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Oxford University (England)

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Oxford University boating flags

In general, most of the college boat clubs fly a banner of arms of the college concerned. The best time to see these flags are during Eights Week, in 5th Week of Trinity term in late May and during Torpids in Hilary term, in February. These are regattas held on the River Thames, featuring crews from most of the colleges and private halls, plus a few other organisations (medical schools & so on) connected with the University. The majority of the college boat houses are located on the Thames in Christ Church Meadow and this is where and when you can see the most colourful display of flags in Oxford, as each boat houses flies at least one flag during Eights Week and Torpids. Many fly more than one as the boat houses are shared between colleges. It is possible that some of the college boat clubs have their own individual flags. You can also see college flags at their own premises elsewhere in the City on other occasions, mainly associated with the University, the death of college Fellows and so on. They tend to fly the Union Flag on national occasions. However, the greatest concentration in a small area is during Torpids and Eights Week.
Colin Dobson, 16 June 2005

We have two sheets of drawing of Oxford and Cambridge club flags amongst a donation at the Library, but there is no source. Further, they have all been redrawn in coloured pencil, so the precise shades are not always apparent. I have corrected some using more general sources on the colleges. The flags are all drawn as 3:2.

  • Balliol: five horizontal stripes magenta (a deep pink), white, dark blue, white, magenta
  • Brasenose: black with a yellow border [the width of the border is one-sixth of the length]
  • Christ Church: blue with a red bishop's mitre [I am not sure that this is correct. Christ Church College was founded by a cardinal, and a cardinal's red hat appears on the college tie, so it may be a mistake by the artist or in the original source]
  • Corpus Christi: three horizontal stripes red, navy, red
  • Exeter: black with a magenta border
  • Jesus: light green with a white border
  • Magdalen: divided vertically black (hoist) and white
  • Merton: blue with a red cross and a white border
  • New: five horizontal stripes brown, white, brown, white, brown
  • Oriel: divided vertically navy (hoist) and white
  • Pembroke: three horizontal stripes cerise, white, cerise
  • Queen's: seven horizontal stripes red, white, blue, white, blue, white, red 1:1:1:2:1:1:1
  • St. John's: three horizontal stripes yellow, black, scarlet
  • Trinity: navy with a white border
  • University: navy with a gold border
  • Wadham: light blue
  • Worcester: five horizontal stripes blue, white, red, white, blue

This is not all the colleges, obviously. Some might not have a rowing club - this would be true of the all-women's colleges in times gone by. I have found this extra college colours which I include for completeness, rather than saying they actually have rowing flags.

  • Hertford: red, maroon & white
  • Keble: navy, scarlet and white
  • Lady Margaret Hall: navy, gold & white
  • St. Anne's: navy & gold
  • St. Catherine's: maroon & light blue
  • St. Edmund's Hall: maroon & amber
  • St. Hilda's: navy & white
  • St. Hugh's: navy, gold & white
  • St. Peter's: green & gold
  • Somerville: scarlet & black

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Ian Sumner, 20 June 2005

The flags you describe are radically different from the flags that are seen nowadays, which are heraldic banners of the college arms or incorporate simple heraldic devices. For example, Christ Church now uses navy blue a cross white. In the lithograph I saw this was the same, except with a swallow tail. From memory, some of the other non-banners now in use are:

  • Merton: white a crimson cross couped
  • St John's: white on a navy blue cross the Lamb of God white (see this image for the current St John's BC flag flying over the college banner of arms)
  • Magdalen: red three lilies in fess proper
  • Worcester: black a Maltese cross pink

Andrew Yong, 20 June 2005

I have three old postcards which have the flags of the Oxford University colleges pictured. They may be of the college boat clubs rather than the colleges themselves:

Card 1: Jesus, Wadham, Pembroke, Worcester, St. Edmund Hall, Hertford, Keble, St. Catherine's
Card 2: University, Marton, Balliol, Exeter, Oriel, Queen's
Card 3: New, Lincoln, Madgalen, Brasenose, Corpus Christi, Christ Church, Trinity, St. John's

Peter Andrew Henry, 11 July 2006

I'm not sure of the provenance of that document - it looks quite old. At least one of them - Merton - does not reflect current usage, I'll try to research this on the occasion of the next regatta, when most of the flags should be displayed, however this will have to wait until the start of the next academic year, which is many months off. Most, but not all, of the Oxford colleges have boat houses, usually shared with one other college or institution, on the River Thames, where it runs through Christ Church Meadow in Oxford. Most of the boathouses have two flag poles, one for each college and they usually fly a flag when regattas are being held. See this photograph, from the University College Boat Club web site:, wherein may be seen (third from right) the St John's Boat Club flag above the St John's College flag on the same flagpole:

The colleges themselves, mostly located in the city centre, have their own range of flag flying days and would typically fly a banner of arms on a day associated with the University, such as Degree Day, and the Union Flag on a national flag flying day. There are 39 colleges and 7 permanent private halls - a total of 46, although not all have boat clubs and there are also a number of other boat clubs associated with the University coming out of institutions such as the medical school.

As pointed out above, some college boat clubs, such as St John's - not in these post card files - have their own flag, which is different from the college flag. Also, there are numerous other eccentricities, such as Christ Church College, which flies a banner of arms of its founder. Ian Sumner wrote about a sheet of Oxford and Cambridge college club flags in the collection of the Flag Institute, which differs from this latest source. Without being able to compare that source with this source fully, it would seem to me that the drawings referred to therein are taking the actual colours of the boat crews - as worn on their clothing - and transposing them to flags, for some reason.

In the third card there is (probably) an error where the Corpus boat flag is shown as a crimson pelican on a blue background, when in fact, it is a yellow or gold pelican on a blue background, as depicted on the link at Second flagpole from the left and also the arms shown on the College web site, from whence it comes: and can also be seen atop the sundial in the middle of the quad. Note also its unusual ratio. It is a very large flag when flown on the flagpole above the Porters Lodge at the entrance to the College.

In summary, some of these flags are quite complex and I would suggest further research is required.
Colin Dobson, 11 July 2006

On eBay at is the same card set but from a different year. It's difficult to tell whether it's older or newer, but there are some differences. I have noticed that the arms of St Catherine's College were incorrect on the other cards, where the arms of St Catherine's Cambridge were actually depicted. This version has the arms of St Catherine's before it became collegiate. That could be an indicator of the year.
Colin Dobson, 30 July 2006

1:1 proportions are supported by this postcard, which I have just found on the internet: It also shows a swallowtail pattern.
Andrew Yong, 12 April 2007

Most boat clubs borrow a banner of arms from the Porter for the day. The postcards [linked above] are historical, rather than a reflection of current practice. I am not sure there are any hard and fast rules in respect of the construction of these flags; if anything it looks rather good that there are some unusual sizes and ratios along that stretch of the river in Christ Church Meadow.
Colin Dobson, 12 April 2007