First held in 1839, Henley Regatta, which takes place annually in the Oxfordshire town, is a British institution and a staple of the British Season – meaning picnics, summer frocks, hats and al fresco champagne (among the spectators rather than the rowers).
The regatta started life as a public attraction with a fair and other amusements, staged by the mayor and people of Henley, however the competitive amateur rowing it is known for today soon took over.
The original event took place on a single afternoon but proved so popular that by 1840 the racing had been extended to two days; in 1886 two became three, in 1906 the event was extended to four days and in 1986 the regatta was extended to five days, with an increase in the maximum entry for certain events.
The first royal patron of the regatta was Prince Albert in 1851, but since his death the reigning monarch has always consented to be patron, meaning the event can be called Henley Royal Regatta.
Henley’s long history means the regatta occupies a unique position in the world of rowing, founded, as it was, long before national or international rowing federations were established. Henley 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), although it is officially recognised by both these bodies.
Today, there are 20 events at Henley in total with a splendid array of Challenge Trophies, the most prized being the Grand Challenge Cup for Eights which dates from the first year of the regatta. Initially, only men’s teams competed, but women’s racing was gradually introduced from the 1980s. The first year women competed over the course in a full regatta event was 1993 when a new event for women single scullers was established.
Every year Henley is visited by many crews from abroad and recent entries have included crews from Australia, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Poland, the Netherlands, the US, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine, South Africa, Slovenia, Greece, China and Great Britain.
But, of course, it’s not all about the rowing – for many spectators Henley is also about the chance to don a hat and pack that all-important picnic to munch on as one watches the boats glide by…
To help get us in the mood for tomorrow’s events, we look back on Discover Britain photographer Arnhel de Serra’s lovely snaps of the action on-and-off the river at last year’s regatta…