This looks like fun...

For 20 years or so, the annual raft race on the River Ouse was a highlight of the summer calendar.

More than 50 craft would often take part, competing to see who could finish a designated course (which seems to have changed over time, though in 1977 it involved paddling from Marygate Landing to the Blue Bridge and back) in the shortest possible time.

Nobody seems to have taken the actual racing too seriously, however. It was all about having fun. Good-natured water fights and flour bombings were the order of the day, and often the 'race' seemed more like a fancy dress parade on the water than an actual competition - with the rafts playing the part of floats.

They came in all shapes and sizes: pirate ships, beer barrels, floating aircraft, papier maché whales, mini power stations and even, on one memorable occasion, a giant waterborne shuttlecock. There was plenty of good-natured ramming and boarding, and it wasn't unknown for rafts to sink. In fact, in 1990, the fact that none of the rafts did sink was in itself regarded as newsworthy. "One boat had to be towed in but we had no sinkings this year," said Mrs Val Parker of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI), which organised the race.

There was a serious purpose to the event, however, despite all the fun and games: and that was to raise money for the RNLI. In 1981, the Yorkshire Evening Press reported that that year's race was expected to raise a 'record £1,500' for the RNLI. So over the years, the race would have raised a great deal of money.

The race seems to have petered out in the 1990s, we're not sure why. The last photograph we have dates from 1993, and the news story pasted to the back of it contains a dark hint as to what the reason for the races coming to an end may have been. "Raft race takings hit by ban on collection," says the headline.

That year's race, and other accompanying events, was expected to have raised about £3,500, the newspaper report continued. "Organisers say the sum would have been even higher if York City Council had allowed them to hold collections on the riverbank. RNLI York branch spokesman Raymond Howe said: 'This event has been running for 20 years and every year until now York City Council has let us hold a collection. They said we couldn't have a collection (this year) because we have a flag day in September. (But) if they don't change their minds for next year, it's going to make it an unworthwhile event to hold, because the collection is about half our income'."

Surely it can't be the case that it was bureaucratic meddling that brought this brilliant event to an end?

We'd love to hear from anyone who knows. All The Press's own records and archives from the mid 1990s have sadly got lost...

Stephen Lewis