There are occasional mentions of the Benfleet Regatta in the Edwardian era. Investigation in the newspapers of the era shows that it ran from 1907 through to 1913. Although it was called the Benfleet Regatta it was a joint event with Canvey Island.
The Regatta Committee
We do not know when the committee first formed but it is likely sometime in 1906. The President of the Regatta for the whole period was the Rev. Charles Francis Box the vicar of St. Mary’s Church in Benfleet. The 1909 results state that the Vice President was Sir Claude de Crespigny. He was the fourth Baronet (picture) who was the head of one of the most prestigious families in Essex living at Champion Lodge in Maldon. In 1911 the Chairman was Mr Charles Edward Wright and the Treasurer was Mr Edward (Ted) Land, the landlord at the Anchor pub. Throughout the entire period the Secretary was Mr Charles Tingey the gunsmith.
The regatta they organised was not purely a serious affair consisting of sea races. There were races, but there were also a number of events to allow all members of the community to participate. Along with the sea events there was a full programme of land sports and entertainments that took place on the meadow behind the Anchor Public House. Annual programmes were produced and the 1908 one had a nice verse about the merits of drinking at the Anchor Pub.
The initial Regatta was held in 1907 on Saturday 29th June. This was followed by annual regattas during August, the day presumably depending on when high tide coincided with a Saturday. The last Regatta n 1913 is reported as having events lasting “nearly nine hours”.
The Regatta events developed over the years in all categories. The sailing events included:
- A handicap sailing race from Leigh to Benfleet which seemed to be the premier event.
- An annual race between the Canvey Island and Leigh Coastguards.
- Various sculling races including single oar sculling and four oared sculling.
- A sailing race for local boats
- Various rowing races for pair oared boats.
- Rowing races for barge boats.
- Motor boat races.
Other serious events were various swimming races for men, boys and girls but not for women.
Land Sports and Entertainments
After the water sports there was the land sports, entertainments and displays at the Anchor meadow. The serious events included races over various distances for men, boys and girls but again not for women. The distances races included 100 yards, 110 yards, 440 yards, 880 yards, a mile and 1909 an event that was called a marathon. It is not possible to tell over what distance this was run but it did not seem to be repeated. The other serious event was the high jump.
The entertainment events included some in which women took part such as a sack race, egg and spoon race, and needle threading. Men has additional events including the three legged race, wheel barrow race and either walking along a greasy pole or climbing it. The prize for climbing it in 1911 was a “leg of mutton”.
There was a selection of pony and donkey riding events as well.
Two team events were the annual tug-of-war between the Leigh and Canvey Island Coastguards and a contest called “Bakers vs. Sweeps” in which local teams competed in some humorous manner.
Finally two events called “Duck Hunt” and “Cock Fight”. These appearing in the programme caused a Sydenham lady to write to the President of the Regatta, Rev. C. F. Box, to protest. He replied that no animals were hurt that these “fearsome names” were just events that were “mere frolics”. What they were we still do not know.
Finally there were display items. Two of them had prizes: the Tradesman’s Turnouts or decorated trade carts, and decorated cycles. The rest of it was a fair with sideshows, caravans etc. There was everything to make for a fun day out for all the family.
The End of the Regattas
The high point was 1913, but after that the Regatta does not appear to have been run again. On Monday 9th February 1914 the President of the Regatta, Rev. C.F. Box, died. On the 28th July 1914 the First World War started and on 4th August Britain declared war on Germany. Many young men throughout the country, including Benfleet, joined up for what they thought would be the big “adventure”. The newspapers reported on the 14th August 1914 that the Southend and Leigh Regattas had been abandoned due to the start of the war. We can presume that the Benfleet one was also abandoned.
From then on things got darker. With the war less than a month old by the 1st September Lieut. Norman Champion de Crsipigny, son of the Regatta Vice-President, was killed in action. During the war several young men who had taken part in the regattas were also killed. The son of the Rev. C. F. Box, Lieut. Harold Francis Box, (notes) was killed on the 29th October 1918 just two weeks before the Armistice marking the end of the war.
Benfleet never restarted the old style Benfleet Regatta. But after the war the Benfleet Comrades of the Great War organised a successful Carnival and sports day on Saturday 11th September 1920. Then Benfleet organisations ran carnivals and associated events in the following years.