Henley Royal Regatta – a rowing extravaganza bringing together heritage and skill
As the world’s most prestigious regatta event, Henley Royal Regatta is also regarded as being part of the English social season and one of the highlights of the summer sporting calendar.
Henley Regatta was first held on the River Thames by the town of Henley-on-Thames in 1839 and has been held annually ever since, except during both World Wars.
Even though the event originally started as a public attraction with a fair and additional forms of entertainment, the emphasis swiftly changed to make amateur rowing its main purpose. From a single afternoon Regatta back in 1839, this exclusive event hasn’t stopped growing in popularity with both oarsmen and public.
Currently the Henley Royal Regatta attracts thousands of visitors over a 5-day period, where spectators can enjoy over 200 thrilling races of an international standard. Aside from the rowing, visitors can experience the unique atmosphere from the picturesque banks of Fawley Meadows, the stunning private oasis of Temple Island – the actual start of the regatta course -, the very exclusive Stewards’ Enclosure and other viewing opportunities on the Berkshire and Buckinghamshire sides of the river. The aforementioned Stewards’ Enclosure is perfectly located on the Berkshire side, adjacent to the last part of the course and the finish line. With its covered grandstands, restaurant marquee, several bars, bandstand, very strict dress code and so on, this enclosure is a very coveted viewing spot which is open only to the Stewards of the Regatta, members of the Stewards’ Enclosure and their guests. From a membership of 300 back in 1919, the Stewards’ Enclosure membership had to be set a ceiling of 5,000 back in 1980, with the waiting list now being several years long.
The regatta has been referred to as the Henley Royal Regatta since 1851, when H.R.H. Prince Albert became the Regatta’s first Royal Patron, with every consecutive reigning Monarch consenting to also become Patron. During the course of its history, the Regatta has often been honoured by visits of members of the Royal Family, of which the most recent was that of H.R.H. The Princess Royal in 2010.
Other milestones in the regatta’s history have been the first win of the Grand Challenge Cup by a foreign crew, namely the Royal Club Nautique de Gand of Belgium in 1906, but also the introduction of women coxswains for male crews from 1975 onwards and the removal of all references to amateurism in 1998, making the regatta entirely open. This year’s edition will see the Henley Royal Regatta broadcast for the first time since 1976, using cutting-edge high definition live streaming technology.
Another historically fascinating fact is that since the regatta pre-dates any national or international rowing organisation, it has its own rules and organisation nevertheless being recognised by both British Rowing and the International Federation of Rowing Associations. Pierre de Coubertin actually modelled elements of the organisation of the International Olympic Committee on the self-electing body of the Henley Stewards.
You might want to make a note in your calendar for Champagne and Pimm’s at this five-day rowing extravaganza which brings together a unique heritage and the best rowers in the world for head-to-head knockout competitions – raced over the unique distance of 1 mile, 550 yards – culminating in the Grand Challenge Cup for Men’s Eights.