Merry start to river barge race of 1862
Let’s hark back to July 1862.
There had already been some momentous events by Saturday the 12th. The American Civil War was raging with battles at Booneville and Malvern Farm. Nearer to home, Princess Alice, the second daughter of Queen Victoria, had married Prince Ludwig of Hesse, and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) took Alice Liddell rowing on the River Isis and spun her the story of Alice in Wonderland.
The Kent Messenger in those days was still called the Maidstone Telegraph. The front page, as was the custom then, was entirely given over to advertisements. They included one for trusses from R.Vinsons in Middle Row, for ales and stouts from H.Cowley in Earl Street, and 20% off boots from W.Green in Gabriel’s Hill.
On the inside pages was a story about the Maidstone Regatta.
Those who are keen to see the return of the Maidstone River Festival today would be envious indeed of its 1862 equivalent.
The regatta was held outside The Gibraltar Inn (now Gibraltar House) opposite Allington Castle.
The paper recorded: “There were a great number of persons present, and but for the unsettled state of the weather, no doubt a much larger concourse would have assembled.”
The amusements included music from the Cavalry Depot Band who “played at intervals lively but fashionable airs, which, with the coloured flags waving in the breeze, the tribes of many wondering, but merry fellows, with their fresh coloured lasses, and the beauties of the locality in which the fancy always seems to feel delight, rendered the afternoon one of excitement and interest.”
The boat races began at 2pm “precisely” with a scullers race by Maidstone watermen. Next came the Members stakes in four-oared cutters. The Tradesmen’s stakes followed “and a better start was never witnessed”.
A sculler’s race in outriggers followed in which unfortunately one of the entries capsized. The Ladies prize was won by a boat called Garibaldi, with the Garrison stakes won by the Undine, rowed by local cavalrymen. Five more races followed, before the grand finale of the Barge Boat Race.
The start was a complete disaster, with the four entrants crashing into each other and becoming “completely entangled”. One boat crashed into the pier of the bridge, and one oarsman tumbled head over heels into the lap of a comrade. The paper gleefully reported: “This start was the most interesting and merriest one of the day.”
Besides the boat races, there was dancing on the “groen sward,” and “kiss-in-the-ring” and the day concluded with a fireworks display.
The Medway river running through Maidstone 1877