Friday 3 July 2009

Henley Royal Regatta

Where do you go if you want to faint in front of the Queen Mother? That is right, it is exactly what I did on a hot summer’s day, similar to yesterday’s heat, in 1966, when I was lucky enough to be included along with my father, in the party organised by my uncle, to attend Henley, who was a member of the prestigious Leander Club. 1877 painting by James Tissot, showing the Old Course

It was a pretty special occasion for me, an opportunity to experience one of the most prestigious unique summer events from the luxury of one of the oldest Rowing Clubs, rather than revel with the youngsters up and down the river banks. To sample the high life!
Leander Club

Both my father and uncle rowed, and we had my father’s Worcester College, Oxford’s oar hanging in the dining room at home, duly inscribed with the names of the eight rowers on the pink blade. Because of the war he never had the opportunity to compete at Henley.

Worcester College's Oar Blade

Rowing races had been held upstream in London since the early 1700s, then came the establishment of the Boat Race in 1829, while the Regatta formally moved from London upstream to Henley-on-Thames being first staged there in 1839.

Leander was founded on the tideway in 1818 or 1819 by a few members and was in full swing by 1825 and by 1830 was looked upon as a well-known and long-established boat club. In its early days, Leander was as much a social association as a competitive club and it was steered by a waterman. It was the first club to support young watermen and instituted a coat and badge for scullers.

The Regatta has been known as Henley Royal Regatta since 1851, when Prince Albert became the first royal patron and since his death every reigning monarch has continued that patronage.

The Regatta’s popularity has continued to grow: to three days in 1886, 4 days in 1906 and five days in 1986 and now is a five day event ending on the first weekend in July. Races are head-to-head knock out competitions, raced over a course of 1 mile 550 yards (2,112m) (just under a third of the Boat Race course length). International crews now regularly participate as do women’s teams.
The most prestigious event at the regatta is the Grand Challenge Cup for Men’s Eights, which has been awarded since the regatta was first staged. A complete range of 19 events is contested: with various classes for the different boats of eights, coxed and coxless fours, coxless pairs, quadruple sculls, double and single sculls.

Olympic rowers cut their teeth on the course with two of the most well known British oarsmen being Sir Steve Redgrave (5 Olympic Golds) and Sir Matthew Pinsent (3 Olympic Golds),who are both members of Leander Club.
Courtesy The Guardian; photograph David Levene: Race officials use their stopwatches to great effect

Pierre de Coubertin modelled elements of the organisation of the International Olympic Committee on the Henley Stewards, a self-electing body from Leander Club, from whom a Committee of Management is elected annually, which is responsible for all the planning and detailed organisation of the Regatta. The Stewards’ practical application of their knowledge of the sport to the actual running of the Regatta undoubtedly makes a great contribution to its success.

Rowing at the 1908 and the 1948 British Olympic Games was held at Henley on both occasions; the 2012 competition will be held at Dorney Lakes, downstream near Eton.
Courtesy The Guardian; photograph David Levene: "Maybe deck shoes would be more appropriate for this weather?"

This year the Chinese are also here for the first time; surprising the spectators as a whole boatload of Chinese go paddling by in practice, or the Chinese themselves encountering the arcane traditions of this typically English event.

These traditions will be portrayed in a new film series on the English Country Set, as appropriately enough David Hasselhoff , the star, has been using Henley Royal Regatta as a backdrop for some of the scenes and setting.

While he was filming he asked for an outing in an eight; he was put in the stroke position, and given a turn up the river. He commented: “It’s probably the best exercise you could do for your entire body – it’s a kind of Zen thing; you either get into it or you get killed!” As reported in The Times via an interview with the Regatta Radio.

Hasselhoff’s comment probably best sums up the competition, while the picture of the knees portrays our English traditions to a T and fortunately we do not have a picture on one well dressed young lady in 1966 lying prone in front of the Queen Mother as she walked across the lawns to watch the racing!

Leander Eight at the winning post
Dear Mr Postman .. I was able to read some of the letters to my mother yesterday and she loved them and was able to smile and laugh a little - they open up her eyes and thoughts to other ideas to think about. Since her stay in hospital she's not so inclined to talk to herself as she used to .. that's sad. She's asked me let her know about Real Tennis and decided she'd like a poster with a castle on it - that can sit above her bed for her to 'dream into' .. we're thinking about Windsor, or The Tower, or the new Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth, or the magnificent garden at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland .. lots to ponder about

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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positively present said...

Wow, this sounds like a very special occasion. I love learning more about different cultures (as you're probably doing when you visit Hope Springs Internal) and it's great to get such detailed, interesting information here. Thanks for taking the time to put your experiences and thoughts out into the world.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dani .. it is a very special occasion .. these traditional days that have remained over the years once started.

Me too - I love learning .. and gathering ideas and information from other friends .. & your blog Hope Springs Eternal does just that .. opens my eyes to the young!

Glad you enjoyed the story post and some of my memories .. it's the kind of thing that stays with you from youth ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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It's been a long time since I enjoyed rowing. You have a pretty fund experience there! :-) such a fun fun day

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jocelyn .. yes it was a lovely day .. as children we learnt to row on Lake Windemere in the Lake District ..that was fun - like Swallows and Amazon ..

Thanks for visiting
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Believe Achieve - Hugo and Roxanne said...

Hi Hilary,

I always watch the rowing events during the Olympics but never knew of it's traditions. It's great to learn them from you.
You have such wonderful memories to share and we always enjoy reading about them. I know you're Ma does, too.

Hope you're having a great weekend!

Many Blessings....
Roxanne and Hugo
Believe Achieve

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hugo and Roxanne .. thanks for that .. yes I do too - particularly as we seem to be relatively strong at the sport - & it's good to have British winners!

Yes - Mum loves hearing about the eclectic mix of stories I bring up .. and it's good to remember the old days with her.

You too - have a great 4th of July ..& long weekend .. all the very best ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

How exciting to be there watching and enjoying it all. Such a fun time for all. Thank you again for teaching us more about this great sport of rowing. Keep the memories coming. We enjoy them. Have a great day.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. thanks .. yes it was a lovely time when I managed to do quite a few things that you don't do when you're older!!

Thank you for commenting and enjoying the memories or stories - you too have a good week ...
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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