Merry start to river barge race of 1862

Kent Messenger Maidstone - - YOURLOCAL -

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

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