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What would you expect to happen when you have a pair of ancient, great institutions with the same speciality which just happen to be among the wealthiest in the country right next to each other? Because that is the situation here in Cambridge between Trinity and St. John’s Colleges. And as we at the Varsity Hotel Cambridge know, Gryffindor and Slytherin have nothing on these two.

May Bumps

Their rivalry goes back centuries and has taken many forms over the years. Naturally there is academic rivalry over who has the better students, grades, fellows, alumni etc. Arguments over who gets to build what, where and why. All might sound trivial, but to consider how seriously it’s taken, consider the cutting chant:

“I’d rather be at Oxford than at John’s!”

Now that’s below the belt. Right now the rivalry takes two forms. This week has seen the May Bumps back again. The annual insanity of attempting to smash a boat into the one in front before being hit from behind in an enclosed waterway. Sometimes resulting in carnage that can be hugely entertaining to watch.

When it comes to their rowing clubs, most Colleges keep it simple, e.g. Churchill College Boat Club (CCBC). But not these two. St. John’s rowing club is named after their founder and benefactor, Lady Margaret. LMBC.

Whereas Trinity 1st & 3rd speaks to a legacy where the college had three boat clubs – which does seem a little excessive. First was for everyone, Second for the clergy, and Third exclusively for alumni of a pair of boarding schools which also lay on rivers. Over time 2nd ceased to be and so 1st & 3rd eventually merged.

Unfortunately for Trinity, St. John’s is definitely in the ascendant this year. Both LMBC’s 1st men’s and women’s boat may end as Head of the River this year (top spot), while Trinity 1st & 3rd aren’t even in contention. Even more embarrassing, LMBC’s men’s second boat began Bumps ahead of Trinity’s first men’s boat. Yikes!

May Week

Then of course there’s May Week, with the incredible number of Balls, Garden Parties and other events to celebrate the end of the academic year. Now while these are all lavish events lasting all night long until the wee hours, Trinity and St. John’s treat them a little differently.

Ordinarily the focus is on providing food, drink and a wide variety of entertainment to the Ball’s guests – primarily consisting of students from the College in question. But for Trinity and St. John’s it’s just part of their great game.

Why hire local performers or bands when you can bring in stars? Why focus on one type of cuisine when you can offer a dozen? And crucially, when you’re right next to your rival, why put on a fireworks display of tasteful modesty? No, those two seem to take delight in who can shoot the most fireworks over their rivals territory whilst also providing the best spectacle to their guests. Meanwhile, we at the Varsity Hotel Cambridge tend to just relax six floors up and enjoy the free spectacle.