Vincent’s has had a long and illustrious history, and still plays a useful and highly enjoyable role in the life of many Oxford students as pre-eminently a sporting club and the natural home of many of the universities finest scholar-athletes.
The founding of the club is a story unto itself. Walter Bradford Woodgate, a Brasenose scholar, was a great oarsman, he rowed in the Oxford Blue boat, he won eleven Henley titles and is said to have introduced coxless fours to this country. One day in Hilary term in 1863, Woodgate was on his college barge when two rowing friends from Merton hailed him from the riverbank to talk over some matter and suggested meeting at the Oxford Union. Woodgate heartily disliked the Union.
In his Reminiscences of an Old Sportsman, he replied: "Hang the Union, I wouldn’t be seen there at a dog fight." Back came the answer, “Well then, when are you going to give us that select club of yours that you have talked so much about?" My dander was up; I called back, "This day week.”
Woodgate was not a man to break his word. He selected forty original members – many from nineteenth century sporting colleges like University, Merton and Brasenose - and they met and drafted the rules. They set up the club house above the publishers at 90 High Street, named Vincent, and thus the club got its name.
The idea of the founders was to gather an elite of University members who should be selected for all-round qualities; social, physical, and intellectual. The ethos has changed little over its lifespan, and the club proudly welcomed female members in 2015, allowing the Club to more properly represent the finest at Oxford.
Part of the reason for the little change in ethos probably lies in the fact that though the emphasis has always been on sports minded people there has never been a sporting qualification for membership. Though many of those who represent the University are members, it does not at all follow that membership accompanies a Blue.
The Vincent’s membership lists over the years are so studded with future archbishops, headmasters, Cabinet Ministers, judges, and alumni of all kinds that one can scarcely make selection. The presidential roll includes such illustrious names as Sir Robin Butler, J O Newton-Thompson, Sir Roger Bannister, D B Carr, and M J K Smith.
The Duke of Windsor was a member – the rules were waived to admit him as a freshman, whilst the present Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, carries on the royal connection with Vincent’s today.
Published in 2014, a History of Vincent’s Club is an entertaining record of many of the pivotal characters and events from the first 150 years of our existence. Full information about the book as well as purchasing details can be obtained by emailing the Bursar.