Henley-on-Thames (Oxfordshire, UK), is a small town of 11,180 (1981) people. It is located 35 miles west of London between the cities of Oxford (northwest) and Reading (south) (map). The town lies at the foot of the Chiltern Hills where the river Thames (Virtual Tour of the Thames) is crossed by a stone bridge (1786).
The old town was incorporated in 1526, has a medieval church and a wide market street flanked by Georgian buildings. The town serves as a shopping centre for the modern riverside resort and residential town. Henley is probably most famous for the Henley Royal Regatta, which dates from 1839 and is visited annually in July by international oarsmen, and Brakspears Beer.
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Henley Royal Regatta
This is an annual five-day event of rowing races and social gatherings! The regatta is held in the first week in July and was established in 1839. In 1851 Prince Albert became its patron and gave the event its "royal" prefix. Regattas modelled after Henley Royal Regatta (HRR) are also held in America, Canada and Australia. In connection with the regatta a museum of rowing is currently being built in Henley.
Construction of the 'tent village' of HRR starts in mid-April. The site is situated over the bridge from the main centre of Henley and consists broadly of five different areas; the boat tents (closest to the bridge), a Stewards Enclosure which is next to the boat tent area and at the finish of the course, the General Enclosure just downstream of the Stewards Enclosure, the start complex at Temple Island and the Hospitality tents which are located across the river from the General Enclosure.
The races are held on the longest naturally straight stretch of river in Britain and the regulation course distance is 1 mile 550 yards (2,100 m; Henley Royal Regatta Bye-Laws). The most significant of the traditional Henley races are the Grand Challenge Cup, the oldest (established in 1839), which usually attracts the world's finest eights (crews using eight oars), and the Diamond Challenge Sculls (1844), one of the world's top single sculls events (one man, two oars). There are several other events, for various types of crews, most of which are open to entries from anywhere in the world. (Go to the Rowing Page)
Besides being a rowing event the regatta is also a social gathering and this has its own particular rules and customs. Of interest is the dress code associated with the Stewards Enclosure (location). The Enclosure enforces a strict code in which woman must wear dresses with hems below the knee and men must wear jacket, collar and tie. The enclosure contains four bars, a luncheon and tea tent, and two stands. To enter the enclosure, unless you are a Steward or Steward's Enclosure Member, you will require a Steward's Enclosure Member Guest Badge. These can be bought either from the Regatta or from members, in either case they are usually difficult to obtain. The General Enclosure has a more relaxed approach to dress, contains a bar and a small stand, and tickets can be purchased at the gate.
Other 'Henley' Regattas:
The American Rowing Association, founded in 1902 to stimulate intercollegiate competition in the U.S., ends its season each year with a regatta at the regulation Henley distance, alternately at Philadelphia and Boston, that has become known as the American Henley. A 'Henley' is also held in California and called the California Henley at Redwood Shores. A similar event called the Royal Canadian Henley has been held annually at St. Catharines, Ont., since 1903 (at various sites earlier to 1880). An Australian Henley at Melbourne was first held in 1904.
In addition, Susan Smith has e-mailed to say that the Henley-on-Todd Regatta is run (and I mean literally run!) each year in Australia. Further information can be found at the Henley-on-Todd web site and have a look at the photos. Susan tells me that "Rotary HENLEY-ON-TODD Regatta - 2 October 1999 1st Saturday in October starting with a parade - races include Head of the River, Surf-Ski Rescue, Admirals Cup, Australia‘s Cup (Australia vs USA) and the Channel Race (a new event featuring the rescue from France to England of a "damsel" by a "gentleman" and involving some cross-dressing mid-"tunnel"!) plus the finale Gunboat Battle. Door prizes including air tickets from QANTAS are just a few reasons to come to this entertaining Dry-River boat races event! Enquiries to Rotary Club of Alice Springs (08-8952-2544).".
Ed note: I was actually lucky enough to be in Alice Springs, Australia, when they were setting up for the 2007 Henley-on-Todd. The regatta is run down the dry river bed of the River Todd which 'flows' through Alice Springs. The regatta is organised by the local Rotary Club and is held on the fourth Saturday of August. The course looked interesting. No water, no piles or booms, and a lot of sand. The course takes three days to set up and involves (as far as I can see) a lot of racking and smoothing of sand. I had assumed the 'boats' were all 'improvised' and made out of wood, however, I noticed a number of highly profession metal framed boats lying around the course. For more details, and some photos, see the blog entry.
Further information about Henley Royal Regatta can be found at The Henley Royal Regatta Home Page.
After the five day regatta event the site is then used for The Henley Arts Festival.
The Brakspears Brewery was founded in 1779 by Robert Brakspear.
The main brewery was located in New Street where the five ales (Mild [ABV 2.8%], Bitter or Pale ale [ABV 3.4%], Old Ale [ABV 4.0%], Special [ABV 4.0%], OBJ [ABV 5.0%]) were produced by the company are brewed. In 1997 the head brewer at Brakspears finally decoded the recipes left by Robert Brakspear. The recipes were written in code to prevent 'industrial spying' by the other brewers in the town. Although most of the recipes will never be brewed again, mainly because the beer would not be to peoples taste today, that is too bitter or too strong, Brakspears plan to release six as 'seasonal' beers in 1998.
The company owns some 17 public houses in the town centre with an additional 110 pubs within an 18 mile radius of Henley. In a recent move the managed house division will be split in to two "styles" pubs called Robert Brakspear's Ale Houses and Robert Brakspear's Taverns.
(More beer related information at the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA))
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