Monday, 5 May 2008



The Wargrave and Shiplake Regatta.

I won’t pretend I’ve been to any of the Wargrave & Shiplake Regatta’s since leaving the village in 1964.
All I can say is that pre-’64 it was a brilliant day of celebration, enjoyed by virtually every member of the village and for miles around.
(Never actually knew it was called the Wargrave ‘And Shiplake’ regatta until thirty years or so down the line. Always thought it was just ‘The Wargrave regatta’.)

For a start, it was the day that the funfair came to visit.
Setting itself up as if by magic the night before in the field opposite the St George and Dragon Hotel. Also the field used for the hosting of all the regatta paraphernalia.

We’d all make sure we got over there early so that we could get the best position for watching. The lads from Val Wyatts boat builders were usually in charge of all the competing craft. We’d marvel at their dexterity in handling so many in such a tight space, but they seemed to cope just fine.

My brother-in-law Grainger Edney, used to think he was top honcho, but his younger brother Wilf had the ‘starry eyes’ and always got the full attention of all the mesmerised girls there. Though he’d often nearly fall into the river as he tried to be ‘cool’, pretending he hadn’t noticed all the attention. (He used to get a bit bashful).

Being a bit of a ‘water-babe’ myself, loving everything about ‘Old Father Thames, the Wargrave and Shiplake regatta was Utopia for me. I’d be sat there day-dreaming of the time that ‘I’ would be competing. Obviously ‘Whupping’ all the competition. But the nearest I ever got to entering the regatta was trying to get to the end of the ‘Greasy Pole’. (Never managed it I’m afraid.)

Once all the racing was finished it was time for the fair. How my mum always managed to fish another tanner out of her purse on demand always baffled me. But she did, and all of us kids would have the best time of the year.

On regatta day, Val Wyatts used to use a ‘huge’ barge as a ferry. The everyday one would probably only carry 20 or so at a time. But the barge would carry what seemed like a hundred at a time. So many that the sides would be almost submerged, with water lapping over the edges.

a chap called Bill Sumner used to be ‘Chief-Punter’, and was he ever good at aiming that barge accurately? Sometimes one of the other hands would take over. What a fiasco? You felt you were on the way to the Royal Henley Regatta instead sometimes.

Anyway, the last ferry of the day would be around Tennish. The car parks of the George & Dragon Hotel would be crammed to bursting with everyone trying to get served in the make-do pub that was; The Val Wyatt boathouse. They had a huge workshop almost next to the hotel which used to double-up as a ‘Brakspears Bar’ on regatta night. We kids of course would have our Corona Lemonade in PINT mugs, and our Smith’s Crisps and little blue wraps of salt to sprinkle in.

It used to be a competition between the kids to see who could find the ‘most’ salt-wraps in their bag. Smith’s were nothing if not over-generous with the salt-wraps.
Once everyone had their drinks. Dad with his Mild, Mum with her Babycham, (Special occasion of course), then the field to the right of the fair and regatta would be lit up with an amazing firework display.

All the OOH’s and AAH’s would be quite deafening, until the big ‘THANKYOU’ display went up at the end and everyone gave three cheers for the whole occasion.

Great days. Great memories. The walk home was a bit bumpy though. Wargrave Village never had many street lamps in the 1950’s, early 60’s, (Probably only four or five in the whole place) so we usually ended up getting separated from each other, being ushered along by the crowd, which fortunately enough, used to trundle up Victoria Rd, past Hamilton Rd where we lived anyway.

Does the Wargrave and Shiplake regatta still maintain the same magic today? I really wouldn’t know. The fair was stopped many years ago I know that. Whether it’s been re-instated I wouldn’t know either. But if it hasn’t, then the regatta organisers have missed a huge trick there.

Does the Wargrave & Shiplake Regatta rival the Henley Royal Regatta?
Maybe not EH?

Catch you later,


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