On this day in history : 26th March 1839 – The first Henley Regatta is held; it was originally initiated by the Mayor and residents of Henley-on-Thames to attract tourism….

An 1877 painting of Henley Royal Regatta by James Tissot – Public domain

In 1829 a boat race was held between Oxford and Cambridge Universities along the stretch of the River Thames upon which the Oxfordshire town of Henley-on-Thames lies….So many visitors were attracted to the race that the people of Henley realised a similar, regular event could be very lucrative for the town….

The first ‘Regatta’ was essentially a single afternoon race, accompanied with a fair and other entertainment…. Being a huge success the following year it became a two day event…. The focus quickly changed to competitive amateur rowing…. In 1886 it grew to three days and four days in 1906…. Finally in 1986 it became a five day regatta and has been held every year since 1839 – with the exception of the years during WW1 and WW2….

During the Victorian era the Regatta became a major social event and in 1851 Prince Albert became the first Royal Patron…. Since then the reigning Monarch has always been its Patron, thus meaning it has remained being known as ‘Royal’….

Regatta participants in the 1890s – Public domain

Nowadays Henley Royal Regatta is held at the beginning of July and is a highlight of the English social sporting calendar, attracting top rowing teams from all over the world…. Having been established since before national and international rowing federations it operates under its own rules – although it is recognised by the International Rowing Federation and the Amateur Rowing Association in England….

Green Lake Crew, USA racing in 2007 – Image credit : Tgamen – own work – Public domain

It is now the largest racing regatta in the world…. There are sixteen separate trophies…. Races take around seven minutes each with start times at five minutes apart – meaning there are usually two races happening at the same time…. Whilst races are fiercely competitive there is a strong protocol of politeness….both from spectators and competitors alike…. Each boat is applauded by those watching and each team gives the other ‘three cheers’ just after crossing the finishing line…. The winning crew congratulates the losing crew and vice-versa….

Racing in 1979

Henley Royal Regatta remains a major part of the English social calendar….it has the atmosphere of a giant garden party…. For many it is a chance to gather with friends- whether onboard a boat on the river itself or in the enclosures and marquees along its banks…. Admission to the prestigious Steward’s Enclosure is at a premium and limited to 6,000 Members…. Champagne and Pimms flow, picnics are enjoyed and strawberries devoured in abundance…. There are most certainly those socialites who attend annually and have quite possibly never even witnessed the rowing! The dress code is formal…. For ladies skirt lengths should be to the knee or longer, trousers should be full length…. Hats, although not obligatory, are customary…. The traditional attire for a gentleman is a striped blazer and straw boater…. But a lounge suit, or blazer with flannel trousers is equally acceptable – teamed with a collared shirt…. Neck ties or cravats are not essential but are encouraged…. Jeans, shorts or trainers are not permitted for anybody….

This year’s Henley Royal Regatta is scheduled to be held from Wednesday 1st July to Sunday 5th July – but obviously in these times of uncertainty we will have to wait and see what happens….

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