Henley Royal Regatta 2011
6th July 2011
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Henley Royal Regatta 2011

I  cannot quite believe how quickly the year is passing by.  This week Henley Royal Regatta started on Wednesday, and culminates on Sunday with Finals Day.   All sorts of people descend on the town, from rowing enthusiasts such as myself, guests of corporate hostility, I mean hospitality, and members of the public curious to see what the sporting activity is, head down for old Mother Thames at Henley. Thousands of people will sit by the river bank and watch race after race hurtle past, everything from 8’s, 4’s double sculls and single sculls. The standard of rowing is superb, and unlike the Olympics, you can just turn up, bag yourself a space on the river bank and watch without having to buy a ticket. It’s a great British tradition.

I have to admit, I am a keen veteran oarsman, (a veteran being anyone rowing over the age of 30), rowing for a provincial club at Evesham, which was founded in 1863 and if I am also honest, as for last year’s article, the link to housing is only going to be tenuous, but why not, a change is as good as a rest, and even a temporary structure is a building, from a surveying point of view.

From a historical point of view, Henley Royal Regatta was first held in 1839, on a single afternoon. It proved to be so popular that by the following year, the regatta was held over four days.  Today, there are so many oarsmen wanting to row, there are qualifying races held the week before and since 1986, the regatta has been extended to five days. The event also boasts Royal patronage, the most recent of these being HRH The Duke of Gloucester, who visited in 2004.  The length of the racecourse is 1 mile 550 yards, which is 112 metres longer than the standard international distance of 2,000 metres and rare for a river, the course is straight.  It is possible to see the whole course from the top of the Church tower in the centre of Henley.

From a political standpoint, Henley is very much a barometer of economic activity, and I have to admit that the level of activity was very similar to last year, again highlighting the continuing effects of the credit crunch. A pint of Pimms costs still costs between £8.00 and £9.00 and this pricing policy did have a definite effect on sobriety. Suddenly a pint of beer starts to look very attractive. The number of corporate tents present were also very similar to last year, many people still regard being seen spending money on corporate hospitality as being no longer de rigeur.

From a building point of view, preparation starts many months before the event.  There is a stewards enclosure to be built, a large tented boat house for the competitors to use, temporary changing facilities, visitors’ toilets, bar and restaurant areas and seating grandstands from which visitors can watch the racing. The standard of facilities are as good as one would find in any permanent building. One would hardly know one was in a tent, when sitting down to lunch.

On the river, wooden barriers are erected for the full length of the course. To cut the wash entering the course from passing motor cruisers and along the various measured points, there are little two person stands built on wooden piles, so that course judges can relay the various positions for each crew using markers on pullies, as the race proceeds down the course. 

The Stewards’ enclosure is almost a little town in it’s own right, it even has its own bandstand, where the band of the Coldstream guards plays various pieces of music throughout the course of the regatta.  It has a series of restaurants, bars, a shop and marquee used for displaying the trophies, the enclosure is used to host one of the largest garden parties in England and the rowing, well it can best be described as being exceptional, a joy to watch.
Over the years, the regatta has had a profound effect on the town’s development. There is a rowing museum, a regatta headquarters and Temple Island, which also brought and renovated by the Stewards in 1987.  The temple itself was designed by James Wyatt in 1771 and is famous for its wall paintings in the main room, which have been restored back to their original splendour over the last two decades.

Henley on Thames town is a traditional town both in layout and design, with a population of about 10,000 people.  It is a riverside market town, the market dating back to 1269 when it was granted a charter by King John.  The town is a road crossing point on the river Thames, the Henley Bridge being a five-arched bridge, which was built in 1786. Amazingly it still survives the daily onslaught from modern traffic, bearing witness to the construction skills of early bridge makers. The town’s church dates back to the 16th century and there are a number of notable private buildings in the town. One of them is Fawley Court, a red brick building designed by Sir Christopher Wren, another being Greenlands, which was converted into its present form under the ownership of W H Smith.

For me however, the magic of Henley is the town centre atmosphere, particularly in the market place during the regatta.  There is such a cosmopolitan mix of people that come from all over the world.  Many are there as spectators of the most gracious sport of rowing, others are just tourists passing through as they “do” England, a quick stop before calling into Oxford and Stratford-Upon-Avon.  There is also a substantial smattering of locals just getting on with life and the whole lot mixes together to form one great cacophony of sound and a colourful sight of traditional dress, where men still have to wear blazers, even in the mid-day sun. On one year, they were however allowed to remove them during the day as a concession to the heat. Women have to wear dresses over the shoulder and below the knee. It makes one feel proud to be British, part of a fabric of society, which doesn’t change with time.

As for the tented village, unlike domestic dwellings at the end of the regatta season, the tents are dismantled and the stands put away. The site is returned to a pleasant riverside lawn, ready and waiting for the next year. Even if you know nothing about rowing, the town is definitely worth a visit and if you can spare time to watch some of the rowing, you cannot fail to be impressed by the standard of human endeavour attained by these athletes.

As for property prices, well they are London based. A two-bedroom flat will cost in the order of £165,000, a detached six-bedroom house situated in its own grounds will be upwards of £3,500,000.  A substantial riverside house with rolling lawns down to the river will almost be priceless. A funny thought though, they are nearly all built with brick, block and wood, just like the houses are around here.  It’s just the location, which is more valuable, if you count being close to London important.

Original Blog by Tony Rowland

Timothy Lea and Griffiths Ltd - Estate Agents and chartered surveyors


About the Author

Alan J

Member since: 10th July 2012

Whilst running The Best of Evesham I am also locally focussed on doing what I can for the local community in profiling what is going on.A prolific user of Social Media-We offer Social Media Management...

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