27 Jun 2022

Jolly Boating Weather: a Guide to Henley Regatta

The British love of rowing dates back to the early 17th century, when watermen, whose job was to ferry passengers along the River Thames in London, competed in races (regattas) and were awarded prizes by the various guilds and livery companies as well as the owners of the great houses that lined the river. By the end of the 18th century “boat clubs” had become established at many of Britain’s leading public schools, such as Eton and Westminster, and colleges at Oxford and Cambridge followed suit in the early 19th century – Jesus College and Brasenose College in Oxford claim to have the two oldest boating clubs. The boat race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities first took place in 1829, and soon became a popular spectacle.

The town of Henley-on-Thames, which is located on the River Thames in South Oxfordshire, was perfectly placed to capitalise on the growing mania for rowing.

The Henley Regatta dates back to 1839, when the mayor and townspeople put it on as part of a fair. Presided over – and often attended by – the royal family, Henley’s famous annual regatta now attracts international crews and even Olympic champions, making it a must-see event in the sporting calendar. It is the best known regatta in the world, and a long-established event in the summer Social Season.

The Henley Royal Regatta takes place this year between 28 June and 3 July. It comprises over 300 races of an international standard. These head-to-head knockout races take place over a one-mile 550-yard (2.11-km) course (112 m longer than the international standard). The most long-standing, and celebrated, race is the Grand Challenge Cup for Men’s Eights, awarded since the regatta’s inception and open to all established amateur male crews.

Races can be watched by the general public from various points along the Berkshire (towpath) side of the Thames. The Stewards’ Enclosure is situated on the Berkshire bank directly opposite the finishing line, and is the location for the awards ceremony on the final day. It is limited in access to the Stewards (former rowers who organise the regatta), and members of the enclosure and their guests; the waiting list for membership is years-long, though applicants for membership will be more successful if they are proposed or seconded by a Steward, or can show a demonstrable involvement in competitive rowing. The Stewards who run the event wear elegant silver badges, while members have a colour-coded metal badge, and guests are identified by a cardboard tag. The enclosure has covered grandstands, a bandstand, a marquee with a restaurant, bars and rolling lawns, and strictly enforces a dress code.

The Regatta Enclosure, just downstream from the Stewards’ Enclosure, is open to all by admission fee, and offers riverside seating and an open Grandstand.

For members of the public who want to avoid entrance fees and dress codes, there is always the option of watching the racing from Remenham Farm, next to Remenham church and village, where they can enjoy the entertainment at the Barn Bar.

Dress Codes

Ladies wishing to enter the Stewards’ Enclosure must ensure their hemline is below the knee. Alternatively, they can wear jackets with trousers or trouser suits. Bare shoulders are fine and hat wearing is not obligatory, but is encouraged. Remember that high-heeled shoes will sink into the grassy banks. No shorts, leggings, tracksuits or jeans are allowed.

Gentlemen should wear lounge suits, or rowing blazers or jackets and flannels, and a tie or cravat.

There is no dress code for the Regatta Enclosure, where the atmosphere is much more informal, but many spectators do sport club blazers and dress up for the occasion.


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