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.
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 was introduced for Junior Women's 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 107 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.
Since 1885 Henley Royal Regatta has been organised by a self-electing body of Stewards, at present numbering 60, most of whom are well-known and successful rowers and scullers. The Stewards' practical application of their knowledge of the sport to the actual running of the Regatta undoubtedly makes a great contribution to its success. A Committee of Management, consisting of 12 of the Stewards, is elected annually and is responsible for all planning and detailed organisation.
The Stewards' primary consideration in all their decisions is the best interests of those who are competing in the races.
The total cost of staging the five-day Regatta is now near £3 million a year. About 85% of this is derived from subscriptions paid by Members of the Stewards' Enclosure and their purchases of additional badges and services for their guests.
Membership of the Stewards' Enclosure is limited to approximately 6,500. There is a long waiting list (over 1,000) to join, from which preference is given to those who have competed at the Regatta.
The Regatta is one of the few major sporting occasions today which is run without any reliance upon commercial sponsorship or outside subsidy.
The Regatta owns the land on which the Enclosures and car parks are situated and some of the land on the opposite (Buckinghamshire) bank. To preserve the natural beauty of the Henley Reach of the Thames, every part of the Regatta's installations, both on land and in the river, is removed after each Regatta and then re-erected the following year so that there is no trace of the Regatta between September and March.
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 completed 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 (S.S.S.I.) 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.
The administration of the Regatta is carried out from Regatta Headquarters, immediately upstream from Henley Bridge. The building, which was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in April 1986, was designed by Terry Farrell. It provides office accommodation at road level, together with storage space at river level for all the equipment used to mark out the Course. The design of the building has been widely welcomed as a most attractive addition to this reach of the Thames.
Further information is available from
Henley Royal Regatta,