General Royal Regatta page


1880: The Grand was won by Leander Club in 7:03
The Diamonds was again won by J. Lowndes (Derby) in 9:10

1881: The Grand was won by London R.C. in 7:23
The Diamonds was again won by J. Lowndes (Derby) in 9:28
R C Lehmann in his book "The Complete Oarsman" writes of the Grand Challenge Cup in 1881 -

London Win the Grand Challenge Cup in 1881

Since 1877, when they had last won the Grand, London had suffered a certain amount of eclipse. Thames, Jesus (Cambridge), and Leander had won this great event in the three following years.

In 1881 London flamed up again and placed to their credit one of the most notable successes ever achieved over the Henley course. They had lost nearly all the great oars who had made them famous in the past. F. S. Gulston, A. de L. Long, and S. le B. Smith were no longer rowing for them, but they still retained the services of F. L. Playford, nephew of that H. H. Playford who had stroked their first winning crew in 1857.

F. L. Playford had won the Wingfield Sculls five times in succession, from 1875-1879, when he had resigned. He had won the Diamonds in 1876, had stroked the winning Grand crew in 1877, and the winning Stewards' Fours in 1876-77-78. He was one of the most magnificent oars ever seen in a boat, powerful in his work, beautifully smooth in his style, and gifted with a wonderful judgment both of pace and of opportunity in a race. He was again stroke of the London Eight in 1881, with a crew of comparative novices behind him. They had, however, worked very hard, had been trained into the most perfect condition, and were capable of rowing a very fast stroke with complete ease to themselves.

The entry for the Grand in this year was of very high quality. Leander, who had won in the previous year, were again represented by a very powerful crew of six Oxonians and two Cantabs, with L. R. West at stroke and T. C. Edwards- Moss at No. 7. Hertford College had brought their Head of the River crew from Oxford, with G. Q. Roberts, E. Buck, D. E. Brown, Jefferson Lowndes, and G. S. Fort included in it, a very strong combination for a College crew.

In the final heat of the Grand these three crews were left to compete against one another. Hertford had the Berks, station, Leander the centre, and London the Bucks. London were reputed to be the fastest of the three, but very few supposed that, with the handicap of the station against them, they could possibly win the race. All three started at a great pace, and it was soon seen that Leander, at any rate, were faster than Hertford. They led out, and as they neared the White House they were able to come over and take the inside water ahead of Hertford They now had the full advantage of the comer to the finish, and it seemed as if nothing could prevent them from winning.

London, however, made a splendid effort. They picked the stroke up and came sailing round from their outside station as if they had a gale of wind behind them. Steadily they drew ahead of Leander, whose condition was not all that it ought to have been.

The rowing of Edwards-Moss at this moment was magnificent, but Play- ford in the London crew was not to be denied. His boat had the longer distance to travel, but she was now moving much faster. In less than half a minute he had drawn his men well ahead, and with a final spurt, admirably taken up, he landed them winners by a bare length.

1881: George Leslie in his book " Our River " (link to full text and drawings) has a description of the Henley Regatta in his day.  Some people would say little has changed - all the elements of the modern regatta are there - the major changes are:
that the course is now boomed for reasons that were quite apparent in Leslie's day;
the Old Course (1839-1889) ran from the Berkshire side of the top of Temple Island to near Henley Bridge.  Without booms it must have produced drama, not to say chaos, near the finish.
The New Course was used from 1886 onwards (and straightened in 1924).  It was moved downstream with the start on the Buckinghamshire side just below Temple Island (ie the other side of Temple island from the modern start) and the finish not nearly so close to Henley Bridge.  This is fairer to the competitors - 
At the same time the number of competitors in each race was reduced to two;
more entrants to each competition mean that the regatta has expanded from two days to five;
the description of the races, particularly the sculling, makes one realise that the Victorian oarsmen were not quite athletes in the modern sense - more heroic maybe - but less well trained;
[ This is where all our modern problems with drawing the line at drugs in sport spring from - The in the earliest years (say 1820-40) the original competition was between gentlemen who had no idea of preparing for the race.
But then a sneaky idea occurred to some - There was a legal way to obtain an advantage over other competitors - you could "train" and get away with it! Initially it was thought to be a little underhand; it was the sort of thing lower class paid boatmen might do - but gentlemen were amateurs and gentlemen would not stoop so low.
But by the time of Argonaut's "Rowing and Training" 1866 very definite (alarmingly so!) ideas of training had been imported from Prize Fighting and Racehorse training. The advantage obtained was so overwhelming that it began to spread. Indeed that spread has now almost reached some Oxbridge College boatclubs! [Tongue firmly in cheek!]
In both Oxford and Cambridge the river battle between "the Gentlemen" and the "athletes" has been long drawn out - and the inevitable triumph of the "athletes" is not necessarily all for the best for your average enthusiastic but not particularly high achieving club oarsperson.
But how does this relate to drugs? - well if tactics, even devious tactics such as "training" can be employed - then how is the line to be drawn against other forms of winning stategies? It is important that it is - everyone with sense knows that - but on what basis?
there are less spectators on manually propelled boats, but there have been quite enough on mechanically propelled boats to produce river traffic jams at modern regattas. 
Enormous crowds now come by car and train.

TO MOST people of the present day, the name of Henley is familiar, chiefly in connection with the annual Regattas.
These boat-races have to my mind one charm which does not appertain to horse racing; it is the feeling of certainty that the contests are genuine, the class to which the competitors belong, gua­ranteeing the entire absence of complicity or underhand knavery. The Henley Regattas more closely resemble than anything else in modern times, the old Olympian and Isthmian games of the classic ages, or the jousts and tournaments of the days of chivalry. The very pick of the best-bred young men in England here manfully compete over a mile and a quarter, for the coveted and honourable prize. The spectators are more select and respectable than those who frequent the turf. At Henley there is no betting ring, no book-makers with their depraved features and yelling noise; ladies and gentlemen are the rule there, and not the exceptions. The young athletes strive before their friends’, relations’, or it may be their sweethearts’ eyes; their college chums or boating friends rush along the bank, and cheer and urge them on. Glory and honour are there the well-merited prizes for pluck and endurance. There is such a genuine ring in the cheers which greet the visitors, that one is not astonished to find that it has reached across the Atlantic, finding in the hearts that dwell in the Far West an echo, which more than once has stirred them up to cross the ocean, to contest the prize with their English cousins. …
Much as the railway been abused for spoiling the country, in this case I am sure it has to be thanked for the orderliness and refinement which it brought to the river side, rendering Henley on Regatta day a place of all others at which ladies may safely appear, and adorn the gay scene with their fair faces and pretty toilets.
The week before the races begin, Henley seems to wake up from its usual apathy; along the high roads boats on carts are seen continually arriving; various crews take up their quarters about the town, their respective flags hanging out from the upper windows.
On the bridge from morn till night a constant string of idlers and rowing men of the Grand Stand are brought out and solemnly fixed in their places. There is nothing very grand about this stand, for it is not unlike a large, broad, “Punch and Judy” box.
On the day before the race, the scene becomes still more animated; a line of empty carriages is formed across the bridge on the side overlooking the course; a few gipsies, with Aunt Sallies and knock-em-downs, come wandering up, whilst boats and boatmen from all parts of the river, gradually fill every available landing-place along the quays between the bridge and the railway-station Wherever camping is allowed, small tents are seen, with their picturesque inhabitants busy in cooking, and making themselves at home. Great house-boats and steam launches, one after another, are taking up their positions along the appointed line, which, gay with bunting, already stretches down towards Phillis Court. There are also numbers of small boats and punts with awnings rigged up in them, beneath which parties of two or three make themselves independent of lodgings in the town. The occupants of these boats, and the campers generally, affect picturesque and rather outlandish costumes. Frequently at this time, two or three of them are met with, on foraging expeditions up the town, carrying great stone jugs for beer, or baskets of potatoes and meat.
The bathing-place in the morning is crowded, and, indeed, the variety of costumes and characters that throng the tow­path, the bridge, and the streets, are quite peculiar to Henley at Regatta time.
Early in the morning of the first day’s racing, the bells of the old church ring out in the most cheering way; boats arrive in numbers from both up and down the river. The very early trains bring down a large mixture of itinerant fruitsellers, African Gentlemen [ not quite what Leslie wrote ], organ-grinders, boatmen, and general riff-raff, along with some of the more eager and interested of the spectators. The later trains are reserved for the elite; at Paddington the crowd on the platform, for these trains, is never a disagreeable or formidable one to mix in; the trains are well-managed, run frequently, and if only the sun shines, all are smiling and happy. From the windows of the train, as it passes over the bridge at Shiplake, you may catch sight of numerous boat-loads, wending their way along down stream, and sometimes of one of those huge barges from Reading, with crowds of people standing on the deck.
[ See Marsh Lock for Leslie's account of Marsh Lock on Regatta day ]
… the lock below at Hambleden is also very crowded on the mornings of the boat-races, but as it is entered against the stream, getting in and out of it is a far less difficult matter.
Not the least of the pleasures of the Regatta day, to a regular frequenter of the river, are the numerous nods and greetings which are received from old river-side friends and acquaintances of every sort. About ten o’clock a large waggon­ette, carrying the Eton boys, passes along, the road in front of my mother’s cottage; they all look very serious, and as old and manly as they possibly can. Racing ships and outriggers are now being lifted about carefully down by the boat-houses; the various colours of the different rowing-clubs assume large and distinct masses, as the birds of a feather flock together, and form into knots of uniformity.
Mr. Lord, on a paddle-wheel steamer belonging to the Thames Conservancy, is now seen busy in putting things to rights; seeing that the various large craft are moored in their proper line, and some­times towing obstructive barges right up through the bridge, far off out of harm’s way; indeed, throughout the day, Mr. Lord has a very hard time of it, and I believe few are aware how much of the comfort and orderliness of the Regattas are due to his skill, energy, and good temper.
The umpire’s boat is seen getting up steam - a long, rakish-looking craft, with no cabins or railings about it; a boat of reputed fabulous speed, since celebrated in connection with the sad disaster at Shepperton.


The Umpire's Launches Leslie could be referring to are:
1877-1879: Three Des Vignes launches, used at each regatta and then sold.
1880: WRAITH, Des Vignes

[ The sad disaster was an accident in the dark when a Des Vignes launch struck a rowing boat at Shepperton and Mrs Sarah Bollard was drowned. George Francis Gabriel Desvignes was charged with 'feloniously killing and slaying'. The verdict after a considerable amount of evidence was 'not guilty'.
The Old Bailey trial on 23rd November 1880 is online The launch concerned was WOLVERINE which may have been used as a Royal Regatta Umpire's launch

Henley Royal Regatta in the 1880s
Henley Royal Regatta in the 1880s
with the Umpire's Steam Launch Eupatira, built by Des Vignes.

The umpire’s boat is not popular with the floating spectators, partly on account of the rocking about they get from its swell, and partly on account of its taking, throughout the day, various parties of ladies and gentlemen as passengers. To this latter practice I most strongly object. I do not know whether any charge is made for the trip, but even if the passage is free, there is great want of taste about thus crowding a boat which at best, is only tolerated as a necessary evil, and in which none but the umpire and some Press representatives ought to be allowed to accompany the engine-driver and steerer.

[ I was a passenger in the Umpire’s Launch, following my old college to ignominious defeat at the hands of the Irish, early one Thursday morning in 1988?  You are uniquely placed to see the Umpire’s back and an occasional oar tip.  Vociferous supporting is not encouraged. But I’m glad I did it once. ]

The river gradually gets covered with boats in every direction. Train after train arrives, and happy crowds come streaming along in front of River Terrace down to the boats, or off in search of the friends they expect to meet. Fortunate are those who find their boats or friends safely at the appointed place, and many are the anxious people seen searching in vain, surrounded and harassed by the speculative boatmen who have brought up for the occasion every sort of thing with oars that will float, which are to be hired for fabulous sums.


Henley Regatta, 1912
Henley Regatta, 1912, Postcard


The crowd about the “Lion” and on the bridge now gets very dense. Boats on the water are scattered about in apparently hopeless confusion, and presently the crew of an eight is seen to embark for the first heat of the Grand Challenge. They are slowly turned above the bridge, and paddling down through the arches they pass on, picking their way along the course, with frequent stops, to the starting point. They are very quickly followed by their antagonists, and the umpire’s boat with warning whistle steams slowly down to the island; but still the crowd of floating spectators seems in hopeless confusion. The Conservancy men, with red flags in their boats, go to work in earnest, whilst gradually the floating masses sort themselves together, and to range alongside of the moored house-boats and launches.

Towing Guard Boats up Henley Reach

Still, as each train arrives, or as a fresh batch of boats escapes through Marsh Lock, more and more happy boatfuls come straggling down on to the course, when bang goes the gun for the start, and with redoubled energy the Conservancy men row up the stream, clearing the water as they go, and gradually driving, like sheep dogs, the straying herds of boats towards the Oxford shore.
Nothing much is seen of the two eights at first; the umpire’s steamer and the thick bunch of runners along the tow-path alone indicate their whereabouts. But in the meantime all sorts of opinions are freely given as to the probable results of the race; how it is a certainty for one on account of the station, or else that the shelter of the willows which favours the Bucks side, will more than compensate for the advantages of the other shore, and in consequence we shall see a “rattling good race.”
Those of the spectators who have field-glasses begin very soon to declare which boat is leading, but much reliance can seldom be placed on these remarks, as it is impossible with three-quarters of a mile of foreshortening perspective, to judge correctly of a few yards’ lead. It is not long, however, before the shouts from the runners on the banks grow more and more audible, and are taken up by the spectators in the boats on the other side; in a few seconds more two long lines of straining bodies dart past, the boats themselves seeming to lift and bound at each stroke in regular cadence.
The race is generally pretty well decided as Phillis Court is passed, as anything like a lead here is seldom again lost. Amidst the roar of cheers and the swell from the umpire’s boat the sound of the band is heard playing the well-known air, and the first heat is lost and won.
Directly the racing boats have passed, the course is rapidly covered again by boats of every description: there are gigs, skiffs, wherries, stout oak sailing-boats, canoes and punts; there are boats manned or “girled” by fancy crews, sometimes con­sisting of four pretty little girls in blue sailor dresses, or a set of boys, double-banked, in man-of-war costume. Fashion in the matter of hats alters every year; at the last Regatta Basque bonnets of every colour were much in vogue. There was also a sort of gondola, with a real Italian in sailor costume, who managed his oar beautifully, and kept the boat going gracefully amongst the crowd.

Gondola at Henley Regatta, Henry Taunt -

Gondola at Henley Regatta, Henry Taunt, 1890
Gondola at Henley Regatta, Henry Taunt, 1890
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT12945

[ There has always been at least one gondola spectating at recent regattas. ]

Gondola by Phyllis Court at Henley Royal Regatta, 2003
Gondola by Phyllis Court at Henley Royal Regatta, 2003]

City Barge, Oxford specialise in Venetian Rowing.
George Leslie continues -

A large family boat, with Paterfamilias and hampers in the stern, and young Hopeful in the bows with a hitcher, generally forms the centre of one of the tangled floating clusters which are perpetually seen throughout the day. On every side the cry is “Look ahead, sir.” Speed of any sort is quite impossible, and the perpetual shipping and unshipping of oars must be very irksome and aggravating.
Here my dear old punt comes out finely; she can be gently poled along either backwards or forwards, standing at the head or stern, Oxford fashion
[ i.e.  not "Run" as was Leslie's normal style, but "pricked" from a stationary position ]
and thus steered with the minutest accuracy: if you wish to pass quickly up or down the course it is best to slip between the line of moored launches, as behind them the water is comparatively clear from obstructives.
People in rowing boats, as a rule, are rather inclined to take affront at being passed by a punt, whilst they themselves are drifting helplessly with unshipped oars; but if you are careful not to bump them, they can do little but scowl at you as you pass. Some allowance, too, must be made for their feelings, as the perpetual fouling they encounter, cannot fail to affect the tempers of even the most amiable. Later on in the day, when they have become more accustomed to the process, and have had their luncheons, they get more disposed to take the little annoyances with good nature.
Many floating parties take up permanent stations alongside a friendly house-boat or launch, and great numbers find their way down to the willow-fringed meadows of Fawley, where, if the day is fine, at two o’clock may be seen one long string of confluent picnics, a little harassed by the haymakers, photo­graphers, gipsies, &c., but otherwise as happy and lively as possible. Hospitality is so great on these days, that with me the only difficulty is to avoid the certain after-headache which results from partaking too  frequently or too freely of the cups and drinks of all sorts which are offered you by everyone. House-boats are particularly convenient at the Regatta; they accommodate a large party, and afford a sense of security from the rain, which on one of the days is a well-known proverbial certainty. No place can be better than the roof of a house-boat for seeing the racing from, and with a good lunch below, a pleasant party, and a boat or two in which to move about occasionally, in my opinion the houseboat affords quite the best means of enjoying the day to perfection. A steam-launch is not quite as convenient, but of course it has the advantage of being able to move off and return home quickly in the evening. I do not object to plenty of these launches at the Regatta, as they are not then either smoking or raising swell. Their size and variety in the long line of moored craft form, too, a very important feature in the composition of the whole scene from an artistic point of view.
… Lunch being over, people resume their programmes, and the races are again regarded with interest-the heats for the diamond sculls, in which there is generally rather more personal interest felt attracting great attention. The speed in these contests seems of course comparatively slow after the eights and fours, the competitors usually straggling up one after another in rather erratic courses, the men by the time the dreaded poplar corner is reached often appearing much exhausted. The whole way along they are shouted at, and cheered on, in a much more personal fashion than in the other races; each is addressed by name, and every variety of advice and encouragement is bestowed on them by their respective friends and admirers. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon the crowd on the water is at its extreme height; …
If tired of stopping in one place, it is amusing at times to punt up to the bridge to see the crowds, to hear the band play, and view the Grand Stand with its patient occupants seated in demure rows. At one corner of the Stand, on a red cloth, are displayed the large silver goblets and cups which are distributed to the victors at the close of the second day.


Henley Regatta, Walter Field
Henley Regatta, Walter Field


It is next to impossible to distinguish a friend on the shore when you yourself are afloat, and I am constantly being told after the Regatta that I was seen and hailed by friends on the bank of whose presence I was utterly unaware; it is, therefore, as well now and then to land and go a little around among the carriages on the bridge, by the Stand, or down the tow-path. This latter place is never pleasant to me on account of the smell of the turf, especially if it has rained at all;  grass under a crowd on a hot damp day gives out an odour which mixes very unpleasantly with the various smells of the crowd itself, and which seems to haunt your nose for a day or two after.…
In consequence of the great number of trial heats, the racing on the first day is seldom over till late in the evening; some time however before the last one or two heats, people from town begin to leave the river, and there is a pretty steady stream to the railway going on all the time, from five till eight or nine o’clock. The town on the evening of the first day is quiet enough, at least as far as the rowing men are concerned, as they are mostly in strict training, and have to keep quiet for the second and final struggles. The course looks very pretty in the summer twilight; the glimmering lights along the line of moored launches, and boat sleeping parties, together with the broken line of the houses of the old town, the church tower, the bridge, and the trees at Phillis Court, giving the river a wonderfully romantic and beautiful appearance.  The town soon quiets down for the night’s rest, and stirs itself betimes in the morning for the final races. The crews go off along the tow-path in batches for their morning’s swim, and with towels in their hands, are seen returning ready for their breakfasts. As the programme for the second day has much fewer events on it to be decided, the races do not generally commence till one o’clock.


[ Why didn't Jerome use this material in Three Men in a Boat?
He had clearly (from other evidence) read George Leslie's book. In his "Three Men in a Boat" He had set up for it.  Downstream he says it is nearing Henley week - and then suddenly from Hambleden there is no mention of Henley and we find ourselves at Hennerton Backwater.
Maybe time ran out - or maybe he was a little disconcerted by the humour in Leslie's description - who knows?  The comedian needs the straight man to feed him without the least hint of humour - and Leslie has that hint -

"On the bridge from morn till night a constant string of idlers and rowing men of the Grand Stand are brought out and solemnly fixed in their places. There is nothing very grand about this stand, for it is not unlike a large, broad, “Punch and Judy” box." 

What Jerome could have done with that!
Or - maybe he saw there was a whole book here - but then did not get round to writing it? ]
1882: The Grand was won by Exeter College, Oxford in 8:11
The Diamonds was again won by J. Lowndes (Derby) in 11:43

1883: The Grand was won by London R.C. in 7:51
The Diamonds was again won by J. Lowndes (Twickenham R.C.) in 10:02

1884: The Stewards constitution was re-established
The Grand was won by London R.C. in 7:27
The Diamonds was won by W.S. Unwin (Magdalen College, Oxford) in 9:44

1885: The Grand was won by Jesus College, Cambridge in 7:22
The Diamonds was again won by W.S. Unwin (Magdalen College, Oxford) in 9:22

Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1885, showed the old course starting above Temple Island and finishing only a yard or two short of Henley Bridge -

Henley Royal Regatta Course in 1885
Henley Royal Regatta Course in 1885

This, the most important gathering of amateur oarsmen in England, takes place usually about the beginning of July, and almost ranks with Ascot among the favourite fashionable meetings of the season. A grand stand is provided, but the accommodation for visitors is not of the best.
One of the favourite points of view is the "Red Lion" lawn, where, at the conclusion of the regatta on the second day, the prizes are distributed, but by far the most popular resort is the river itself. Indeed, of late years, this has become so much the case, and the river is so inconveniently crowded with steam launches, house boats, skiffs, gigs, punts, dingeys(sic), canoes, and every other conceivable and inconceivable variety of craft, that the racing boats have sometimes the greatest difficulty in threading a way through the crowd.
In this connection some astonishment may be expressed at the supineness of the executive, in regard to the important matter of regulating this annually increasing picnic traffic. As it was years ago, so it seems to be now. The racing boats are always hampered to a more or less inconvenient degree - sometimes even to the point of disaster. No doubt it is extremely difficult to keep the course clear, but certainly much more might be done than at present.
As in the case with all boat races, only a very small part of the struggle can properly be seen, except by the fortunate few in the umpire's boat, or by the enthusiastic friends of the competitors who run up the tow path with the boats.

[ Both at Oxford Bumps and Henley Regatta spectators used to run with the boats - boat speeds have increased now to the point at which it would take an Olympic standard runner to stay with the fastest races. The Grand Challenge Cup record time implies an average over the ground speed of about 13.2 miles per hour. (1 mile 550 yards in 5 minutes 58 seconds) There is always some current to add to this, though of course there could have been a following wind. ]

The course is a little over a mile and a quarter in length, and the races are rowed from [above] Regatta Island [ Temple Island ], just below Remenham, against the stream, to a point opposite the "Red Lion", and just below the bridge.
For the first mile the course is very fair, but the river taking a somewhat sharp turn at what is called Poplar Point [the modern finish], gives a great advantage to the boat with the inside or Berks station. The only chance of equalising the stations is when a very high wind blows from the other bank. Under these circumstances men on the Bucks station have the advantage of being sheltered by the bushes, while their opponents out in the open are struggling with the full force of wind and wave. The lead the Bucks boat is thus enabled to obtain, not infrequently neutralises the effect of the dreaded corner.
Many attempts have been made to improve matters by buoying and by staking out the river with the object of keeping the Berks boat well out in the stream, but hitherto these ingenious arrangements have met with but a very moderate means of success.
It has even been suggested that the race should be started below the island, and that the finish should be at Poplar Point. But as this would disestablish the bridge and the lawn, its adoption is, to say the least of it, doubtful.

[ The new Stewards however, took their courage in both hands and indeed disestablished the bridge and the lawn. Without a fair course the modern regatta could not continue to have the success that it does. But to see what they were tackling see the verse below about the view from the bridge (written as it happens in the very year in which it all changed) ]

1886: The Grand was won by Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 6:53˝
The Diamonds was won by F.I. Pitman (Third Trinity B.C., Cambridge) in 9:05

1886: 'Henley In July', Joseph Ashby-Sterry Listen to 'Henley In July' -

O, COME down to Henley, for London is horrid;
There’s no peace or quiet to sunset from dawn.
The Row is a bore, and the Park is too torrid,
So come down and lounge on the “Red Lion” Lawn !
Then, come down to Henley, no time like the present,
The sunshine is bright, the barometer’s high –
O, come down at once, for Regatta-time’s pleasant,
Thrice pleasant is Henley in laughing July !
Now, gay are the gardens of Fawley and Phyllis,
The Bolney backwaters are shaded from heat;
The rustle of poplars on Remenham Hill is,
Mid breezes ćstival, enchantingly sweet !
When hay-scented meadows with oarsmen are crowded –
Whose bright tinted blazers gay toilettes outvie –
When sunshine is hot and the sky is unclouded,
O, Henley is splendid in lovely July !
Ah me ! what a revel of exquisite colours,
What costumes in pink and in white and in blue,
By smart canoistes and pretty girl-scullers,
Are sported in randan, in skiff, and canoe !
What sun-shaded lasses we see out a-punting,
What fair gondolieres perchance we espy.
And house-boats and launches all blossom and bunting –
O, Henley’s a picture in merry July !
If it rains, as it may, in this climate capricious,
And Beauty is shod in the gruesome galosh;
While each dainty head-dress and toilette delicious
Is shrouded from view in the grim mackintosh !
We’ll flee to the cheery “Athena” for shelter –
The pâté is perfect, the Giesler is dry –
And think while we gaze, undismayed at the “pelter”,
That Henley is joyous in dripping July !
The ancient grey bridge is delightful to moon on,
For ne’er such a spot for the mooner was made;
He’ll spend, to advantage, a whole afternoon on
Its footway, and loll on its quaint balustrade !
For this of all others, the best is of places
To watch the brown rowers pull pantingly by,
To witness the splendour, the shouting, the races,
At Henley Regatta in charming July !
When athletes are weary and hushed is the riot,
When launches have vanished and house-boats are gone,
When Henley once more is delightfully quiet –
‘Tis soothing to muse on the “Red Lion” Lawn !
When the swans hold their own and the sedges scarce shiver –
As sweet summer breezes most tunefully sigh –
Let us laze at the ruddy-faced Inn by the River,
For Henley is restful in dreamy July !


1886: The course was changed to finish at Poplar Point (the modern finish) with a staggered start below Temple Island.
The Field wrote -

The new course, as compared with the old one, will best be understood by reference to the map of the reach, which appears elsewhere.

The change has had only two trials, those of 1886 and 1887, but it may be said that so far rowing clubs which frequent Henley are unanimous in approving of the alteration; and so are all retired oarsmen, whose personal experience of the regatta was under the old regime.

The old course was very one-sided. In the middle third of a mile - on a stormy day - with a stiff wind from W. or S.W., the shelter of the Bucks bushes - especially before house-boats and steam launches multiplied and monopolised the frontage of the Bucks and Oxon shores - used to reverse entirely the advantage otherwise pertaining to the Berks stations. On such a day the Berks station placed most boats hopelessly out of the race, unless they could keep within a length of the Bucks boat till the 'point' was reached - in which case the poplar corner made a pretty counterpoise to the advantage of Bucks shelter, and caused some interesting finishes.

Under the new regime not more than two boats can row in one heat; and as the course is now staked out, and neither competitor can hug the bank, the difference between windward and leeward stations, even when hereafter a gale shall blow, will no longer be so glaring as of old.

The Regatta was extended to three days.
The number competing in each race was reduced from three to two. 

1887: The Grand was won by Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 6:56
The Diamonds was won by J.C. Gardner (Emmanuel College, Cambridge) in 8:51

The Prince and Princess of Wales at Henley Royal Regatta, 1887. The Graphic

R C Lehmann writes of 1887 -

The year 1887, indeed, was a memorable one for Cambridge rowing, and particularly for Trinity Hall. ... They sent two complete eights to Henley. One for the Grand, and the other for the Ladies' Plate and Thames Cup. They also entered a four for the Stewards' and the Visitors'.

The racing for the Grand was close and desperate, for the Oxford Etonians and the Thames Rowing Club had both sent first-rate crews. Trinity Hall won the final, after a very hard race with Thames.

Their second eight won the Ladies' and the Thames.

Their fours won the Stewards' and the Visitors'.

Thus they had all the three races for eights, and the two principal races for fours to their credit.

The three remaining races, too, all fell to Cambridge men. Pembroke College won the Wyfolds; C. T. Barclay and S, D. Muttleby, of Third Trinity, carried off the Goblets in record time (8 min. 15 sec.) and J. C. Gardner, of Emmanuel College won the Diamonds. Cambridge oarsmen, therefore, swept the board, a feat which may possibly be equalled, but can never be surpassed

1888: The Grand was won by Thames R.C. in 7:01
The Diamonds was won by G. Nickalls (Magdalen College, Oxford) in 8:36

1889: The Grand was won by Thames R.C. in 7:40˝ ?
The Diamonds was again won by G. Nickalls (Magdalen College, Oxford) in 8:56

1889: Punch -

Henley Aquatic Carnival, Punch, 1889