Henley Women’s Regatta: a brief history

During the early 1960s, the number of serious oarswomen in England probably numbered less than 1,000. Today, according to British Rowing estimates, women now account for more than 45 per cent of the country’s active registered rowers. Various reasons can be cited for this remarkable increase, but a considerable part can be attributed to British Rowing (then the Amateur Rowing Association) taking full responsibility for women’s rowing in 1968 and providing increasing financial support for their international efforts.

As the number of women rowers continued to increase during the 1980s, so did the standard of competition. During the National Championships of 1987, the women’s national coach, Rosie Mayglothling (who, as Rosie Clugston, had won the Invitation Double Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta in 1982 with her partner, Astrid Ayling), suggested that the women should organise their own regatta on the Henley reach, preferably on a day shortly before the Henley Royal Regatta, so that college crews would be able to take part.

The enthusiasm and support for a women’s regatta built at the World Championships in Copenhagen later that year and at subsequent meetings. But the approval of Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta was necessary. Whilst they do not own the water, they do own most of the land each side of the course, as well as all the installations, so their support was vital. Due to the persistence of Mayglothing and Christine Aistrop (the first chairman of the proposed event), permission was given for a women’s regatta to be held on the Royal Regatta course in June 1988.

It was made clear from the outset that Henley Women’s Regatta (HWR) could not use the HRR enclosures or boat tents due to construction work. HWR was to be held two weeks before the Royal and, should bad weather delay the timetable for the regatta installations (as had happened in the past), the course would not be available.

In order to make Remenham Farm (now known as Temple Island Meadows) the focal point of the regatta, the HWR committee decided to reverse the direction of the course. The inaugural regatta was to be rowed over a 2,000m course from the Henley Royal finish, down to the upstream end of Temple Island. Once this decision was made, the Stewards allowed HWR the use of certain facilities at the regatta finish, including the floating stand, for aligning and starting purposes, and a raft for the boating area.

Since that first Henley Women’s Regatta in June 1988, many aspects of the event have changed as the sport of women’s rowing has matured: the direction of the course, the number and size of the races, the participation of international crews, qualification rules, etc. The regatta continues to grow, as does the level of competition. Perhaps the most significant addition since 2016 is that of live video streaming, so that rowing enthusiasts around the world can enjoy the racing in real time. As we continue to develop, we salute the efforts of those over the past three decades who have made this all-volunteer annual event a true success.