Henley Royal Regatta

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Henley Royal Regatta

Type of Holiday: Sporting
Date of Observation: Five days in late June/early July
Where Celebrated: Henley-on-Thames, England
Symbols and Customs: Conservation, Grand Challenge Cup, Pimm's Cup No. 1, Stewards' Enclosure

ORIGINS

The international rowing competition known as the Henley Regatta was first held in 1839, inspired by the first Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race that had been run on the Thames River at Henley ten years earlier. The long, straight, nearly-twomile stretch of river about thirty-five miles west of London made Henley an ideal location for oarsmen to compete-in fact, it was the site of the Olympic rowing competition in both 1908 and 1948, when London hosted the OLYMPIC GAMES. Prince Albert became the event's first royal patron in 1851, and thereafter it was known as the Henley Royal Regatta.

The five-day Regatta's many events include races for eight-oared, four-oared, and pair-oared boats as well as sculling races for quadruple, double, and single sculls. The course takes six to seven minutes to row, and there are often two races taking place simultaneously. During the early part of the Regatta, when as many as 100 elimination heats are held each day, officials start the races at intervals of precisely five minutes-whether or not all the competitors are ready. In fact, there's a popular saying that "If your watch says five minutes past the hour and there is no race starting at Henley, you'd better reset your watch."

The Henley Royal Regatta has been described as "the last bastion of Edwardian England," and it's true that the event has preserved many of the gentlemanly traditions of amateur athletic contests. It is not only a world class rowing competition for oarsmen from over a dozen countries and more than 400 crews, but a huge lawn party attended by nearly half a million spectators. The center of social activity during Regatta week is the STEWARDS ' ENCLOSURE , a private spectators' area located near the end of the course. But parties also take place in tents called "chalets" set up along the banks of the river, as well as in the parking lot, where people serve elaborate buffet meals from their cars. The men traditionally dress in straw hats and rowing blazers and neckties, whose colors indicate what school, college, or club they once rowed for. The women put on their finest summer dresses and hats; short skirts, culottes, or slacks of any kind are forbidden. The racing pauses twice each day, for lunch and at 4:00 p.m. for afternoon tea.

After allowing only male oarsmen to compete for 154 years, an open women's event was introduced in 1993. The so-called "Women's Henley," held annually a few weeks before the Royal Regatta, has grown rapidly in popularity.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Conservation

The Henley Royal Regatta has for many years been involved in conservation efforts along the Thames. The group plants trees in an area that has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, upstream on the Buckinghamshire bank. There is no sign of the Regatta's presence in the area from September through March, as all of its land and river installations are erected only during racing season and taken down for the remainder of the year.

Grand Challenge Cup

The most prestigious award of the regatta is called the Grand Challenge Cup, and it is given to the best of the crews in eight-oared boats. Americans have competed at Henley for many years, but their presence was especially strong in 1985, when the crew from Harvard beat Princeton for the Grand Challenge Cup.

Nearly two-and-a-half feet tall, the Cup is the most famous trophy in the sport of rowing. It dates all the way back to the first Henley Regatta in 1839, although new bases were added in 1896 and 1954 to accommodate more winners' names. By 1964 the old cup had become fragile, so the 1914 Harvard crew gave the Regatta a reproduction of the original Grand Challenge Cup.

Pimm's Cup No. 1

Just as mint juleps are associated with the KENTUCKY DERBY, Pimm's Cup No. 1 is the traditional drink of the Henley Royal Regatta. It is an amber-colored, ginbased mixture of liqueurs, herbs, and citrus extracts invented in 1840 by James Pimm, the owner of a London oyster bar. Regatta-goers consume huge quantities of the tangy-sweet drink, which is often garnished with lemon, cucumber, and mint.

Stewards' Enclosure

Situated near the end of the course on the Berkshire side of the Thames, the grassy lawns of the so-called Stewards' Enclosure are accessible only through closely guarded checkpoints. It is only open to 6,500 members and their guests, and there is a waiting list of over 1,100 for membership. All of the members are men who are either connected with or interested in the sport of rowing, and preference is given to rowers who have competed at Henley in the past.

It is the Henley Stewards who organize, supervise, and manage the Regatta. They are appointed for life, and each one receives a solid silver badge in the shape of the Regatta's crest.

FURTHER READING

Deitz, Paula. "At Henley, Fast Boats and Straw Boaters." New York Times, June 28, 1987, Section 10, p. 19. Kimbell, Lucy. "Boys and Boats-Oh, and Ladies, Too." New Statesman & Society, July 9, 1993, p. 12. Lambert, Craig. "Sporting Spectacle, Sartorial Splendor." Town & Country Monthly, April 1988, p. 190. Stewart, Lane. "Glory Glory Henleylujah." Sports Illustrated, July 5, 1982, p. 36.

WEB SITE

www.hrr.co.uk

Henley Royal Regatta

Five days in early July
The international rowing competition known as the Henley Regatta was first held in 1839. The long, straight, nearly two-mile stretch of the Thames River about 35 miles west of London made Henley an ideal location for oarsmen to compete—in fact, it was the site of the Olympic rowing competition in both 1908 and 1948, when London hosted the Olympic Games. The races became known as "royal" in 1851, when Prince Albert became the first member of the royal family to patronize the event.
The five-day Regatta's many events include races for eight-oared, four-oared, and pair-oared boats as well as sculling races for quadruple, double, and single sculls. The course takes six to seven minutes to row, and there are often two races taking place simultaneously. Although only male oarsmen were allowed to compete for 154 years, an open women's event was introduced in 1993. The so-called "Women's Henley," held annually a few weeks before the Royal Regatta, has grown rapidly in popularity.
In addition to being a world-class rowing competition for oarsmen from a dozen countries and more than 60 colleges and universities, the Henley Royal Regatta is also a huge lawn party attended by nearly half a million spectators. The hub of social interaction during Regatta week is the Stewards' Enclosure, an exclusive spectators' area located near the end of the course. Parties also take place in tents called "chalets," set up along the banks of the river, as well as in the parking lot, where people serve impressive meals from their cars.
The men traditionally dress in straw hats and rowing blazers and neckties, whose colors indicate what school, college, or club they once rowed for. The women put on their finest summer dresses and hats; short skirts, culottes, or slacks of any kind are forbidden.
CONTACTS:
Henley Royal Regatta
Henley-on-Thames
Oxfordshire, RG9 2LY United Kingdom
44-14-9157-2153; fax: 44-14-9157-5509
www.hrr.co.uk
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