Henley Royal Regatta
Image: a typical crush of pleasure boats at the 1896 Regatta, viewed from one of house boats which lined the banks for weeks on end. (Photo by Henry Taunt: Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive. View this and hundreds of other Regatta photographs through Heritage Search.)
Henley-on-Thames is world-famous for its annual Royal Regatta, which is now held over a 5-day period at the start of July. The origins of the Regatta lie traditionally in the first Oxford–Cambridge university boat race, which was held on a course from Hambleden to Henley in 1829. Amateur rowing clubs and competitions were becoming increasingly fashionable, and the Thames was a popular venue, both at London and higher upstream. This was a period when Henley was embarking on a difficult economic period, its coaching and river trades soon to be devastated by the new-fangled railway, which did not arrive in Henley itself until 1857. The boat race created 'an unusual bustle' in the town, and Henley's inhabitants were quick to spot the economic potential. Similar 1-day events (sometimes called 'regattas') followed sporadically at Henley throughout the 1830s, and from 1839 the Regatta became an annual feature of the social and sporting calendar, organized and promoted largely by local gentry and townspeople. From the outset it attracted a fashionable clientele, and in 1851 Prince Albert was persuaded to become Patron, turning the event into a 'Royal Regatta'. With Henley's acquisition of a branch railway line in 1857 the town was able to take full advantage of the event, and in 1895 over 34,000 people were said to have visited over the 3 days. The town hosted Olympic Regattas in 1908 and 1948 - the first place in the world to host two such events - and the Regatta remains a major sporting and social event today. In recent decades the Regatta has given the town two of its finest modern buildings - the Royal Regatta Headquarters (1986), and the River & Rowing Museum (1998). An earlier building closely associated with the Regatta is the 18th-century ornamental temple on Temple Island. Read more about the development of the Regatta from its earliest days, extracted from our forthcoming EPE paperback. . Or find out about the Royal Regatta today. .