Dartmouth owes the Royal classification of its historic Regatta to none other than Queen Victoria.
Rowing and sailing races on the river have been going on for longer than anyone can remember, but the first recorded Regatta in Dartmouth was in 1822. It was quite a party, though small compared to today’s extravaganza. Documents show three sailing races, one six-oared gig race, and that a military band played at Dartmouth Castle. In the evening 120 revellers attended a ball.
The Regatta was initially run by the wealthier gentlemen of the neighbourhood – a series of jolly japes for the well heeled. But, in 1834, the Regatta changed its format when the inhabitants of the town called a meeting and elected a committee of their own.
It was in 1856 that this Regatta, now the second largest in the UK after Cowes, became a royal event – and as usual we can blame the weather.
Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales were sailing along the Channel in a flotilla of nine boats, when bad weather drove them into Dartmouth to seek shelter.
This unscheduled stop came the day before the 1856 Regatta, on August 11th.
There was much excitement as Prince Albert and his son travelled up to Sharpham Point in the new steamboat, Dartmouth, which had arrived on the river only the previous day. The Queen followed in the state barge, going as far as Dittisham. Her Majesty then came ashore at 6 pm and was met by the Town Mayor.
Reports state that the Queen went on to travel by carriage over The Ridges to Black House, as it was locally known, at the junction of Jaw Bones, Swannaton Road and Stoke Fleming Road. She was accompanied by Sir Henry Paul Seale on horseback. That night there were special illuminations both ashore and afloat.
Queen Victoria donated £25 and Prince Albert gave £20 for three rowing races, to be competed for by the sailors of Dartmouth, and the races took place on the second day of the Regatta.
The following day, Queen Victoria and her entourage set sail for Plymouth, but before she left she bestowed the title of Royal on the Regatta.
Every year since that day, the Regatta committee has written to the Monarch asking for Royal Patronage.
Our current Patron is HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.