Saturday, 12 March 2011

But not least.

This is Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse. Doubtless you've always wondered what Cuthbert Lempriere Holthouse looked like - well, he looked like this.

The object he is holding is the last ever of the original Wooden Spoons, in the sense of a mocking award for finishing last. It began as a tradition amongst the Mathematics faculty at Cambridge University, from at least 1803 until 1909, of awarding a wooden spoon to the student who graduated with the lowest passing mark. The spoons got bigger and more elaborate over time, culminating in this one, which was converted from a rowing blade, as it was apparently Cuthbert's devotion to the college boat which cost him greater academic success. 

(Were you surprised a maths student named Cuthbert turned out to be such a jock? Me too. Shame on us for our lazy preconceptions.)

The reason the tradition ended in 1909 is apparently because 'the system was changed so that the results were announced in alphabetical order rather than by exam mark.' Though really, if that little manoeuvre successfully rendered an entire graduating class of Cambridge mathematicians unable to work out who had come bottom, I can’t help but think wooden spoons were due all round. 


John Finnemore said...

(Yes, I know why really. I was joking.)

kodama said...

I want a wooden spoon too! I'd definetely got onr due to my inability to count properly... I can't read either.

Kaitebon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaitebon said...

Here's hoping he won a few boat races?

Ankita Sarkar said...

Ooooh! I want a wooden spoon for not being able to tell apart one genre of music from another.

Pete McKean said...

I believe we may have won some spoons at University ourselves for a bit of inexpert bumping ...?

Piques said...

Meanwhile, any Welsh girl would love to get a spoon that big.

John Finnemore said...

Pete - We most certainly did not, sir! In the only bumps I ever rowed in, we bumped once, were bumped once, and rowed over twice. A spectacular display of mediocrity, granted, but not spoon-worthy.

I cannot believe this still matters to me.

Piques said...

John and Pete -

Oh. Does bumping have to do with rowing? I did not get that AT ALL.

It seemed to me the handing out wooden spoons after "a bit of inexpert bumping" seemed a bit cruel. I seem to remember that most university lads were quite inexpert at any form of bumping.

Just to be clear - most of my information on this topic was strictly from secondary sources.

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