An Early Durham Regatta Silver Medal

The Durham Regatta on the River Wear, early 1900s, at the second Baths Bridge. The regatta, which is the second-oldest regatta in England, the Chester Regatta being the oldest (not counting the Doggett’s Coat and Badge), is known as the Henley of the North.

6 June 2020

By Jamie Ferguson

Jamie Ferguson comes across an early rowing medal for the Durham Regatta.

Greg Denieffe’s excellent article that appeared on HTBS in April 2015, “Crewcial Collectables: All things Durham”, included various prizes and items of interest associated with Durham Regatta. A follow-up article in January 2016 by Peter Jefferies included images of a Durham Regatta silver medal. The die for these silver medals was presented to the regatta by some gentlemen of the university in 1838 and used for the production of the silver medals that were to be presented to the winning crew members into the 1870s. These medals are relatively uncommon but do turn up for sale occasionally either blank or engraved with a crew members names and dates. Clearly the latter are of more interest. An 1843 medal is in the collection of the National Rowing Foundation, USA.

So what award was presented to winning crews prior to the 1838 medal?!

The first Durham Regatta (at first called The Boat Regatta) was held in 1834. In Angus Macfarlane-Grieve’s book The History of Durham Rowing (1922) there is some description of these earlier regattas. The 1834 regatta was organised by the Gentlemen of University as part of what had been annual Waterloo Celebrations held by the city. There is no mention of medals being presented to the winning crews (in Velocity – 6-oar and in Louisa – 4-oar).

The situation was different for the 1835 regatta where there is mention of a silver medal being presented to the winner of the archery completion, held prior to the race, and yes, the archers being from each of the competing boats! Although no mention is made of medals being awarded for the rowing, there is reason to believe this was indeed the case. As more detailed information provided about the 1836 regatta specifically mentions the presentation of medals to each of the winning crew members – namely seven for the 6-oared boat, five for the 4-oared boat and one for the skiff. Archery was still part of the event!

What would appear to be a rare surviving example of one of these earlier medals has recently been acquired by the author, both sides of which are illustrated below.

Given the motto on the reverse, it is clearly meant as a prize for rowing and not archery. The medal is of die stamped silver 32mm in diameter with a cartouche left blank for subsequent engraving of the date. This medal bears the date 1835 and is perhaps the first year that such medals were presented at the regatta? It has been pinched and holed at the top to allow for a suspension loop.

The medal is very plain in design and uses the original name for the event on the obverse: ‘Durham Boat Regatta’. It is clear that, as the Durham Regatta grew and got properly established, such a mundane looking award had to be replaced in 1838!

Jamie Ferguson attended Durham University from 1980 to 1986 and rowed for the university as an undergraduate. However, while he was working on his PhD, Jamie switched to row for Durham City Rowing Club, where he stroked the club’s eight. Jamie, who is now retired, has many fond memories of being a rower. He is a collector of all sorts of things – to his wife’s disdain – and is always keeping an eye out for ‘old things’ related to his college and Durham Rowing.

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