Sea-Change:  Wivenhoe Remembered   


Pull Devil, Pull Baker –Freda Annis

Apart from during the War we always had a Regatta, I think. When I was a kid we used to have regattas. I don’t know if they have now because I haven’t been down for years. But there was one thing we always looked for and they finished up the Regatta with it. ‘Pull devil, pull baker.’ And they had two teams from the fishing boats. One had bags of flour and one had bags of soot and they pelted each other! And you didn’t know which was which by the time they’d finished! But we used to love that when we were kids! We used to shout ‘Oh, are they going to have “Pull devil, pull baker?”’

Out of control –Joyce Blackwood

When I was teaching my friend and I went one day to help this other teacher, who also had a chicken farm. And while we were there we saw a dinghy and said, ‘Oh, that’s nice. You’ve got a dinghy.’ She said, ‘Yes. We don’t use it. Would you like to borrow it?’ So my friend Margaret and I said, ‘Oh, that would be lovely.’ So her father kept a coal business so there was a lorry to bring it here and we carted it here from Kelvedon and we put it in the water. And it was a Regatta Day and we’d neither of us ever sailed before. And we got in this boat and there were dozens of boats coming up from Brightlingsea on the Regatta – many more than come now – and we got out in the middle of the river and we couldn’t do anything with this boat! We didn’t know what to do, which way to turn, so we hung on to the sand works while all these boats came past and then we came back up the river again and discovered that the centre plate was broken so we had no control over what was happening in the boat at all!  

I can remember regattas because they always used to happen at the end of the sailing season when the yachtsmen were back, when they’d come back for the season and then they used to have the rowing races and things like that, and that was before my time. When we were young, the Regatta Days the Quay was full of people and you used to have all sorts of activities on the water – not just sailing. There used to be ‘Pull devil, pull baker,’ and that’s when they threw soot and flour at each other. And ‘Ducks and Drakes,’ they used to chase people across the marshes, and tug-of-war and all sorts of things used to go on, and it was an event because there weren’t many events in the village, but the regatta was one that did bring people out. And a local farmer used to bring down bales of straw and put down for people to sit on, and a good day out it was. It was lovely.  

My highlight –Tim Denham

My highlight, every year, was Wivenhoe Regatta. I used to love to rush to have an early dinner, and rush down and see the One-Designs rigging, and just waiting for the boats to come up. It used to be a lovely day. It always seemed to be sunny. And Mr Macaulay from the top of the village used to take bales of hay down and spread them all along the Quay, and people would sit and drink and chatter and watch as the boats came up. And I used to get down there as early as I could, longing for somebody to ask me if I’d like to crew for them, but being a little chap I didn’t get asked that very often. But you actually acted as a ferryman in the Club dinghy and went backwards and forwards picking up the crews – putting them aboard the One-Designs and picking them up after, at the end of the race.

September regattas –Bill Heslop

Regattas started again after the Sailing Club got reorganised with the new boats. Regattas prior to that, in the days of the yachting, used to happen in September, when all the steam yachts used to come home and lay in Wivenhoe for the winter. They used to have the sailing matches between the crews , and Wivenhoe Regattas, as you probably see in the Nottage, and the old posters we’ve got there, were quite big events.

Sheer guts –Eunice Baker

I’m on the Regatta Committee [c 1965] and that’s the miniskirt rage all the time, everybody’s got the miniskirt, and I’ve got an 18 year old daughter with a miniskirt, and my husband think that’s terrible, he think that’s a pelmet, so don’t have nothing to do with it, he wouldn’t. Anyway, Regatta Committee. The men on the Regatta Committee decide, for the Regatta Day, there’d be a Miniskirt Competition. And, of course, being on the Committee, I knew what the prize was – a five course meal for two, a different drink with every course, and a liqueur afterwards.

And I’m doing the hotdog stall at the Regatta, me and Derek. And that’s in the middle of the afternoon, ‘The Miniskirt Competition will now take place.’ I’m right down there, doing the hotdog stall with my husband, and I’m all greased up – my aprons, overalls and that, greasy. When it come over the loud hailer, ‘The Miniskirt Competition will now take place,’ I never told nobody I was going in for it – not my husband, not nobody. I whipped off my coat, and I’d got Cheryl’s miniskirt on, and I raced up there. I was 46 years old! And George Gale, the top-line journalist of his day, that was his first year in Wivenhoe, and he was the judge at the Rose and Crown. ‘For sheer guts, I award this competition to Mrs Baker.’

I had to borrow a dress off my sister-in-law to go in! The Brewery Tavern. We had five different courses, a different drink with every course, and liqueurs afterwards. That was worth winning! Because he could eat now. For three years, he couldn’t. When we had turkey and everything, I had some nephews and nieces come down for Christmas from Leicester, he had to have dry toast while we all had Christmas dinner! But now he could eat.

Regatta –Mikes Downes

Well, for quite a few years, the traditional form of Regatta died out, and it just became sailing matches, which are not of much interest to the general public, because most of the time they’re down the river out of sight. So the Sailing Club, at one stage, tried to encourage shore-based events, and water-based fun things, but the problem with sailing people is they all want to be out on their boats, so not many people want to get involved in running it! So that died a death after a little while. But then a few public spirited people said, ‘Well, why don’t we create an old-fashioned type regatta again?’ So the Wivenhoe Regatta Association was formed, and now they organise an event which includes shore-based and fun water events, like the shovel race, and there’s a tug o’ war which takes place in the mud, and other events which aren’t necessarily nautical, but we still have the dinghy races and the cruiser and smack races. It tends to be run on the more traditional side for the boats. But the Sailing Club have now decided that it’s better they incorporate their regatta in with the Town Regatta, so that it’s much more of a community spirited thing now. And as you’ve seen, there’s stalls out on the Quay, where various local charities have set up their stalls to try and raise a bit of extra cash, and most of the surplus funds go to St Helena’s Hospice.  [For more about the Wivenhoe Town Regatta, including photographs – click here].

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