In Her Prime – Henley Women’s Regatta at 30

In a semi-final of the Elite Eights, Northeastern University, USA, (left) race the composite of Aberdeen University BC/Cambridge UWBC/Imperial College/Marlow RC/Newcastle University BC/University of London BC (right).

21 June 2017

Tim Koch remembers the first HWR:

It does not seem like 30 years ago that I attended the first Henley Women’s Regatta (HWR), held over one very long day on Saturday, 18 June 1988. I still have the programme and it shows that 97 races ran between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. without any breaks (over a 2000m course) and that there were 109 entries by 500 competitors for 17 events. In a ‘Message from the Chairman’, Chris Aistrop wrote:

The philosophy behind the event we have chosen to offer is the pursuit of excellence in our sport, the encouragement of the less well catered for oarswomen such as juniors and lightweights, an effort to tempt college crew members to continue rowing outside of their University environs, and to offer the club oarswoman the chance to race at her own status at an event where she can see the levels to which she may aspire in the future.

The programme cover for the first HWR on 18 June 1988.

Things have progressed and improved considerably in the rowing world since Aistrop wrote her Chairman’s Message, and HWR can claim its share of the credit for this. For 30 years, it has both reflected and has driven change in women’s rowing. The full story of Henley Women’s Regatta is well told by Pauline Churcher and Diane Graham in the history section of the HWR website. They write that:

During the early 1960s, the number of serious oarswomen in England probably numbered less than one thousand. Today, according to British Rowing estimates, women now account for more than 40 percent of the country’s active registered rowers. Various reasons can be cited for this remarkable increase, but a considerable part can be attributed to (the sport’s governing body) taking full responsibility for women’s rowing in 1968 and providing increasing financial support for their international efforts. From about 1970, partly in order to obtain grant aid, but also in recognition of changing social trends, more and more rowing clubs began to admit women as full members. Today, the all-male (or even all-female) club is now the exception rather than the rule.

As noted by Churcher and Graham, the rise and rise of women’s rowing, from club to international level, is also a reflection of changes in society. The general acceptance of the idea that half the population should be proportionately represented in education, leisure, work and decision-making is a surprisingly recent phenomenon. Further, many people are first introduced to rowing at University, and, in Britain in 2016, women outnumbered men in almost two-thirds of degree subjects.

Thus, for this year’s HWR, there were 268 races over three days involving 1,800 competitors from 190 clubs in 24 events.

The 1988 programme’s list of events and entries shows what a very different world women’s rowing then was.

Results Part I: Senior and Elite Events

SLwt 1x Thames RC (Perry) beat Greenbank Falmouth by 4 lengths
S1x Reading RC (Meridew) beat Wallingford RC by 3 lengths
S2x Bath University BC beat Leeds RC & York City RC by 3 1/2 lengths
S4- Newcastle University BC beat Imperial College BC by 2 lengths
S4x Tideway Scullers School (far side) beat Headington School by 3 feet
Tideway Scullers wait for the verdict of S4x
S8 Molesey BC beat Newcastle University BC by 4 1/2 lengths
E1x Warrington RC (Glover) beat Imperial College BC by 3 lengths
ELwt 1x Edinburgh University BC (Arlett) beat University of London BC by 2 lengths
E2- Banks RC (AUS) beat Imperial College BC, Easily
ELwt 2- Thames RC beat University of London BC by 2 1/2 lengths
ELwt 2x Cambridge University WBC & Oxford Brookes University BC beat Leicester RC, Easily
E4- Leander Club beat Durham University BC by 2 lengths
E8+ Ohio State University (USA) beat Aberdeen University BC/Cambridge UWBC/Imperial College/Marlow RC/Newcastle University BC/University of London BC by 3/4 length
A row past in memory of the late Beryl Crockford.

In the conclusion to her Chairman’s Message in 1988, Chris Aistrop wrote:

I am sure that you would wish me to thank, on your behalf, the executive committee of Bea Langridge, Ian McNuff and ‘Tommy’ Thomson, who have worked so tirelessly to stage this new and exciting event, and also the original members of the ‘think tank’, Margaret Adams, Pauline Churcher, Jackie Darling, Di Ellis, Eleanor Lester, Rosie Mayglothling, Irene Sanders, Pat Sly and Ann Southey, who were perceptive enough to identify the need for this regatta in the first place and courageous enough to carry the idea forward.

All that remains is for me to wish you all an enjoyable day both on and off the water and to hope that this will be the first of many successful Henley Women’s regattas to come.

Part II, posted tomorrow, will give the results for Intermediate and Junior Events.

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