Lyme Regis Regatta Days

Held traditionally in August, Lyme Regis annual Regatta Day started around 1825, it’s forerunner in 1810 being a boat race held once a year. Yacht races were the main feature of these early regattas. In 1847 there were three such races with silver cups to the value of £100 being presented to the gentlemen winners, races for trawl boats and rowing matches also included. A newspaper report of 1861 describes how ‘the marine parade exhibited a continuous line of flags’, while the Coastguard Watch House and the Custom House and vessels in the harbour ‘were gaily decked out’. There were numerous stalls selling light refreshments, gingerbreads being a speciality. The Cobb and the whole seafront was crowded with spectators including ‘parties of ladies, many of whom arrived by carriage’. Events included sailing and rowing races, with competitors competing for generous prize money. Local coastguard stations competed against each other in four-oared gigs and in twenty-oared station boats. Lyme were victorious in both events. Rustic amusements took place on the sands, only terminating as darkness approached. Sponsorship of regattas was viewed as a civic obligation, contributions coming from gentlemen and principal tradesmen of the town.

Kelly’s Directories for 1889 and 1895 states ‘a regatta formally held is now discontinued and the money applied to maintaining the town band’. However within a decade it had been resurrected, the programme for 1898 incorporating an extensive schedule of sailing and rowing races. In addition there were aquatic and sand sports, also a military band providing musical entertainment. In the evening an ‘Illuminated Navel Engagement’ was followed by a grand firework display, which concluded with ‘Niagara on Fire’. Lyme ketches competed for the Earl De La Warr’s silver cup and £10 of shared prize money. A Dorset Challenge Cup race involved open sail boats of any rig but not exceeding 25 feet, boats over 22 feet were handicapped two minutes for every foot. Both races stipulated ‘The cup to be won two years by the same boat before becomming the property of the winner’. Lyme and Charmouth were pitted against each other in sailing and rowing events. Open sail boat classes were any rig. Two oared boats competed in a rowing race with a separate class for stone boats and Lyme registered boats.

A nautical tug-of-war involved foar oared ‘Lerrettes’, this appears to be the first definitive reference to ‘Lerrets’ in regard to Lyme Regis and Charmouth. Noteworthy was the two-oared rowing event for men over 60, indicative of an age prior to pensionable retirement. Sculling featured in an event for ships boats, while on a less serious note there was an aquatic tub race. Walking along a greasy spar over water was undoubtably fun, propriety required the wearing of vests and pants. Swimming was restricted to just one event, for boys under 14 years.

The sand sports were a mixture of flat races and obstacle type events. Competitors in the walking race were required to ‘wear a box hat, carry an umbrella also a clothes trunk weighing 14 lbs and smoke a cigar’. There was a further greasy event, climbing a lubricated pole to acquire a leg of mutton. Coastguards and civilians were matched in a twelve-a-side tug of war. A feature event was the Jerusalem Stakes, a donkey race, ‘no whips or spurs allowed’. Only the four sailing races entailed an entry fee, all events had shared prize money. The programme was male orientated and while there were’open events’ it is doubtful if there was little or any female participation, feminine decorum being an impediment. It is evident that in Victorian Lyme Regatta Day was the highpoint of the season for both inhabitants and visitors, for the working class it was a welcome break from their everyday life.

From ‘Ebb and Flow’ The Story Of Maritime Lyme Regis’ by Peter Lacey