The first Thames Regatta, 23rd June 1775

A proposal was made in April of 1775 to hold a Regatta or Water Ridotto on the Thames. It was scheduled to run on a day between the 20th and 24th June, weather dependent. An event to see and to be seen at although, according to the Morning Chronicle of 20th June 1775, the Duchess of Devonshire expressed concerns about ‘being mixed with the mob and asked the Duke why he couldn’t hire the Thames for the day’. True or not, said in jest or not, we’ve no idea!

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787; Chatsworth House

Nonetheless, plans were made for the event and they went as follows:

Between twelve and thirteen hundred tickets were to be issued and the parties were to supply their own boat or barge and were to congregate under Westminster Bridge early evening.

The centre arch to be left open for the race boats manned by watermen, twelve of which, with rowers each were to start to fix-row against the tide to London Bridge and back again; the three boats which first clear the centre arch of Westminster bridge on their return to claim the prize which would be proportioned accordingly as they came in.

First prize was 10 guineas each, with coats and badges

Second prize seven guineas each, with coats and badges of inferior value

Third prize – five guineas each with coats and badges

Also, every successful waterman would be given an ensign to wear for one year on the Thames, with the word REGATTA, in gold characters inscribed and the figures 1,2, or 3 according to the order in which he arrived at the end of the race.

After the race, the whole procession in order would move on to Chelsea and land at the platform of Chelsea Hospital and from there proceed to the Rotunda at Ranelagh in which an excellent band of vocal and instrumental music would be ready to perform as the company arrived. Boats with musical performers would also be stationed at Westminster bridge and attend the procession on the Thames.

Westminster Bridge by Antonio Joli
Westminster Bridge by Antonio Joli; Parliamentary Art Collection

Applications had to be made to the manager of the Regatta for seats in the public barges which were being loaned for the event by city companies.

The rowers of the private barges were to be uniformly dressed and in such a manner as to accord with someone of the three marine colours, chosen by the marshals of the Regatta – the white, the blue or the red. The blue division was to take the four northern arches of Westminster bridge; the red division to take the four arches next to the Surrey shore and St George’s division, the two arches on each side of the centre.

Ticket for the Regatta Ball at Ranelagh, 1775. Francesco Bartolozzi.
Ticket for the Regatta Ball at Ranelagh, 1775. Francesco Bartolozzi. Yale Centre for British Art

The whole procession to move up the river, from Westminster bridge at seven o’clock in the evening with the marshal’s division rowing ahead about three minutes before the second division; and the same interval of times before the second and third divisions.

The company would embark, using the several sets of stairs adjacent to Westminster bridge, as well on the Lambeth side between five and six o’clock, ready to begin at seven o’clock. The marshal’s barge of twelve cars, carrying St George’s ensign (white field, with red cross) would be to the west of centre.

The Interior of the Rotunda, Ranelagh, London; Canaletto; Compton Verney
The Interior of the Rotunda, Ranelagh, London; Canaletto; Compton Verney

A circular arrangement of tables, with proper intervals, would be placed around the Rotunda at Ranelagh on which supper would be prepared in the afternoon, and the doors were to be thrown open at eleven o’clock. The several recesses on the ground floor to serve as sideboards for the waiters and for a variety of refreshments.

A band of music consisting of one hundred and twenty vocal and instrumental performers would play in the centre of the rotunda during supper time. The garden of Ranelagh was to be lit up and a temporary bower erected and decorated around the canal for dancing. The platform of Chelsea hospital to be open for the great convenience of those disembarking.

The Royal Hospital, Chelsea by Daniel Turner
The Royal Hospital, Chelsea by Daniel Turner; Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies

The plan at this stage was that the event should take place on the 20th June, but a signal would be given by the committee to confirm the weather was suitable for it to go ahead. A red flag would be displayed at ten o’clock over the centre arch of Westminster bridge and the bells of St Margaret’s would ring from ten o’clock until one o’clock. Without such notification, it was to be understood that due to inclement weather it would not take place and would be postponed until the 21st of June. If the weather continued to be unsuitable then it would be postponed until the following day, i.e. 22nd June.

A humorous scene at the regatta, 1775
A humorous scene at the regatta, 1775. Lewis Walpole Library

Despite the inclement weather, the event took place on Friday 23rd June 1775, with the flag being finally raised at 10 o’clock and yes, despite the earlier report, the Duchess of Devonshire did attend.

 

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