A first item of considerable importance to rowing members – Best Burton Ale was 9d per gallon!
With the firm establishment of the Rowing Club and the encouragement of the local press, a regatta was held on Bank Holiday Monday, 3rd August, over a 1-mile course on the River Ouse, finishing at the River Bridge. The committee members presented a programme including a dinghy race, gig fours, club pairs and fours, together with a ‘plank race’ and some comic events. The prizes, which included a fine inscribed pewter tankard, were displayed in a High Street shop. This first regatta was hailed as a great success by the public and press and was concluded by a dinner at the Half Moon Hotel attended by over 50 guests.
The club contributed £2 towards cutting the weeds in the river, which seemed to be a problem to be overcome at that time. Another successful dinner was held at which it was announced that £40 had been subscribed to purchase a boat. A second regatta was organised with similar events but an added race for open sculls for the Innkeepers’ Cup was included, the entry fees being 2s 6d for this event and 1s Od for other classes. The events were umpired in a steam launch, whilst a balance sheet shows a regatta profit of £10 7s 4d, the income from admissions, subscriptions and entry fees being £49 14s 10d and the expenses for hire of boats, prizes, printing, police and labour amounting to £39 7s 6d.
The organising committee for the regatta this year included four Cambridge University Blues, Rev. W. Maule, Rev. Richardson, Rev. N. Royds and C. D. Shafto. Although other regattas were being held at Ely and Huntingdon on the same day, the entries were very satisfactory and a large crowd attended.
Records of the regatta for this year show a list of 25 patrons which include all the leading residents of St. Neots at that time, whilst the event was organised by the committee on behalf of the Rowing Club. Local entries, cost 10s Od for open events and 2s 6d and 5s Od for club events. A silver cup called the Ladies’ Cup was awarded as an annual challenge trophy for gig fours; this is still in use and known as the Town Challenge Cup for novice fours. Clubs competing in addition to St Neots during this period were Ely R.C., Huntingdon B.C., Bedford Argonaut R.C., Cambridge Town R.C., Lynn R.C and several Cambridge College clubs.
A combined list of events and requests for subscriptions shows events in senior and junior sculls, junior pairs, with junior, senior and gig fours open to members of any recognised Amateur Rowing Club. The programme of 20 races and associated swimming and comic events lasted eight hours, which attracted comment from the press that this was too long and suggested a quicker programme.
The storm and floods which occurred on the August Bank Holiday weekend, caused the postponement of the regatta until Tuesday, 12th August, but this caused a loss of entries and also attendance as the regatta meadow was still waterlogged. On the original regatta day, the tents were awash and some loss and damage to equipment was sustained, these difficulties causing a loss on the regatta of over £30, which imposed a further strain on the already strained finances of the club. However, the usual events were held, with some entries and successes by Cambridge and Bedford crews, but St Neots won the Ladies (now Town) Cup for gig fours for the second time.
The local press advertised an ‘Entertainment’ to be held at the request of St Neots ‘Boat Club’ to raise funds to help the club. The programme consisted of a drama (‘The Chimney Corner’) and a farce (‘The Area Belle’) and tickets were for sale at 3s od, 2s Od and 1s od. After much discussion, a regatta was again held on August Bank Holiday Monday but again the site was flooded and planks and duck-boards were necessary, whilst only 300 people paid for admission, the event again resulting in a loss of £17. From a reduced entry for the usual list of events, St Neots crews again won the gig and senior fours.
The regatta was held on Bank Holiday Monday, but although St Neots again won many of the events including the Ladies’ Cup for the third time, the meadow was again partly flooded and the press commented on the slow progress and lack of close races. The musical programme by the Windovers (Huntingdon) Band does not seem to have helped to overcome the problems!
After a special public meeting to discuss the future of the regatta, in spite of a lack of interest by the general public it was decided to hold another event, which was held with the usual rowing events together with swimming, archery and again the Windovers Band. With unusual drier conditions, the event was reasonably successful but the small profit of £25 7s 10d had to be used to offset the deficit in the Rowing Club funds. The prizes cost £38, with entry fees and subscriptions producing £8 and £53 respectively.
An advertisement for Clifton House School in St Neots offered instruction in rowing using its own boats, but this part of the offer was withdrawn when the club ceased activities in 1884. A decision was made at a meeting in April to discontinue the annual open regatta and instead to hold a club regatta in July or August. It is assumed that the annual regatta, which had been held since 1874 must, in spite of the undoubted dedicated work and perseverance of the stalwarts of the club at that time, have finally succumbed to the many adverse conditions which had to be overcome, coupled with the decline in membership and financial position of the club. The club regatta held in July seems to have been successful and it is recorded that the St Neots Drum and Fife Band provided musical entertainment.
The virtual closing down of the club in 1884 destroyed any chance of the continuation of the regattas and between this year and 1906 there is very little information of rowing activities in St Neots except for some evidence of sustained interest by former members in the period. However, the revival of the club in 1903 and the increasing participation of club members in local events in 1906 led to the revival of the annual regatta in 1908 with a generous welcome by the press and residents. The event then continued successfully until the present time except for wartime years.