barges are gone and there are boathouses instead a little further down the river near the junction with the River Cherwell. Poplar Walk in Christ Church Meadow is used as a route to and from the boathouses.

The name Isis is also used for the second rowing crew of Oxford University Boat Club, who race against the second crew of the Cambridge University Boat Club, Goldie, before the annual Boat Race on the Thames in London.


The Isis, like much of the Thames, has long been popular among anglers for its freshwater fish, including trout and crayfish. The Oxford region is home to several angling clubs. W. F. Wallett, a popular Victorian clown, shares in his memoirs his own humorous anecdote about fishing in the Isis with the celebrated circus proprietor Pablo Fanque:

For a few days I amused myself with Pablo Fanque fishing in the Isis. Pablo was a very expert angler, and would usually catch as many fish as five or six of us within sight of him put together. This suggested a curious device. You must know that Pablo is a coloured man. One of the Oxonians, with more love for angling than skill, thought there must be something captivating in the complexion of Pablo. He resolved to try. One morning, going down to the river an our or two earlier than usual, we were astonished to find the experimental philosophic angler with his face blacked after the most approved style of the Christy Minstrels.[3]

Related uses[edit]

Sculptures of Isis and Tamesis by Anne Seymour Damer can be found on Henley Bridge downstream at Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.[4]

Each of the Formula Student cars manufactured by the Oxford Brookes Racing team uses the name ISIS in the beginning of its chassis number.[citation needed] ISIS is then succeeded by the year number; for example, ISIS XII was the 2012 chassis, nicknamed "Miss Piggy".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxfordshire. Camden's Britannia. 1586.  Translated into English, with additions and improvements by Dr Edmund Gibson, 1722.
  2. ^ Mills, A.D.; Room, A. (1998). A Dictionary of British Place-Names. Oxford University Press.  s.v. Isis
  3. ^ The public life of W.F. Wallett, the Queen's Jester: an Autobiography of Forty Years Professional Experience and Travels in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, including California. Google eBook. 1870. Retrieved 2011-06-17. 
  4. ^ Kendal, Roger, Bowen, Jane and Wortley, Laura, Genius & Gentility: Henley in the Age of Enlightenment. River and Rowing Museum, 2002. See Mrs Anne Seymour Damer, pages 12–13.

Coordinates: 51°44′34″N 1°14′59″W / 51.7429°N 1.2497°W / 51.7429; -1.2497