Waitrose at the Rag Regatta

By Linda Moroney

The first Partnership regatta was held in 1928 after John Spedan Lewis’s purchase of the Odney Club the previous year, and the event quickly turned into an annual highlight. It featured canoe racing, swimming competitions and such original challenges as the Leander Race where the “lady is bound to the rail on the top of the bridge. The gentleman paddles down in the canoe to the bridge, climbs up and unties the lady.”

Just as Partners’ creative gifts have blossomed through the decades, the talent for just having fun has firm foundations in the past. Take the example of Miss Prism, described in a July 1952 edition of The Gazette thus: “Our madly efficient comptometer operator whose dress is normally sombre to the point of extinction, (arrived at the Rag Regatta) flaunting a black and mauve number with a Dolly Varden hat and what seemed, to our astonished eyes, five-inch heels.”

Of all the 1929 ‘lady competitors’, the clear winner, described as “the best all-rounder in and upon the water”, was a certain Miss Floukes. Mr, later Sir, Bernard Miller must have been very impressed with her at Odney for she later became Lady Miller and continued to take an interest in the Rag Regatta for many years.

In 1965 attendance was up to nearly 3,000 and in the face of an ever increasing number of visitors, Odney hosted the event for the last time in 1978, the 50th anniversary of the Regatta. In 1979 the event was moved to Knebworth in Hertfordshire.

Waitrose Partners were very enthusiastic about the Rag Regatta and in 1969 the Waitrose Chronicle reported the following:

Everyone seemed to enjoy the races and the sunbathing. There was an excellent response, and from a total of approximately 3,800, about 1 in every 9 seemed to be wearing a Waitrose hat and there were not nearly enough of these to go round. So many spectators came up from Essex that the public authorities must have feared a migratory movement westward.

There were no prizes for Waitrose in the fancy dress but this was not through lack of effort or imagination. Whetstone, Watford, Essex, Dunstable and Gloucester Road had obviously gone to a great deal of trouble as the photographs show. They made dashing and colourful teams.

The teams found it considerably harder than it looked to paddle those plastic rafts straight along Odney Reach. None the less, Gloucester Road won the Leander Race, and Watford then went on to win the Obstacle Race. These are Waitrose first ever finalists in this Regatta, and if Gloucester Road and Watford are proud of these achievements, then they have every right.

It was not possible for everyone to win, but it was certainly not in this spirit that the Waitrose Branches competed, as the placings earned by Brighton, Dunstable and Essex proves. There was a fitting determination in the approach of all Waitrose teams to the racing that must make the retention of the Cup by Department Store Branches seem a little less secure in the future. Now that Waitrose folk have sampled the course they will come as more experienced competitors next time.

All in all there seemed to be a general feeling that it had been well worth the effort to go to Odney, to organise fancy dress and coaches, and to take part in the events.

The Gazette reported that the day owed its success to four groups of people. First the spectators who, with quiet good humour gave a carnival atmosphere to the day. Second, the competitors, including the strongly emergent Waitrose, who enjoyed everything with such enthusiasm. Third the organizing committee and fourth, the Odney Club Partners.

Photo:Odney rag regatta c1950s

Odney rag regatta c1950s

John Lewis Partnership archive collection

Photo:Waitrose at the Rag Regatta c1967

Waitrose at the Rag Regatta c1967

Waitrose Chronicle

Photo:Waitrose at the Rag Regatta 1969

Waitrose at the Rag Regatta 1969

Waitrose Chronicle

Photo:Waitrose at the Rag Regatta 1969

Waitrose at the Rag Regatta 1969

Waitrose Chronicle

This page was added by Linda Moroney on 28/02/2013.