A Henley Programme from the Past

4 January 2022

By Mark Blandford-Baker

Mark Blandford-Baker finds an old Henley Royal Regatta programme.

On one of those perfect autumn afternoon visits to a second-hand bookshop there is invariably something to delight the eye. That’s never truer than when one pops into the Richard Way Bookshop in Friday Street, Henley. Chatting with Diana about the latest on her rowing shelves I rummaged in a basket of cards and old programmes I never normally look at and found part of a Henley programme ‘free to a good home’ said the note.

Being a single sheet, I had eight panels from the 16-page programme. As you can see (above and below), no title page, no racing details. So why might it be of interest? Well, I like a challenge.

A few minutes with the HRR Record books to hand brought me to 1894. The give-away, of course, was page 9, with ‘Competitors’ Quarters’ listing. The small boats at Henley are always referred to by surnames, and here this proved invaluable.

However, there is so much more of interest to be found on these pages:

  • Coxes’ minimum weights governed by the average weight of the oarsmen.
  • Bells rung three minutes before a race in order to clear the course – which was then only flags on piles, no booms.
  • A gun fired at the start of a race, I wonder if it could be heard at the Finish?
  • The Stewards’ Enclosure was 25 years away, but there is an enclosure marked at Poplar Point. Later, there were more club enclosures along that side – who was this one for? The Isthmian Club enclosure is marked opposite and seems to be a staple of the period.
  • There is a carriage entrance to the meadow (not cars of course, and the full point makes that clear).
  • The space taken with postal arrangements and the train timetable speak of their importance. Note if you were on a houseboat that was inaccessible from the land, how a telegram would reach you.

So what of the competitors? The one that catches my attention is G. McHenry (not MacH..) – he was doubling up in the Diamonds and in a Thames R.C. Stewards’ Four. This might explain his wish to lodge on his own, but in fact he withdrew from his first round in the Diamonds. I suspect this is because the Four had to race Leander twice in their first round owing to a somewhat generous-sounding restart after an incident at the half-mile post. Perhaps, having won, they decided to conserve energy for the final. That was against New College, Oxford; the commentary is somewhat scathing: “Thames led by two and a half lengths at Fawley Court Boathouse and won easily in 8m 20s, New College not persevering.”

The Secretary of the Regatta was kind enough to allow me to look in their archive for other daily programmes from that year. Aside from the title and racing pages, the rest are taken up with various forms of advertising for Higgs who compiled the information, printed, and published at their own risk it seems; albeit with the blessing of the Stewards.

Dipping back into the published records (H.T. Steward, 1903, pp388-400), the commentary on the year notes some substantial updating of the A.R.A rules, mainly in connection with the definition of an amateur. HRR set up a Sub-Committee of no fewer than twelve of its 33 Stewards to review these changes which led to an updating of the Regatta’s Rules (as opposed to Laws of Racing on p16). 1894 was the year when the ‘trouble caused by the swans’ rose to the top of the agenda and ‘arrangements were made with Her Majesty’s Swan-keeper and with the Vintners and Dyers Companies, to have the swans removed from the Henley Reach during the Regatta week, and a similar arrangement has been made every year since.” Indeed, it remains so today.

As we see the current Stewards change the information in the printed programme (begun in 2021), and seek to provide more insight on the crews, it is interesting to note that in 1894 against each crew was listed the maker of their boat, and that of their oars or sculls: First Trinity, Cambridge: Boat – Swaddle, Oars – Norris Bhelps [sic! mighty be a misprint for Phelps?]; Trinity College, Oxford: Boat – Rough, Oars – Ayling; Joseph White (Toronto R.C.): Boat – Clasper, Sculls – Donahue; and so on. This information is not reproduced in the official records, something that, now past racing is being enumerated, might be considered for the future. Indeed, might it be interesting to once again know the make of boat and blades being used by each crew?

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