Henley: Adding to the Family Silver

Regatta Headquarters, Henley-on-Thames, currently in the final stages of organising what Sir John Betjeman called ‘the flowering heart of England’s willow-cooled July’.

20 June 2018

Tim Koch has a (silver) hallmark moment.

In December 2016, the Henley Stewards’ announced that there would be an unprecedented three new events in the 2017 Regatta, all for women: coxless fours, pairs and double sculls. This meant that there was gender parity in the regatta’s ‘open’ categories. No silverware was available for presentation at the 2017 regatta but this year the winners of the new events will get one of the splendid new prizes commissioned by the Stewards. They were unveiled by Regatta Chairman, Sir Steve Redgrave, at Regatta Headquarters on 18 June.

Sir Steve and, left to right, The Stonor Challenge Trophy, The Hambleden Pairs Challenge Cup, and The Town Challenge Cup. For the purposes of scale, Steve is 6 foot, 5 inches tall.

Henley gives some background to the naming of the new prizes made by the silversmith, Steve Ottewill:

An Invitation Race for Women’s Coxed Fours has previously been held at the Regatta in 1981 and 1982. In 2017, a new Open event was inaugurated for “Women’s Fours”, raced in coxless boats in line with World Championship and Olympic regattas, and with qualification rules the same as those for The Remenham Challenge Cup… The Town Challenge Cup. This recalls the name of the trophy for coxed fours which was presented alongside The Grand Challenge Cup for eights at the very first Regatta in 1839 and annually thereafter until 1883, after which it was given in trust to Henley Town and Visitors’ Regatta.

The Town Challenge Cup for Women’s Coxless Fours. With four handles, the whole crew can all hold it at the same time.

At the 2017 Regatta, the Stewards introduced a new Open event for “Women’s Pairs”, intended for crews of the highest international standard… The Hambleden Pairs Challenge Cup. This commemorates the trophy presented for the pairs event at the Royal Henley Peace Regatta in 1919 by Viscount Hambleden, who five years later allowed a portion of his land on the Berkshire bank at the Start to be trimmed to enable the creation of the “Straight Course” on which the Regatta is still raced today. 

The Hambleden Pairs Challenge Cup for Women’s Pairs. Like the Silver Goblets that the winners of the men’s pairs event, The Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup, get to keep, the Hambleden Pairs winners each receives a small version of the perpetual cup, examples of which are shown here on the left and right.

An Invitation Race for Women’s Double Sculls has previously been held at the Regatta in 1981 and 1982. In 2017, a new Open event was inaugurated for “Women’s Double Sculls” intended, like the pairs event, for crews of the highest international standard… The Stonor Challenge Trophy. This commemorates Thomas Stonor (later Lord Camoys), who chaired the meeting in 1839 at which the Regatta was set up and became one of its first Stewards.

The Stonor Challenge Trophy for Women’s Double Sculls. The gilt inset of ‘Isis et Tamesis’ echoes that embossed on many Henley medals.

Steve Ottewill has done many repairs on Henley silver and also made the new base for the Grand Challenge Cup, designed to last for 150 years of winners.

Steve Ottewill at work on the new Henley prizes. Picture: @HenleyRegatta.

After the unveiling, I had the opportunity to interview Sir Steve in his office. It was rather like been called into the Headmaster’s study, but I was soon put at my ease.

TK: Introducing three new events in one year at Henley – particularly women’s events – was rather radical. What future changes are planned?

SR: It is difficult to say, we are always evaluating what we can possibly do with our programmes… I seem to be a Chairman that is bringing quite a lot of change (but) I do not think it has been that fast. With the TV… we have been talking about (it) for many, many years… We have introduced Partners (sponsors) into the Regatta… But I think that we have done it in a way that enhances the Regatta and not harms it… We are looking at other things, the Enclosures and our land on the other side of the river and how we can bring that into the fold. We have over a thousand people waiting to become members of Stewards’ and we don’t have the space to fit them in… If we introduce more entries in (existing) events or (introduce) new events, we have to find space in the calendar, so that is either (adding) another day or reducing the entries in some of the events that we have.

TK: When you decided to have gender parity in the top events, did you take into consideration the possible effects on Henley Women’s Regatta? Of course, Miriam Luke (Batten) is now a Steward as well as Chairman of Henley Women’s.

SR: I was talking to Miriam well before she was elected as a Steward, and she was very happy that we were moving forward. We see ourselves as a premier event in the rowing calendar and we should be offering top events. (Henley Women’s is on) a World Cup weekend so our international entries do not impact HWR – but it is something very much in our mind. (Miriam and I) have ongoing discussions and there has been talk about Committee to Committee sharing of ideas…

With two weeks to go, work continues apace to prepare the world’s most famous regatta.

TK: It has been almost universally accepted that the broadcasting of the Regatta has been a great success, but it is still a big cost to the Regatta, even if it has brought in more entries. What is the future of television coverage?

SR: We took the decision last year that we were going to incorporate broadcasting as part of our offering – we don’t trial things at Henley… Broadcasting at the level we do is not cheap… so we always have to look at costs… Even though it has been difficult nationally, we have been doing quite well financially so we have been able to cover those costs…

TK: Do you want to say something about balancing your new job as High-Performance Director of China’s national rowing team with your role as Chairman of Henley Royal Regatta?

SR: I want to keep on as Chairman, I have made a commitment to the Regatta. It is up to the Committee… they choose their Chairman, and if they think that I have not done a good enough job, they will not re-elect me in December. I am hoping that they will, I think that I can balance both. I have the support of the Chinese, but the time that I spend at the Regatta comes out of my annual leave (from China) so that is a bigger commitment from me as a volunteer here… But my plan is to carry on, there are still things that I want to do at the Regatta – and the Committee are fully behind me…

TK: When you one day retire as Henley Chairman, how would you like your legacy to be viewed?

SR: As a safe pair of hands that looked after one of the iconic events in the rowing calendar. It has 179 years of history and I want to be known as a Chairman that did not put it at risk or damage it in any way… You are only Chairman for a short time relative to the history of the event, so my number one aim is not to harm it and that it is in good shape when someone eventually takes over from me.

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