The Reading Working Men’s Regatta was established in 1877 and was promoted by the Mayor and Corporation of Reading, early records indicating that it received Royal patronage in 1896. At the turn of the century the town enjoyed a half-day holiday to celebrate the Regatta and Huntley & Palmer biscuit factory, Reading’s largest employer at the time, closed for the day. The Palmer family continued as benefactors of the Regatta until recent times; Alan Palmer, the last member of the family to be Chairman of the Company, was President of the Regatta until his retirement from the business in 1973. Gerald Palmer was a trustee of the Regatta boathouse, built at the turn of the century to provide rowing facilities primarily for the factory employees, until his death in 1984.
Reading Town Regatta, the present title of the event was adopted in 1966, differentiation between professional and clerical occupations and manual workers no longer having any relevance, although rowing was one of the last sports to eliminate such segregation, the two governing bodies of the A.R.A and N.A.R.A. finally amalgamating in 1956. Between the Wars the Regatta was a popular August Bank Holiday function, but following the transfer of the Bank Holiday to the end of the month in 1965, the Regatta was moved to mid July immediately prior to the end of term with the aim of attracting school entries.
Whilst the move was moderately successful, a clash of dates with other regattas in 1974 caused the committee to again review the position in the calendar, the last Saturday in June being selected as likely to gain most support.
The introduction of Eights events in 1975 (impossible prior to the advent of sectional boats due to a 10 feet height restriction on the access road), the transfer of the Henley Royal preliminary races from our Saturday to the previous day and the acceptance of invitations by American crews to compete in the Centenary Regatta in 1977, has seen the development of the event into the major regatta it is today.
Further changes to the examination timetables and school calendar taking effect in 1990 caused the Committee to once more review the development of the Regatta. As the programme of events at Reading Town Regatta had reached saturation level by the late eighties and the major schools would have broken up by the last Saturday in June, it was decided to stage an additional Regatta in 1990 on the preceding Sunday, to be known as the Thames Valley Park Regatta. This Regatta is geared to the requirements of school boat clubs, and some of the junior events traditionally held at Reading Town have been transferred to this new Regatta, the programme being supplemented by events currently favored by schools’ rowing, particularly in sculling and small boats.
On the 30th May 1996 the Regatta boathouse was destroyed by fire. 46 Boats were destroyed and history was lost. The building of a new Waterside Centre has now been completed on the area next to the old Boathouse site.
The club rows out of facilities next to the old Dreadnought Centre just upstream of the Regatta Site. Basic facilities are available.