‘Sweet Thames, run softly’: The Henley Royal Regatta

On the 26th March 1839, a fellow called Captain Edmund Gardiner shared a bright idea he’d had. ‘An annual regatta,’ he mused, ‘under judicious and respectable management would […] be a source of amusement and gratification to the neighbourhood and the public in general.’

Well said that man.

The spirit of respectable, restrained gratification has characterised what would become known as the Henley Royal Regatta ever since.

Of course, the definition of ‘respectability’ has changed of the course of the two intervening centuries. Back in the day, it was a strictly amateur event. Indeed, to ensure the respectability of competitors, the races were not open to anyone ‘who has ever taught, pursued or assisted in the practice of athletic exercise of any kind as a means of gaining a livelihood or who has been by trade or employment for wages a mechanic, artisan or labourer’. No riff-raff, then.

Today, the regatta attracts a third of a million people who come for the chance to see some of the finest professional oarsmen from all over the world perform. It’s one of the highlights of the social and sporting calendars, and exhibits a dedication to sartorial elegance and sporting prowess comparable to that of Royal Ascot.

If, as Kenneth Grahame had it, ‘there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’, then a trip up river this weekend would certainly meet with that august author’s approval.

Information and tickets can be sought and bought respectively at https://www.hrr.co.uk