Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Great Boat Race

31st May 

What a day for a boat race, the day was overcast but still pleasant. Both sides of the river were lined with spectators; tents scattered here and there, buntings waving in the breeze and much eager conversation about who the victors would be. In the church tent, the ladies were busy making cups of tea and serving slices of cake and pie while Mr. Clutterback and the newly arrived curate, Mr. Dawson, were busily making paper boats for the children to sail in the shallows of the river; Mr. Dawson declaring himself the Admiral of the Fleet of paper boats, which made the children laugh.

Admiral Endicott arrived in full naval regalia, much to the delight of the crowd. Mr. Penn had asked him to start the race, he being our resident seaman, and he was taking it all very seriously indeed. His enthusiasm was contagious as he wandered through the revellers talking and jesting with them. A small group of boys trailed behind him, watching him with awe, for he had been to battle, his medals many, and his stories enthralling.

Sophia Marlowe, Salley Owens and their new friend Simone St. Cyr had been busy all the week through making rosettes and pennants to sell to the villagers. They happily went along, calling “Rosettes one penny, pennants a ha’penny.” Their baskets emptied quickly as everyone was keen to show their support.

Jenny had mentioned Old Mary intended to watch the race today; we were all eager to see and speak to her. On walking down to Mr. Penn’s tent, a large affair, pitched at a central location on the Glebe, we found Mr. Penn, sherry in hand, sitting in an ornate cane chair, with plump scarlet cushions, amiably bantering with his friends and relations from Town who had made the journey to Amberleigh for the race. Old Mary sat in a comfortable chair, a rug tucked around her, surrounded by well-wishers who spoke excitedly to her and each other at seeing her well again. Old Mary looked tired but was smiling, Dr. Woodforde was concerned it may been too much excitement for Old Mary but she was adamant she was fine. It was a happy sight to see Old Mary amongst us again, Jenny looked cheerful, her charge was doing better and all were merry.

Just before the race began Mr. Thomas said a blessing. The men got their boat, ready to row to the starting point after Admiral Endicott gave our side of the river the rules of the race, while one of the Fullerton men did so on the other side of the river. There was much excitement as it was announced the boats shall begin at Belle’s Bridge and row down the river as far as Old Carson’s Mill. There were judges posted at the end line to make an accurate call on who was first, should it be a close race. When the rules had been conveyed, the men got into their boats and lined up at the starting point which was marked on both sides of the river by a tall pole with a flag upon it. When Admiral Endicott saw the boats were in position and at the ready, he held his arm up and fired the shot that launched the men into action rowing.

The Fullerton crew began the race by taking their oars and pushing Faro’s Revenge to the side and laughing as they gained a lead. Not to be outdone, Mr. Penn’s crew were even more determined to straighten the boat and row with gusto. As soon as the race began, the cheering commenced from the crowds along the banks on both sides of the river. Many so excited they left their pic nics and stood on the river’s edge. A group of boys ran along waving their pennants, trying to keep up, as the boats made their way down the river, calling out to them to row faster, faster.

Seahorse had an edge on Faro’s Revenge for several lengths, but the latter gained on them, little by little, until the boats were level. The cheering grew even more fervent at this point, for it was anyone’s race now. Just before the last length, the men of Faro’s Revenge, urged on by the crowd, took the lead, paddling more purposefully, determined to show the Seahorse crew they were superior, even after the disadvantage they had been dealt at the start.

The Mill grew near, the oarsmen, paddling for their lives, both teams eager to cross the finish line first. The judges on both sides of the river were in place, eyeing the boats as they neared. It was a close race, but in the end, Faro’s Revenge was the victor, causing the crowd on the west side of the river to erupt into a deafening cheer. The men brought the boat to the shore, wearily climbing out, all smiling at their triumph, the crowd rushing forth to congratulate them. Admiral Endicott was on hand to give the purse of 10 guineas to Mr. Penn, who shared it out amongst the crew, happy to have been victorious over the Fullertons.

Afterwards there was much excited talk and merriment on the Amberleigh side of the river, while the crowds on the other side dispersed, downcast at their defeat. What an exciting day it was for all, the oarsmen were the heroes of the hour, the locals cheering, as the men moved through the crowd to find their families. All were loathe for the merriment to end but as the day grew long, pic nic hampers were packed up, children called in from their play and slowly all became silent as the day gently slipped into twilight after a such a glorious day.

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