Races that go with the flow of history

RACING boats on the moat at The Bishop’s Palace started in 1963. This is the 60th year since the races first took place.

A report on the history of the event appeared in the Wells Journal in 2012, written by Phil Payne of the City of Wells Lions.

He said that the original idea of racing on the moat stemmed from a discussion between the sons of John Wright, vicar of St Thomas’ Church in Wells, and Bishop ‘Jock’ Henderson. Simon and Peter Wright were members of the St Thomas Youth Fellowship, an active youth fellowship which the late Arthur Rice had formed a few years earlier.

The fellowship had been formed to enable young people to get together in a friendly environment and to serve the local community. The boat race idea was immediately welcomed by the fellowship committee and plans prepared to stage the first event on the Spring Bank Holiday of 1963.

According to Phil Payne’s report: “When the day came, the admission charge had been set at one shilling and six pence.

“A volunteer called Bert Collins acted as solitary gateman on the Bishop’s Palace drawbridge. It was not long before there was a cry for help, a crowd had gathered round thrusting their admission charges, many awaiting change. How badly had we misjudged the interest there would be.

“As the time of the first race approached, all pubs in the town emptied and a sea of locals and visitors converged on the Palace moat. The potential of the event was obvious to everyone and detailed and long-term planning became a youth club priority.”

After 1974 the Moat Race was abandoned until the City of Wells Lions Club and 1955 (City of Wells) Air Cadets became involved. The resulting partnership between these two voluntary organisations, reinstated the Wells Moat Boat Race as an annual event in Wells in August 2001.

This year’s races, free and for the local community, at noon on Bank Holiday Monday, August 28, are being organised by the City of Wells Lions Club supported by the 1955 (City of Wells) Air Cadets, the St John Ambulance Brigade, the Corinthian Yacht Club and other local volunteers.

The event is being sponsored by many local businesses to provide the local community with a day out to enjoy the fun of the raft races.

Anyone who would like to volunteer to help with running the races can contact the Lions: cityofwellslions@gmail.com or 0345 833 6736.