Worcester Regatta 1845 - Worcester Evening News 20-05-1995
One of the more remarkable 'matchings' at the first ever Worcester Regatta over 150 years ago was when the crew from the then tiny village of Kempsey was drawn against Oxford University !
The David and Goliath clash did not, for some unaccountable reason, actually take place though Oxford rowed later at the regatta against a Bewdley crew, bumping their boat from behind under an arch of Worcester Bridge and claiming the race. It was awarded to Oxford by the umpire who declared that Bewdley had not kept to "their waters" , though the vanquished oarsmen felt particularly aggrieved as the umpire was the brother of the stroke of the Oxford crew ! But that first Worcester Regatta of 1845 was marred by an even more unsporting incident which was described in one of the Worcester newspapers of the day as an appalling piece of "blackguardianism". It happened just before a vital heat for the premier trophy of the regatta - the Worcester Grand Challenge Cup, "Open to the World".
The heat was between two Worcester crews, Unity and Nondescript, but as the boats were about to take to the water, Nondescript discovered two of their eight oars had disappeared.
Unity refused to wait for them to be found so two of the Nondescript crew were forced to row with smaller oars. Shortly after Unity, not surprisingly, had won the heat, the missing oars were found hidden under a barge. To add insult to injury, Unity went on to win the Grand Challenge Cup. Accusations and counter accusations continued for weeks, and a letter to the Worcester Herald claimed that never had "a more thorough piece of black-guardian been perpetrated". Happily, such bad sportsmanship has not been a feature of this popular annual event since then and will certainly not be seen at next Saturday's 150th anniversary regatta. As usual, crews from all over the British Isles will be competing.
I am grateful to former Worcester Rowing Club president and captain Don Cox and to the club's archivist Peter-Richardson for fascinating details of the birth of Worcester Regatta and other entertaining facts about rowing in 1845.
It seems the first recorded rowing matches on the Severn took place in the early 1830's between clubs representing Worcester, Bewdley, Gloucester, Upton and Tewkesbury. But it wasn't until locks and weirs were introduced to hold back the tide in 1844 that the stretch of river through Worcester became suitable for a regatta.
The inaugural 1845 event was in August, though it seems to have had a successful test run in June of that year when a Mr Gardiner, mine host of the Holt Fleet Inn, organised a 1.5 mile challenge race on the Severn for a silver cup. One of the heats involved a clash between Oxford and Cambridge crews.
A report in the Worcester Herald waxed lyrical:
"A large part of the citizens of Worcester together with influential county families made their way to Holt either by foot, carriage, cart or by water, anxious to see this aquatic contest, The fair sex mustered in considerable numbers too. " The banks were alive with blithe pedestrians who imparted the gladdening influence of motion to the beauties of the landscape, which were further heightened by innumerable boats constantly gliding upstream. The character of the scenery is entirely English".