Regatta: A long-running tradition in Lyme

REGATTA Day had its inception sometime in the 1820s, its forerunner (circa 1810) being an annual boat race.

The word regatta is of Venetian origin indicating a series of boat or yacht races and were the dominant element of early regattas, in 1847 there were three races with silver cups to the value of £300.

By 1861 the event had developed into a more comprehensive and festive occasion. A newspaper report stated that the Coastguard Watch House, the Custom House, the Marine Parade and vessels in the harbour ‘were all gaily decked out’.

There were numerous stalls selling refreshments, gingerbreads being a speciality. The Cobb and the whole seafront was crowded with spectators including ‘parties of ladies who had arrived by carriage’.

Events included sailing and rowing races, with competitors competing for generous prize money. Local Coastguard Stations raced each other in four-oared gigs and in twenty-oared station boats. Sponsorship of regattas was viewed as a civic obligation, contributions coming from gentlemen and the town’s tradesmen.

The 1889 Kelly’s Directory stated that ‘a regatta formerly held is now discontinued and the money applied to maintaining the town band’. It was soon resurrected and expanded as the programme for the 18th August 1898 clearly demonstrates, there was even a military band.

Sailing included a race for Lyme ketches and for open boats, prize money ranged from £10 to 10 shillings. Two novelty events were a rowing boat tug-of-war between Lyme and Charmouth and a tub-race for which competitors had to find their own tub. The stone-boats had their own rowing race as did men over the age of 60 years.

There was only one swimming race and that was for boys under 14 years, in fact there was no female participation in any part of the programme, feminine decorum being an impediment.

Sand sports in the afternoon started with the Jerusalem Stakes, a donkey race, ‘no whips or spurs allowed’. There were running, walking and various obstacle races with a special event for boys from Saint Michael’s Home, all had worthwhile cash prizes. The coastguards took on ‘civilians’ in a tug-of-war challenge event and there was also a chance to win a leg of mutton by climbing a greasy pole.

Regatta Day was a memorable event for both inhabitants and visitors, in 1898 it ended with a ‘Grand Illuminated Naval Engagement and a firework display featuring ‘Niagara on Fire’.

Peter Lacey,
Lyme Regis historian

Peter Lacey’s book ‘Ebb and Flow – The Story of Maritime Lyme Regis’ is now on sale for £5 – call 01297 443630

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