Sunbury & Shepperton History Society and Spelthorne Museum provided us with these wonderful photos of regattas gone by. Click on the photos to expand:
A Short History of The Sunbury Amateur Regatta
The date of the first Sunbury Regatta is generally accepted as 6th September 1877, although prior to this date there had been a ‘Hampton, Molesey and Sunbury Regatta’ which had however been held on a course at Hampton. It has taken place to the present day, with the exceptions of the years 1878 and 1879, for which no reports appear to exist, 1896, when the regatta was abandoned due to a difference of opinion amongst the committee over the date on which it should be held, and the war years 1914-18 and 1940-48. In addition to the Amateur Regattas, there were also Town Regattas for the professional watermen, but not much information on these seems to have survived.
The original course was from ‘The end of Mr. Lukyn’s garden to the residence of Mr Vyse’. Mr. Lukyn lived at ‘Weir View’, which stood on the riverbank opposite St. Mary’s church until the early 1960’s, and Mr. Vyse’s house was ‘Thames Bank’ which is now called ‘Monksbridge’. The spectators watched from the lawns alongside the river, which were then called King’s Lawn, Sunbury Park Lawn and Orchard House Lawn. Today they are one public open space and known collectively as King’s Lawn. This course was used until 1939.The fireworks and parade of illuminated boats, which are such a well-known feature of the regatta, were mentioned as early as 1880.
In the early years the races were dominated by punting events, although gradually rowing events began to increase in number. Dongola racing, where crews paddle a punt from a standing or kneeling position, is mentioned as early as 1894.
The usual day for the regatta to be held had been a Thursday, until 1895, when for the first time it was held on a Saturday. This was to lead to the abandonment of the event the following year when the committee could not agree on whether to continue with the choice of Saturday, but in subsequent years this day became the norm.
The last Waterman’s (i.e. professional’s) event took place in 1913, which was the last regatta before the First World War, as the 1914 event was abandoned due to the outbreak of war.
A Victory regatta was held in 1919, and in 1920 the event was extended to two days, Friday and Saturday, although this arrangement only lasted until 1928.
After a break of 10 years from 1939 caused by the outbreak of the Second World War, the Regatta was reinstated in 1949 under several of the pre-war committee.
In 1961 the organisers of the Edith Topsfield Children’s Regatta, which had taken place on the backwater above the lock since 1932, approached the Regatta committee with a view to their assuming responsibility for this event. The Junior Regatta, which is run on the Sunday following the main event, and is the only children’s regatta on the Thames, duly became a unique feature of the Sunbury Regatta.
The popularity of the Regatta has continued with the introduction of popular races such as ‘Row for your Local’, and through the dedication of the organisers, together with the support of local clubs and the wider community, its future seems assured.
Today’s Regatta is nothing like it used to be, through the years the committee have made certain changes which have made it a much bigger event, which involves, having amusements on Rivermead Island Lawn, the changes were made because a fair which used to take place on Orchard Meadow (also known as the Donkey Field), has not been there for many years.
It has been the committee’s job to make this a family day out, this includes amusements for children.
Evening entertainment has been included, such as “Has Sunbury got Talent?” with several bands play enternaining the families.
Our Local Mid Thames Yacht Club dresses their boats with lights and then proceed down the rowing course to the delight of everyone, after which there is a firework display, which is always amazing.