In fact it is one of the major events on the competitive rowing calendar and a draw to many of the world’s top rowers.
The English season
The English season, or simply the Season, is a vestige of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when it was customary for the landed aristocracy to leave their country mansions behind to spend the summer in London. The agenda was a mix of politics and socialising. It included a variety of events from the worlds of the arts, sport, and horticulture. Important events included Glyndebourne, the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot and the Henley Regatta. It was also a time when debutantes were brought into society and it operated as a kind of marriage market. Today it is much more of a cosmopolitan affair, though still an important part of the English summer social and sporting scene.
The History of the Henley Royal Regatta
The first Henley Regatta took place in 1839. The inspiration for holding it had been the popularity of rowing events on that stretch of the Thames including the original Oxford Cambridge boat race; however in its early days it was more of an entertainment than the serious sporting event that it is today. It lasted for just one afternoon in its first year though over the years its duration was increased until in 1986 it was extended to the full five day event that it is today.
Initially it was just called the Henley Regatta. It didn’t receive royal patronage until 1851 when Prince Albert became its first royal patron and the event became known as the Henley Royal Regatta; an honour that has been renewed by each succeeding monarch.
Rowing at the Regatta
Rowing in the Regatta is unlike any other recognised rowing event. Its format is that of a knock out competition and in each heat only two boats compete. Over the five days there are around ninety races and the action is intense with early races being spaced just five minutes apart. The distance is 1,112 meters and races typically last around seven minutes.
The regatta is preceded by qualifying races in which around 500 teams compete with races being held in each of the major rowing classes. Top rowers from all over the world take part in the event and in total there are sixteen trophies; the most important one being the Grand Challenge Cup for Men’s Eights.
What to wear
As in the early years there is still a dress code in operation as there are in many English season events. In the Stewards Enclosure, which is the most prestigious place to be seen in, men must wear a lounge suit or a blazer and flannels with a tile or cravat; while for women hemlines must be below the knee; it is also customary for women to wear hats. Although in other enclosures and elsewhere the dress code is not enforced, many people still adhere to it; striped blazers and boaters are almost de rigueur.
A great party atmosphere
As well as providing an excellent spectacle of competitive rowing featuring some of the greatest rowers from all over the world, the regatta has a great party feeling to it. Champagne corks pop throughout the day and, after the rowing is over, partying continues late into the night.
The Henley Royal Regatta is held every July and is the perfect way to enjoy a quintessential English summer day at a quintessential English town.