River Deben Festivities 2021 and before

By Julia Jones & Archie White

We publish this RDA Journal post on the eve of a new River Deben Festival – a new style of weeklong festival where many of the river businesses, clubs and organisations come together to do something special.  The Deben Summer Festival is the inspiration of Moray McPhail, Matt Lis, supported by the committee of the River Deben Association and many others.  Until the festival begins, the best place to visit is the website which continues to grow as organisations add their events. https://www.debenfestival.org/events

First on the list comes Stand-up Saturday Paddle from Waldringfield beach, organised by wotsup paddles at the Waldringfield Boatyard. This seems so distinctively 21st century yet takes its place in a long tradition of summer fun at Waldringfield. For me as a 1950s child it was dressing up as a pirate and racing for corks at the Waldringfield regatta. Many other readers will have their own memories – and if you’d like to share, please email [email protected]

For now I’ll go a little further back and offer an extract from artist and yachtsman Archie White’s Tideways and Byways in Essex and Suffolk which was published in 1948 and describes Regatta week in Waldringfield as it traditionally occurred both before and after WW2.

Given a fair day all enjoy themselves. During the morning the bolder yachtsmen envelops all kinds of craft in immense volumes of canvas, forcing the vessels through the water as fast as they are able within a few yards of the beach in the view of all. After the intervals for lunch fun becomes more general. From the committee boat a pole, liberally daubed with a nice mixture of tallow grease, and salt water, is thrust out at right angles, supporting at its outward end the Union Jack. A figure in slips appears rubbing his hands. Gingerly he puts one foot over the bulwarks onto the pole. Then the other. Standing poised for a moment he bends at the knees, straightens up, arches his back, crouches, pirouettes and wobbles, toppling backwards amid thunderous applause to fall, with a mighty splash into the river below. The greasy pole brings out a variety of technique. Some cautiously advance along, inch by inch, swaying as they go; others crouch their way along like tigers. Some attempt to slide the length of the pole gracefully, while a few, making no pretence at finesse, march boldly forward or even run in a vain endeavour to clutch the Union Jack (and the leg of ham which its capture entails) before they too plunge into the river.

There is the diverting ‘pull-devil, pull-baker’ when parties of men, stripped to the waist, serve to board and upset each other’s dinghies amid a terrific paper bag bombardment of flour from one boat and soot from the other. Single- and paired-oared craft are driven at incredible speeds through the water, and ‘crabs’ are caught by old hands for the edification of the hilarious spectators. It is a pleasure to watch graceful young ladies dive from the quay and swim a few hundred yards with the tide and be hauled ashore waiting dinghies by waiting longshoremen specially deputed for the task by reason of their great age.

The scene is gay. From the trees flags of all kinds wave, and yachts are ‘dressed’ in honour of the occasion. Periodically during the afternoon music fills the air. The local band making full use of brass and percussion instruments, regales the assembly with such well-tried works as ‘Zampa’ and ‘Annie Laurie’ until, nearing teatime and with a final clearing of saliva from mouthpieces, they bring the proceedings to a perspiring but triumphant close with ‘God Save the King’. In the evening comes the presentation of prizes, votes of thanks to all concerned, fireworks perhaps and certainly dancing and merry making of all kinds goes on far into the summer’s night.

Last summer the Waldringfield History Group had little time to spend diving into the river or bombarding one another with soot as they were labouring to offer their own celebration of river life in their history book, published on Michaelmas day in September. If you own a copy you probably recognise that passage and will have enjoyed the wonderful selection of period photos celebrating Regattas and Deben Weeks of the past.

Let’s hope the events of the Deben Summer Festival bring equal pleasure and begin to lay down memories for those who attend. The River Deben Association is also running a photo competition for younger people. It’ll end on August 14th as the festival ends. The only stipulation is that the river must be in the shot somewhere. Here are the rules:


The theme is the River Deben and the age group categories are 11-14 and 15-18. The closing date is 14 Aug. Judging will take place by 1 September and the winners, with their parent or guardians’ consent, may be presented in the Deben Magazine but notified in advance.Entries should be accompanied with a short explanation (say 2 sentences) of what inspired each particular shot. Judging criteria will include composition, aesthetics, exposure, with the River Deben being in the shot somewhere! 

Prizes for the two winners will include a half day course with the professional photographer – Gill Moon and the runners up will have their winning entries professionally framed. 

Entries must be accompanied by the name and age of the entrant and contact details of their parent/carer.  Entrants can post their entries to the RDA Instagram page @riverdebenassociation or the following email: [email protected]

Julia Jones

Julia Jones is the editor of The Deben magazine. She was born in Woodbridge and spent many happy hours in both Waldringfield and Ramsholt.  She still does.

Archie White

Archie White was a West Mersea-based artist and yachtsman who explored the rivers and creeks of the Essex and Suffolk coast on his yawl Concord.