Henley Royal Regatta – Not As Good As It Was Since 1840

Preparing for the Henley of 1938. The text says that the total value of the boats at the regatta was £13,000.

28 June 2022

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch looks forwards by looking backwards.

The 2022 Henley Royal Regatta starts today, Tuesday, 28 June. Last year’s COVID-affected smaller and simpler Regatta had such apparent blasphemies as big video screens where the boat tents should be and pizzas on sale in a corner of the Stewards’ Enclosure. It drew curmudgeonly remarks from a few who seemed oblivious to the fact that, in 2021, it was Henley Lite or nothing. However, complaining about Henley Regatta is nothing new and it no doubt started at the second Henley in 1840. Thankfully though, this year’s Royal is stressing “Traditional venue layout and entry” and it notes that: 

After being cancelled in 2020 for the first time outside of the World Wars, and hosting an event last August constrained by COVID, the Regatta is back in its traditional place in the summer season for the first time since 2019…

Entries closed… with 739 crews from 17 nations (including Great Britain) registered, beating the previous record of 660 in 2019. There are 172 international entries, with 66 from the USA and 37 from Australia – all records too.  

The full list of entries is here.

A conservative who made radical changes to an ailing regatta – the then chairman, Peter Coni (right), pictured in 1980 with legendary Harvard coach, Harry Parker (left).

With a growing number of events and races, the Stewards had already decided to add an extra day to the Regatta – extending from five to six and so beginning on the Tuesday of Henley Week. Chairman Sir Steve Redgrave explained:

One of the reasons for going to six days was to ease the pressure of long racing days on our volunteers… But because of the scale of the Open entry this year, we’ve had to expand a lot of the events beyond the prescribed number we normally have, so that extra day is vital as there will still be a full schedule.

As I have stated many times before, an event like Henley must change if it is to appear to stay the same – and indeed, to survive at all. No one and nothing can hold out against sporting, social and economic developments in the wider world (though, hopefully, pizzas will not return to the Stewards’ Enclosure).

However, as the following archive pictures illustrate, however much Henley does change, it still manages to retain its special character.


My jokey addition of a voice bubble will no doubt be taken seriously by certain corners of the Internet. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta
The present Stewards’ Enclosure did not begin until 1919 but there were several other private enclosures before then. This is one of them c.1900.
Another late-Victorian or Edwardian enclosure.


The boat tents, 1896.
The competitors’ changing tent c.1912. You can almost smell the history.
Stuart High School, USA, in 1968. They went on to win the Princess Elizabeth. The original site of Henley Rowing Club is in the background and the brewery is still very much an industrial unit. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta. 
Japan’s Furukawa Electric Rowing Club pictured in 1961. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta.
A cox-box 1950s style. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta.
Future 1964 Olympic eight gold medal winners Joe and Tom Amlong of Vesper Boat Club competing in the 1963 Silver Goblets. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta.
First Trinity, Cambridge, pictured in 1904. As the Hobbs sign in the background indicates, at least some of the boathouses opposite the boat tents were still working buildings.
The final of the 1908 Thames Cup. Wadham College, Oxford, beating Christ Church, Oxford.
The late Beryl Crockford (then Beryl Mitchell) competing in the invitational Women’s Single Sculls event at the 1982 Henley Royal Regatta. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta.
London suffering under the weight of a lot of hair, 1972. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta. 
In 1953, the Royal Air Force Rowing Club won both the Thames and the Wyfold. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta.
Jack Kelly Jnr. entered the Diamonds in 1946, 1947 and 1949, winning in the latter two attempts. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta.
Penn bathing post-defeat at Henley in 1900. The family magazine, Black and White, did not seem to have a problem publishing this picture of naked men.


Ready for the 1908 prize-giving.
Mrs Mackenzie presents Magdalen College Boat Club with the 1908 Visitors’.
Mrs Rhodes presenting the prizes in 1909. The original caption claims that she is pictured giving the Grand Challenge Cup to the Belgians.
Redgrave and Holmes with the 1986 Silver Goblets. Picture: Facebook/@henleyroyalregatta.
… any time now.

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