The Regatta, which was officially first raced in 1866, arose out of a challenge given by the relatively short-lived West London Rowing Club to London Rowing Club the year before.
On 8 August 1865, two races were held on the Tideway from Putney to Chiswick Church, following the efforts of the captains of the most prominent rowing clubs at the time, as the initial challenge had resulted in an invite being sent to the captains of the Metropolitan Rowing Clubs, inviting them to enter a junior eight oared crew (made up of men who had never previously competed successfully in any open races).
The final was won by the London Rowing Club crew, Thames Rowing Club came second and West London third. At the same time a pair oared race was also held, which attracted eight entries. London Rowing Club were again victorious.
The event was so successful that it was decided to establish an annual regatta on the Putney water and a committee of management was formed, composed of the captains of nearly all the recognised amateur rowing clubs on the Thames.
The initial committee was short lived, and since then, following the initiate of LRC captain Herbert Playford, the management of the regatta has been in the hands of London Rowing Club. The Regatta’s first Hon. Secretary was Charles Dickens, Jr..
In following years, the event was held on the first available tide after Henley when high water was around 5 pm.
The races held at the first regatta, over a course from Putney Aqueduct to Chiswick Church, were as follows:
Metropolitan Pairs (Junior)
Metropolitan Eights (Junior)
London Cup for Senior Sculls
Champion Pairs (Senior)
Thames Cup for Senior Fours
Metropolitan Champion Cup for Senior Eights.
A number of the early challenge trophies are still awarded, namely:
The Metropolitan Champion Cup for Men’s Elite Eights
The Thames Cup for Men’s Elite Coxless Fours
The London Cup for Men’s Elite Single Scullers
The Metropolitan Challenge Cup for Men’s Senior 3 Eights
The entry details for the first three stated that “The above events are open to the world.” The London Cup forms part of sculling’s “triple crown” in conjunction with the Diamond Challenge Sculls and the Wingfield Sculls
By 1883, the regatta had settled on a shorter course of about a mile and three quarters (from Putney to Hammersmith or vice versa according to the state of the tide). In 1977 the decision was taken to move the Regatta away from the Tideway and its traditional home and it was relaunched in 1980 at Thorpe Park, Thorpe, Surrey. This resulted in the first senior multi-lane regatta in the south-east of England, held on four-lanes over 1,500 metres on one of the village’s large lakes created from gravel works.
In 1988 the regatta was relocated to the Royal Albert Dock, raced on a seven lane course over a distance of 1,750 metres.
In 2001 the regatta moved to the (now) International Rowing Federation (FISA) international-standard course at Dorney Lake which has eight racing lanes over 2,000m and a separate channel for crews to go to the start/warm up. The course hosted the rowing of the 2012 Summer Olympics. The first years at Dorney saw racing over 1500m, as the course was slowly completed.