Everything about Henley Royal Regatta is surrounded by history and tradition.
Be it the structure, the finances, the participants, the lack of commercialisation, it oozes prestige and class.
The faces change, technology has moved with the times, but the swish of scull on water, the ripple of the Thames in summer, the clink of Champagne glasses from the enclosures, the laughter of the mingling crowds and the sheer sweat and effort of the oarsmen (more recently oarswomen too) are timeless.
The total cost of staging the five-day Regatta is now almost £4 million a year. The vast majority of this is derived from subscriptions paid by Members of the event, given commercial sponsorship or outside subsidy is still frowned on. Membership is limited to 6,500 and there is a long waiting list – more than a thousand – to join. Preference is given to those who have previously competed at Henley Regatta, so if you have little connection to rowing and have never competed, it will be a long wait to become a member.
The Regatta owns the land on which the enclosures and car parks are situated and some of the land on the opposite bank, which extends into Buckinghamshire. The Thames at this point forms the border between Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
To preserve the natural beauty of the Henley Reach, all parts of the installations, both on land and in the river, are removed after each Regatta and then re-erected the following year. There is no trace of any event happening if you happened to walk along the towpath between September and March. The Stewards take pride in not damaging the land and preserving it for future generations.
Conserving all that is best is a big part of the ethos. This extends to keeping much of the tradition of the event – which is why it’s always been a smartly-dressed affair, and features much traditional British food and entertainment.
The entertainment provided differs in each enclosure – Henley Regatta’s buzzword for VIP hospitality areas. The
In 1987 the Stewards bought Temple Island, the famous landmark at the start of the Regatta course. Extensive renovation of The Temple, built by James Wyatt in 1771, was undertaken and the important wall paintings in the main room were restored to their original appearance.
The Regatta has a long-term programme of conservation and tree planting, notably on the downstream portion of Temple Island and also upstream on the Buckinghamshire bank. This area of water meadow has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and provides a managed sanctuary for flora and fauna.
In 1992 the Stewards acquired the small island, on the Buckinghamshire bank, upon which the boathouse of Fawley Court once stood.
Henley Regatta is among the World’s most prestigious Rowing events
As Henley Royal Regatta was instituted in 1839 long before national or international rowing federations were established, it occupies a special position in the world of rowing. It has its own rules and is not subject to the jurisdiction either of the governing body of rowing in the UK (British Rowing) or of the International Rowing Federation (FISA), but is officially recognised by both these bodies.
Unlike multi-lane international regattas, Henley still operates a knock-out draw with only two boats racing in each heat. This results in the staging of up to 90 races on some of the five days. To complete the programme by a reasonable hour, races are started at 5-minute intervals.
The length of the Course is 1 mile 550 yards, which is 112 metres longer than the standard international distance of 2,000 metres. It takes approximately seven minutes to cover, so there are often two races at once taking place.
Recent years have seen entries from Australia, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Poland, the Netherlands, the US, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, South Africa, Slovenia, Greece, and China.
Henley Regatta Trophies and Prizes
There is a magnificent array of Challenge Trophies, the most prized being The Grand Challenge Cup.
Dating from the first year of the Regatta, it came about when the Stewards resolved that a Silver Cup, value 100 guineas, to be called the “Henley Grand Challenge Cup”, be rowed for annually by amateur crews in eight-oared boats.
At this first Regatta, J. D. Bishop, of the Leander Club, umpired on horseback. The race, which was won by First Trinity, Cambridge, attracted four entries and it is recorded that: “The Etonian Club were dressed in white guernseys with pale blue facings, rosette sky blue. Brasenose had blue striped guernseys, blue cap with gold tassel, rosette yellow, purple and crimson. Wadham wore white guernseys with narrow blue stripes, dark blue cap with light blue velvet band, and light blue scarf, and Trinity College were attired in blue striped guernseys, rosette French Blue.”
One of the prize medals given for this first race in 1839 is still in existence and on display.
The base of the Cup was added in 1896 and extended in 1954 and 1986 and records the names of all winning crews since the inception of the Regatta.
In 1964, the winning Harvard crew of 1914 presented a new cup, identical to the now fragile original of 1839. This new cup continues to be used as the trophy.
The only times Henley Regatta has ever been halted have been during the two World Wars, but has been held continually otherwise. It’s an event with a vibrant atmosphere – which is why Henley devotees return year after year to experience the thrills and delights.
For more information please see our Henley Royal Regatta hospitality packages page.