The History of Shaldon Regatta
Probably is the oldest in the country ...
Shaldon Regatta, 1897. Note the stalls along the Strand, the Marquee on the beach, the ships unloading coal, the two ferries being rowed and crossing each other in the foreground and the old wooden bridge.
Shaldon Regatta is one of the oldest in existence having started in at least 1817. It is known that a rowing race was run between Teignmouth & Shaldon in 1773 as a letter to a Fanny Burney written then mentions it. It is of course possible that this was the start of a more extensive series of races and therefore a regatta.
" Various races were staged including one for four oars that women rowed in full decoration "
The first reported regatta was held on the 15th June 1848, this report from the Exeter Flying Post also mentions a course of twice around the harbour keeping below the bridge so that spectators were able to see the whole of the race. Various races were staged including one for four oars that women rowed in full decoration including colourful gowns and caps. This was followed by the gig & punt race where the smaller one man punt was raced by a larger gig around the harbour. This race is still run in the regatta today and is a re-enactment of the scene were the pilots who brought the boats across the bar into the port were paid for each navigation. This caused a race to be had to be first to a ship requiring pilotage between the small Shaldon punt and the Teignmouth gig.
Some nine years later it is recorded that the Rev. Hutton objected to women taking part in the regatta which was luckily ignored. It is also reported that there was an increase in beach sports and a duck race, another event that is still popular in today's calendar.
" This Pretty Little Aquatic Meeting "
In 1878 the event was still a one day meeting being reported as "This pretty little aquatic meeting...." and by 1883 it is known that a fair was set up along the Strand and Marine Parade. In 1892 the fun lasted over two days as more events were introduced with prize money being quite substantial, £3, £2, and £1 for the top events with the sailing events having as their prizes such delights as an oak water jug, a butter dish and a butter dish along with an electro-plated jam dish!
Both wars saw the postponement of the regatta but still some strange events seemed to creep in including the greasy pole which the men had to try and clamber up to win a joint of meat from the top and the diving off the quay to collect plates.
It was after the Second World War that swimming was introduced with the races being held between the Quay and the Manor House. The races were handicapped with the tallest participant being made to stand further out in the depths. The then Chairman of the Regatta, Mr Morgan-Giles noted these as a 'waterside gymkahna' but were later re-named as the Happy-Go-Lucky Water Sports, a name that is still in use today.
" This inaugural three mile row was won by Roger Stoyle and Bernard Howard from a field of twenty-two. "
The regatta had stretched to three days by 1954 with the re-introduction of the gig and punt race raising much hilarity as the five Shaldon men rowed their boat dressed as women.
By 1971 the regatta was growing to something like it is now with the introduction of the marathon row from Dawlish. This inaugural three mile row was won by Roger Stoyle and Bernard Howard from a field of twenty-two.
The increase in popularity of the races meant that many youngsters weren't able to row due to lack of dinghy's so the Chairman, Mr Charles Hulbert, started a project to build a standard boat from a mould taken from an original Jack Matthews built craft. The original six are still used today but now there are hundreds of these boats in existence and races in the regatta are restricted to this type with wooden oars.
"Spectators are well catered for ... "
The regatta has grown to nine days taking in the bank holiday at the end of August and is a wonderful time with many of the participants coming to stay in the village for the fortnight and renewing annual acquaintances. No one is ever excluded if they wish to take part with the emphasise being on involving children on the water in a competitive but controlled situation. Spectators are well catered for as well with the introduction of beach sports including Beach Kricket (to Shaldon rules!), volleyball and rounders. River activities have also increased with the introduction of the four man Seine boats, taken from an original Syd Hook mould, and which has helped standardise these races originally rowed in various wooden craft. Sailing is also very popular and the regatta have six Otter sailing boats for use in races run from the beach in the harbour and in which anybody is welcome to take part even if never having set foot in a boat before. Being a two-man boat there is always an experienced crew to help out. The Shaldon Regatta is therefore a major part of the village calendar and looks like being so for many years to come.