Cyril Burnand Exhibition

A new exhibition created by the Monastery Archives and Library team is now open in the Abbey Visitor Centre. The exhibition focuses on the incredible life of an Old Gregorian, Cyril Burnand (1891-1915) who was at Downside from 1904-1909. 

Cyril was an accomplished rower and featured for Cambridge in the 1911 University Boat Race which Cambridge lost by a then record time. However, Cyril came out of it well, being described as the only Cambridge rower to do himself any credit. He gained his Blue for rowing and left Cambridge taking up a job with the Midland Railway and moving to Nottingham where he immediately joined Nottingham Rowing Club. 

Cyril joined the Grenadier Guards in 1914 on the outbreak of war but was tragically killed in March 1915 at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. Yet he has left behind a wonderful legacy in his scrap books and other items here at Downside. 

So why have we created this exhibition? The story began late last year when we came across two scrapbooks of Cyril’s life, with playbooks and sporting achievements  from his time at Downside right through to the telegram sent to his parents telling them of his death. Throughout the books are mementos of his dedication to rowing. His skill at the sport is undeniable, and it was hoped that he was good enough to have represented his country at the Olympics but for his untimely death. 

The story of the exhibition is one of joining up dots. After the discovery of his albums, we remembered seeing his portrait hanging in the school along with three oars, one of which was the one he used in the infamous Boat Race. (Interestingly, this race was also famous for being the first to be photographed from the air and for being watched by a member of the royal family). After this, one of our volunteers discovered some of his medals in another part of the archives and the story unfolded. Another of our volunteers, herself a keen rower made sense of the collections and realised that Cyril Burnand had been a man of considerable rowing talent. With all of the information we had, we wanted to tell Cyril’s story. 

We hope that through the exhibition we not only commemorate a life lost in the Great War, but also a life spent doing something he loved, and which he was exceptionally good at. 

We are also running our smaller ‘Downside Then and Now’ exhibition alongside the Burnand display so make sure to see the selection of images of Downside. 

The Abbey Visitor Centre is open from 9.30-12 and 2-4 so do take the chance to visit the exhibition. Click here for more information on the Visitor Centre. 

If you want to know more about the Monastery Archives and Library click here and to make an enquiry about the exhibition or the collections email Steve Parsons here