In the summer of 1837 the Whitlingham Regatta was a big event. There was a silver cup awarded for first place in the rowing race and two silver-mounted drinking horns were the prize for second place. Entries were accepted on the day until noon, and the Regatta began at 2 p.m. The races had taken place most years since the beginning of the 19th century. The course began at Carrow Abbey and finished at the marker post on Whitlingham Reach. In the early days these were called the Carrow Races.
Another very popular event on the river was the Thorpe Water Frolic which was laid on by a rich businessman in 1824. He was inspired by the festivities that he witnessed in Venice while on the Grand Tour. An impressive painting of the event was commissioned from Norwich School artist Joseph Stannard. The high-class spectators were given the Thorpe bank of the river, while the common people were kept on the Whitlingham side. It attracted over 30,000 visitors to the waterside – a huge number, considering that the population of the city was under 50,000. The Whitlingham Regattas may not have been quite so well attended, but must still have been a welcome day out for the workers of Norwich. The Regatta was not the only such occasion that took place at Whitlingham during this time. A couple of years earlier on the Tuesday 11th August there was a Pigeon Shoot, followed by a dinner at 3 p.m. in the White House, the riverside pub. Entries closed two days earlier, no doubt to allow time for the catering for this meal. The Grand Annual Steeplechase set off from Whitlngham on the 2nd August 1838.
Central to all these activities was Mr King, the publican of the White House by Whitlingham Staithe. On the 21st of August 1826 the silver cup was awarded for the first time. This was the gift of Mr James King of the White House. On that occasion it was awarded for a sailing race. Four boats (not exceeding 16 feet in length) competed, and it was won by the Ellen which belonged to Mr Corby of Whitlingham. The drinking horns were the prize in the rowing race. The pub was supplied with beer by the firm of Steward and Co from their brewery in Norwich; perhaps the drinking horns got a wetting with ale after the race?
The pub was closed and demolished in the third quarter of the 19th century. Although rowing races still passed Whitlingham Staithe the crowds of yesteryear had disappeared. By the middle years of the 20th century the only dwellings near the river were the gamekeeper’s cottage called the White House (near where the pub had once stood) and a double dweller, Tower Cottages. These were built by the Norwich Corporation to house workers on the sewage farm, which had been established in 1870. The lime kilns that had been a major industry by Whitlingham Staithe had closed and the inhabitants dwindled to just three or four households. In the first part of the 20th century one of these semi-detached cottages was occupied by the family of Harry Scarfe, a dairyman on the farm. The church tower that had given the cottages their name fell down after the First World War and the land, so open and delightful in the eighteenth century (see the picture above) became a mass of stinging nettles and brambles. The ferry to Thorpe closed and the village was largely abandoned. No regattas, pigeon shoots or steeplechase took place there any longer.
The hamlet has had a revival in the 21st century. This is entirely down to the creation of Whitligham Broad Country Park with its cafe in the flint barn and the large adjoining car park. A fleet of sailing dinghies is based on the broad. See my other blogs on Whitlingham & Trowse to learn more about this corner of Norfolk.