The Lambton Cup

21 March 2022

125 years ago, in 1897, a family of Wellingtonians presented the College with this very handsome silver cup. Between the years 1882 and 1898, the seven Lambton brothers – William, Alexander, Cuthbert, George, Edward, Ronald, and Philip – were all in the Orange, and as the time drew near for the last one to leave, they donated the cup as an expression of gratitude. Making a play on the family name, the cup features seven lambs around the stem, while the handles are secured by rams’ heads.  

The family did not specify how the Cup should be used, and initially the Grounds Committee proposed awarding it for an inter-dormitory hockey competition. Hockey at that time was not a serious sport at Wellington; although played occasionally in the Lent term it had never attracted anything like the popularity of rugby or cricket. Indeed, a letter to the Wellingtonian in 1881 scathingly suggested that hockey should be seen on a par with such childish games as marbles, hide-and-seek, or ‘I-Spy’! But by 1897 the Year Book reported that ‘‘One of the most remarkable phenomena in the country part of England during the last two years, is the growth of hockey… Hockey is an excellent game for the months of February and March, as it can be played on so many days when rugby is an impossibility,’ and it was hoped that a cup for an inter-dormitory challenge would encourage the sport.  

By the following year, however, enthusiasm had waned. Hockey still came a poor third to rugby and to the Athletic Sports, which were also held in the Lent term. In 1900, therefore, the Lambton Cup was awarded instead for cross-country running, or ‘paperchases’ as the sport was then known at College. Points were awarded for all senior runs, from 12 points for the winner down to 1 point for any finishers below 11th place, and the cup went to the house or dormitory with most points at the end of the season.  In the College Archives we have many photographs of the winning teams over the years. The scoring system has been tweaked from time to time, but the Cup continued to be awarded in this way until around 1994. Consigned to a store cupboard for several years, it is now again on display in the recently refurbished cabinets in the Dining Hall.  

Hockey, meanwhile slowly grew in popularity at Wellington, but it was not until the 1920s that an inter-dormitory tournement was regularly held. A shield for the winners was first awarded in 1928.