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Victorian River Racers: Looking back at Wadebridge's past

By Nat Fox -

In September 1882, on the old bridge in Wadebridge, a sense of excitement was brewing. Padstow Artillery Band were playing in the background and everybody seemed to be in their finest clothes. If you were lucky enough to make your way through the hustle and bustle of the crowds, you’d see why...

Normally, the river was used to transport timber, coal, brick, and limestone. But not today. Big white sails were billowing in the wind, powering the boats making their way down the river in Wadebridge’s first-ever regatta - perhaps the beginning of river sports in the area.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette reported: “It is to be hoped that so good a beginning to aquatic sports at Wadebridge will in future meet with large patronage and as much success.”

Wadebridge Museum has some photos of these events taken by local photographer James Edward Oatey (born in 1850). Held regularly, the regattas drew in large crowds from Padstow and Bodmin. It’s thought the races continued into living memory, with events running until the 1960s. Raft races took over in the 1970s and continued until recently as part of The Camel River Festival, in which participants would build rafts and sail along the river infancy dress.

Geoff Richards, secretary of Wadebridge Museum, said: “The regattas highlighted the importance of Wadebridge as a thriving inland port and attracted most of the local population to line the bridge and the riverbanks. It’s good to see this sense of community still surviving, with events like Bike Lights or the recent Jubilee celebrations.”

Volunteer-led Wadebridge Museum has lots of information about Wadebridge from the building of the bridge in the 15th Century, to the present day.

To find out more


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