Henley Royal Regatta is undoubtedly the best known regatta in the world and is both one of the highlights of the summer sporting calendar and the social season.
It attracts thousands of visitors over a 5 day period where spectators will be thrilled by over 200 races of an international standard, including Olympians and crews new to the event.
Aside from the rowing, visitors can take in the events unique atmosphere in one of the Enclosures or along the riverbank.
Henley Regatta was first held in 1839 and has been held annually ever since, except during the two World Wars. Originally staged by the Mayor and people of Henley as a public attraction with a fair and other amusements, the emphasis rapidly changed so that competitive amateur rowing became its main purpose.
The 1839 Regatta took place on a single afternoon but proved so popular with oarsmen that the racing lasted for two days from 1840. In 1886 the Regatta was extended to three days and to four in 1906. Since 1928 its increased popularity meant entries exceeded the permitted numbers in several events, and so Qualifying Races are now held in the week before the Regatta to reduce the number of entries to the permitted maximum. In 1986 the Regatta was extended to five days, with an increase in the maximum entry for certain events.
In 1851 H.R.H. Prince Albert became the Regatta’s first Royal Patron. Since the death of The Prince Consort, the reigning Monarch has always consented to become Patron. This patronage means the Regatta can be called Henley Royal Regatta.
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.
Rowing at Henley
As the Regatta was instituted long before national or international rowing federations were established, it occupies a unique 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 U.K. (British Rowing) or of the International Rowing Federation (F.I.S.A.), but is proud of the distinction of being 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 entails the organisation 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 on the Course for much of the day. The number of races is, of course, reduced on each successive day, leaving only the Finals to be rowed on the last day.
There are 20 events in total: 6 classes of race for Eights, 5 for Fours (3 coxless and 2 coxed), 5 for Quadruple Sculls, and races for Coxless Pairs and Double Sculls. In addition there are single sculling races for both men and women. 1993 was the first year women competed over the Course in a full Regatta event when a new event for Women Single Scullers was inaugurated. In 2000 an open event for Women’s Eights was introduced, whilst in 2001 there were new events for Women’s and Men’s Quadruple Sculls. In 2012 a new event will be held for Junior Womens’ Quadruple Sculls.
In 2004 there were significant changes to the Coxed Fours events. The top event, The Prince Philip Challenge Cup, was withdrawn due to declining interest internationally. There are now two events at the lower level – The Britannia Challenge Cup, restricted to just club crews, and an event for student crews, The Prince Albert Challenge Cup.
Recent years have seen entries of international quality from Australia, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Poland, the Netherlands, the U.S.A., Germany, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine, South Africa, Slovenia, Greece, China and Great Britain. Every year Henley is visited by many crews from abroad and last year 115 crews were from overseas.
There is a magnificent array of Challenge Trophies, the most prized being The Grand Challenge Cup for Eights which dates from the first year of the Regatta. In 2006 Imperial College London donated a new trophy for the Men’s Student Coxed Fours event. This trophy has been named The Prince Albert Challenge Cup, after the Regatta’s first Royal Patron. In 2008 there was a new trophy for the Men’s Quadruple Sculls event – The Prince of Wales Challenge Cup. The trophy has been donated by Mr. V. G. Saunders and was the prize awarded to the winner of the 1931 King’s Cup Aero Race – E. C. T. Edwards, the brother of H. R. A. (Jumbo) Edwards, the famous Oxford University Coach.