Everything you need to know about Henley Royal Regatta
- Credit: Archant
Henley Royal Regatta, the world-famous rowing competition in Oxfordshire that’s a bastion of Edwardian style, returns this July. Here’s what you need to know.
The most famous regatta in the world has been running annually ever since its establishment in 1839 - except for during the two World Wars. It was originally staged by the Mayor and residents of Henley as a public attraction with a fair and other amusements, but the focus later became the competitive rowing.
The five-day event takes place in Henley-on-Thames, a town of around 10,600 people in Oxfordshire. The first recorded mention of Henley was in 1179, and the town has survived the outbreak of the Black Death (when it lost 60% of its population) and the tumultuous period of the English Civil War. It’s now best known for the Regatta (as well as being a filming location for Midsomer Murders!).
The course for the Regatta is the 1 mile long stretch of Henley Reach, a naturally straight portion of the River Thames north of the town which takes approximately seven minutes to cover. The Thames itself is the longest river in England, winding 215 miles across the country from its Cotswolds source near Kemble, through Oxford, Reading and London, to its mouth, the Thames Estuary, where it spills out into the North Sea.
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Over the five days, there are 20 racing events, with various classes for each, amounting to 200 races in all! Henley has its own rowing rules, having been established before national or international rowing federations, making racing at the Regatta pretty unique.
It’s an international event, typically attracting rowing clubs from the US, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, France and Canada, among other nations. University teams are always represented, with contenders from Oxford and Cambridge colleges, Harvard, Yale and Princeton, Melbourne, Durham, ICL, Lyon, York and plenty of others competing. And there’s a strong association with the Olympics; Olympians past and present have taken to the Regatta waters, 270 of them still alive today, including gold medallists. Indeed, Sir Steve Redgrave is now chairman of the event. Veteran rowers still alive today include Paul Bircher and Michael Lapage who competed in the 1948 Eights, and 95-year-old Charles Eugster who competed at the Royal Regatta in 1938, and is the world’s oldest competitive oarsman and bodybuilder! Though he now attends Henley in a spectatorial capacity.
Competitive rowing was a male-only sport during much of the 19th and 20th Century, and this was true of Henley until 1993, the first year women competed over the Course in a full Regatta event. There are now open events for Women’s Eights, Women’s Quadruple Sculls and Junior Women’s Quadruple Sculls.
The Regatta was given Royal Patronage in 1851 by H.R.H. Prince Albert. Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, his first cousin, when he was 20, going on to have nine children with her. He adopted many public causes during this time, such as educational reform and a worldwide abolition of slavery, and took on the responsibilities of running the Queen’s household, estates and office. After his death, each reigning Monarch has consented to become Patron of the Regatta, meaning it retains the Royal connection to this day. The most recent royal attendee was H.R.H. The Princess Royal in 2010.
The Dress Code
Henley Royal Regatta is a bastion of Edwardian style. The Steward’s Enclosure, which is exclusive to members and their guests, has a strict dress-code; men must wear lounge suits, jackets or blazers with flannels, and a tie or cravat, women must wear dresses or skirts with a hemline below the knee, and will not be admitted wearing divided skirts, culottes or trousers of any kind. The Regatta Enclosure, downstream from the Steward’s, is open to the general public and has no strict dress-code, though many guests still wear traditional club blazers and dapper rowing apparel. Turn up in drab dress at your own peril!
The Steward’s Enclosure and the Regatta Enclosure are the most comfortable riverside spots to watch the action. But you can also book a range of vessels from local boating companies to sail down the river, giving you a fantastic front-row seat of the races. There are also numerous spots along the narrow riverbank you can settle on for free to watch the boats go by. If you can’t get down to Henley on the day, the BBC will be broadcasting the Regatta live on Sunday July 5 for the first time since 1967! Just press the red button or go online.
The Food and Drink
There are several different bar areas within the exclusive Stewards’ Enclosure including the Bridge Bar and Real Ale Bar. At the Regatta Enclosure, open to the public, there is a dedicated restaurant serving three course plated lunches including a seafood platter, as well as afternoon tea. There’s also drink provided at the bar, including Pimms, champagne and real ale, as well as non-alcoholic beverages.
Day Tickets (or ‘badges’) typically cost between £20 and £35 depending on the day, giving you access to the Regatta Enclosure and surrounding facilities. Children under 14 are admitted free of charge if accompanied by a paying adult. Tickets for 2015’s event are no longer available online, but can be purchased through the Badge Office by calling 01491 571900, or visiting in person, subject to availability.
If you’re new to the world of competitive rowing, you might benefit from learning a little of the jargon:
• Shell is simply another word for a rowing boat.
• A coxswain, or cox, is the person in charge of a boat, particularly its navigation and steering. The etymology of the word comes from ‘cock’, a cockboat or other small vessel kept aboard a ship, and ‘swain’, an Old English term derived from the Old Norse sveinn meaning boy or servant - which provides the literal translation of ‘boat servant’!
• Sculling refers to propelling a boat through water using oars.
• Eights are rowing boats used for competition holding eight rowers and the coxswain. Rowers in Eights each have one oar.
• Fours are rowing boats used for competition holding four rowers, and are either ‘coxed’ – steered by a coxswain typically at the stern – or ‘coxless’ – without a coxswain to steer. Rowers in fours each have one oar.
• Quadruple Sculls are competitive rowing boats designed for four people who propel the boat by sculling. In this case, each rower has two oars, one in each hand.
• Double Sculls are rowing boats designed for two rowers, each with two oars, and are typically coxless.
• A Single Scull, as its name suggests, is a rowing boat designed for one person propelling the boat with two oars.
• Sweep rowing is rowing using one oar per rower.
• Symbols are often used to denote the type of race. + or – denotes whether a boat is coxed or coxless, M or W denotes if it’s a male or female race, and 1, 2, 4, or 8 denotes the number of rowers in each boat (sometimes represented as Roman numerals e.g. VIII). So Henley’s Double Sculls Challenge Cup, for example, is M2x (Men, two rowers, coxless).
The Henley Royal Regatta will take place on July 1-5 2015. Visit the website for more information www.hrr.co.uk/welcome
If you’re in need of a Regatta outfit, we’ve got plenty of items to choose from in our online shop: www.greatbritishlife.co.uk