Durham Regatta in its present form dates back to 1834, with two days of racing taking place between Pelaw Wood and Prebends Bridge. The Regatta probably developed from an annual procession of boats from Prebends Bridge to Old Durham Beck, organised by the Sheriff of the County of Durham and the Squire of Dryburn, the Rt. Hon. William Lloyd Wharton to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo. A painting of the ‘Procession of Boats on the River Wear to Celebrate the Victory of Waterloo 1815’ by Edmund Hastings hangs in Durham Castle, the home of University College, Durham.
Early records are vague, but events at the Regatta included the ‘firing of the cannon and a substantial supper with a plentiful supply of strong ale and punch for the Waterloo Men’. Racing was held on the second day, ending with a firework display and a Ball in the City’s Assembly Rooms. Between races, an archery competition was held at Old Durham.
The competitive racing enjoyed today owes much to the founding of the University of Durham in 1833. The following June saw the establishment of the Regatta in its current form, with oarsmen invited from the Tyne, Wear and Tees. Races were held over a three day period, on an upstream course from Prebends Bridge to a buoy at Ash Tree in Pelaw Wood. Many races saw nine boats abreast, racing through the narrow arches of Elvet Bridge with competitors often having to disentangle their boats during fouls. Founder members of the Regatta include the University of Durham, Durham School and Durham Boat Club, known today as Durham ARC.
Although commonly referred to as ‘the Henley of the North’, Durham Regatta is older than its Thames conterpart by some 5 years. Durham is the second oldest regatta in the country, preceded only by Chester Regatta. Today, the Regatta holds races on the scenic River Wear in Durham City over one of two courses, depending upon the event. The majority are rowed on the 750m course from Pelaw Wood to just below Baths Bridge. The other, a more challenging 1800m course, takes the crews side by side from Pelaw Wood through the arches of historic Elvet Bridge down to the finish near the Count’s House and Prebends Bridge.
Up until the Centenary year of 1934, a maximum of sixteen trophies were competed for. Today, the Regatta owns a collection of some sixty trophies, competed for over a two-day period. The Grand Challenge Cup was introduced in 1854 by the well known local boat builder and waterman Charlie Eddy. Open to crews from all rivers, it has since been the most coveted prize of any regatta in the North of England. The Corporation Challenge Cup is the successor to the Stewards Plate, dating from 1849, and the Oswald Plate for senior sculls and the championship of the Wear dates from 1850. Other notable Cups include the Wharton Challenge Cup, introduced in 1877, the Lady Ann Lambton, City and Lady Herschel Plates, introduced in 1886, the Mayor’s Plate introduced in 1891 and the Lowe Bowl introduced in 1923.
At its AGM on 24th November 2010 Durham Regatta Committee members voted to form a company limited by guarantee. On 29th December 2010 “Durham Regatta” was incorporated in England as company number 07479131. Formed primarily to protect individual members of the committee in today’s litigious society the company’s Articles of Association broadly follow the constitution of the historic Committee and has taken on all liabilities and assets of its predecessor.
The regatta is still organised by an executive committee drawn from its 100+ members. This committee is overseen by a board of 9 directors whose membership is as follows: 1 each from the founder organisations: Durham Amateur Rowing Club, Durham School and Durham University; 4 members of the executive committee; 1 councillor and 1 officer from Durham County Council.
Free ale is still available from the Regatta to anyone who can prove that he is a veteran of the battle of Waterloo.
The Regatta regularly attracts in excess of two thousand competitors and ten thousand spectators from across the United Kingdom. In recent years, the regatta has drawn in international entries, with clubs attending from the Netherlands and Norway. We expect to welcome further Dutch crews this year.
In addition to rowing activities, a wide range of bank side activities takes place within the regatta enclosure. In the past, these have included a classic car rally, climbing wall, live music, parachute jumping, gymnastics displays and a wide range of local trade stands.