One Of (The Many) Henley Traditions

A 1967 photograph of the four founding fathers – Wilf Stark (bow), Jacko Stevens (2), Frank Ashenden (3) and Reggie Reeves (Str) – of what is today the Auriol Kensington RC’s veteran row from Hammersmith to Henley.*

Soon it is time for the Henley Royal Regatta again. The good Tim Koch of Auriol Kensington RC is taking part in an ‘unofficial’ Henley tradition, he writes in an e-mail from London. I leave it to Tim to tell the story:

Henley Royal Regatta has many traditions. There are the ‘official’ ones that are a result of 171 years of existence and then there are the ‘unofficial’ ones that are the result of the same people attending the same event for much of their lifetime. For the last forty eight years, Auriol Rowing Club (and, latterly, Auriol Kensington Rowing Club) have rowed one or two Veteran (Masters) crews from Hammersmith to Henley, timed to arrive just before the start of the Regatta. These days the distance of fifty six miles is covered in three days by two eights. It is only possible because of the support received from the rest of the rowing community.
Day One is from Hammersmith to Molesey Boat Club, some fourteen miles. The first six miles are on the tidal Thames, the non tidal part begins at Richmond Lock. There are seventeen more locks between there and Henley and, as they are usually less than three miles apart, they afford regular rest stops to oarsmen past their prime. Day Two is from Molesey to Eton Excelsior Rowing Club, just outside of Windsor, via lunch at Staines Boat Club – twenty one miles in total. The crews stay overnight in Windsor where much beer and curry is consumed. The final day takes us through to Henley via lunch at Marlow Rowing Club – twenty miles. The row ends with a race up the Regatta course (much to the amusement of the younger people in training for the ‘Royal’). Some refreshing local beer is then consumed at the Anchor in Friday Street. The landlord is an ex Kensington RC man and it is the only place that tolerates the smell of three day old kit. Following a welcome shower, blazers and ties are donned for a formal dinner where we are joined by the ‘real’ Auriol Kensington HRR crews and assorted supporters.

The ‘Henley Row’ is an event that seems to grow in importance for the participants. At the end of row dinner we remember those stalwart members of Auriol Rowing Club who first did it in 1962. In the words of one participant, “…we both thank them and curse them for this strange obsession.
* The four in the 1967 photo on top are Wilf Stark (bow), Jacko Stevens (2), Frank Ashenden (3) and Reggie Reeves (Str). All joined Auriol before the 1939-1945 War and kept the club going through some difficult times. I knew both Wilf and Frank (‘Ash’), alas no longer with us. They did the Hammersmith to Henley Row until they were in their late 70’s and had their last row over the Henley course in 1989 when they were in their early 80’s. Frank had to swap sides as he was recovering from a broken arm (he already had two plastic hips). At the end of their row he remarked that the course was ‘longer that it used to be’. At the 1997 Club Dinner, he proposed the toast to ‘The Club’. He went home and died in his sleep later that night. Not a bad end.
Great story, Tim, thank you! And I agree, when it is time to go, that is the way to go. Good luck with the row…


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