Henley Royal Regatta – A Quick History

Our favourite hospitality event is fast approaching, with preparations well underway to make this year’s River Lounge yet again one of the best Henley Royal Regatta hospitality facilities. Every year I’m amazed by the scale of the Regatta and sheer joviality of those attending, from the children to the seasoned Club pro’s. Below is a quick guide to how this superb event came into existence and developed into the world famous rowing event it is today.

The River LoungeTHE BEGINNING

The first Henley Regatta was held for amateurs-only in 1839, ten years after the first Oxford-Cambridge boat race, and lasted for just a day. Interestingly, one can gain an insight into the origins of rowing in Britain, from the definition of ‘amateurism’ that was created by the organisers of the Regatta and subsequent founders of the Amateur Rowing Association in 1879, specifically the banning of anyone “who has been employed in or about boats for money or wages”.

Many felt that the small but wealthy few who created these rules within the Amateur Rowing Association were unfairly targeting tradesmen and so in response the National Amateur Rowing Association was established. This led to British Rowing, and the Regatta as a result, being in a schism for over six decades as it was governed by two separate organisations, until the introduction of much more liberal rules for the 1938 Regatta. Amazingly all references to amateurism weren’t removed completely from Henley Regatta’s rules until 1998!

EXPANSION & ROYAL PATRONAGE

However from the very start Henley Regatta has enjoyed a continued growth in its popularity. The Regatta was extended to two days in 1840, three days in 1886, four days in 1906 and it’s current length of five days in 1986 and has been held every year except during the two World Wars. The Regatta received its Royal Patronage in 1851 when Prince Albert became its first Patron and since then every reigning Monarch has consented to become Patron.

GOING INTERNATIONAL

As well as adding extra days, the organisers over the years have had to make changes to accommodate the Regatta’s growing popularity amongst competitors, increasing the number of permitted entries and notably holding qualifying races a week before the Regatta. Henley Royal Regatta had it’s first International competitors in 1878 when there were 2 separate American competitors, a Michigan-based club, a French-Canadian crew and Colombia College who won the Visitors’, becoming the first International winners. There

THE COURSE

There have been several changes to the Henley Royal Regatta course over the years, most notably the reduction to two crews in a heat for the ‘New Course’ which was inaugurated in 1886, setting the Henley Regatta apart from many other international Regattas. The ‘Experimental Course’ was used for the 1923 Regatta and was the only course to be in a straight line. The was dropped for the ‘Straight Course’ which is still in use today.

Rowers at Henley

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