Head of the River Race

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Head of the River Race
Crews racing under Hammersmith Bridge at HORR 2005
Crews racing under Hammersmith Bridge at HORR 2005
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Championship Course, River Thames in London, England
Years active 1925-Present
Previous event 2013 (cancelled)
Next event 5 April 2014
Participants 420 crews

The Head of the River Race (HORR) is a processional rowing race held annually on the River Thames in London, England, on the 4.25 mile (6.8 km) Championship Course from Mortlake to Putney. The race was founded in 1925 by Steve Fairbairn – an influential rower and rowing coach at the time.[1]

"My dear boy, you are under a wrong impression. It is not a race, it is merely a means of getting crews to do long rows"

— Steve Fairbairn – founder of the race


The race was founded by the rowing coach Steve Fairbairn who was a great believer in the importance of distance training over the winter ("Mileage makes champions" was a favourite phrase). He devised the race while coaching at Thames Rowing Club to encourage this form of training and raise the standard of winter training among London clubs.

There followed a meeting of the Captains of the Metropolitan Clubs, where the idea was received with great enthusiasm, and it was agreed that the first race would be held on Sunday December 12, 1926. Despite the choice of day, the race went ahead with 23 entries (21 started) at a cost of 5/- per crew.

"So far the ARA were slumbering in sweet ignorance of the horrible fact that racing was taking place on a Sunday. So the Committee bravely fixed Sunday, 27th March as the date for the second race, but the publicity the event had received had drawn the attention of the ARA and at a meeting of the committee on February 19th a letter was read from the ruling body pointing out that it might be necessary to alter the date of the race as the ARA might pass a resolution banning racing on Sundays... The Head of the River Committee agreed to abandon the December race and row one annual race in March or thereabouts on Saturday afternoons."

With the future of the race agreed, the number of entrants steadily rose:

  • 1927 — 41 entries, all tideway crews (except two from Jesus College, Cambridge);
  • 1928 — 49 crews;
  • 1929 — 60 crews;
  • 1930 — 77 crews;
  • 1936 — 127 crews;
  • … up to 1939 — 154 crews.

There was no race in 1937 (there was no suitable tide on a Saturday and at that time organized competitive sport did not take place on Sundays) and none from 1940–45 inclusive due to the second world war. The event was restarted in 1946 (naturally starting with a smaller number of entrants – 71 crews) and has taken place annually ever since, with the exceptions of 2004, 2007 and 2013, when the race was cancelled due to bad weather, in 2007 after most crews were on the river and 45 crews had started.

From 1979 onwards, due to the sheer volume of competitors and for reasons of safety on a relatively small area of river and riverside, the HORR Committee had at that point to impose a limit of 420 crews, which still exists today. The race is usually substantially oversubscribed.

Race format[edit]

The race is only open to men's eights and is considered to be the peak of the head race season — attracting the top UK crews as well as foreign clubs. Composite crews, drawn from more than one club or institution, are not permitted.

The Championship Course is that of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race but, unlike the Boat Race, the Head of the River Race is raced on an ebb tide from Mortlake to Putney. The starting time for the race is different every year and depends on the tide — the first crew (winner from the previous year) starts the race the next year. Start time is usually about 2 hours after high tide and crews start at about 10 second intervals.

The record time of 16 min 37 s was set in 1987 by the Great Britain National Squad.

The Race is usually held on the third or fourth Saturday in March each year, depending on tides and the date of the Boat Race. Usually the two events are held on separate days, although in 1987 and 1994, the Boat Race took place in the morning and the Head in the afternoon

Also raced over the same course are the Schools' Head of the River Race (SHORR), organised by Westminster School, the Head of the River Fours (HOR4s) sponsored by Fuller's Brewery, the Women's Eights Head of the River Race (WEHoRR), the Veterans' Head of the River Race organised by Vesta Rowing Club, The Veterans' Fours Head of the River and the Scullers Head organised by Vesta Rowing Club. The Pairs Head is run over a shorter course from Chiswick Bridge to Hammersmith Bridge. The Veterans' HOR and Pairs HOR sometimes race in the reverse direction if tides do not permit the usual arrangement.


A number of trophies are awarded for the fastest crews under different categories:

  • Head of the River — a Bust of Steve Fairbairn, Head pennant plaque and Medals are awarded to the club whose crew returns the fastest time.
  • Vernon Trophy — Presented in memory of Karl Vernon, the trophy was given to the Head by Vernon in 1954 and is made from the melted-down silver of trophies he won in his own racing career. The trophy is a statuette of the oarsman Jack Beresford (five-time Olympic medallist). Awarded to the fastest club crew normally rowing on the Thames Tideway (between Teddington Lock and the mouth of the Thames).
  • Page Trophy — Presented by the Head of the River Committee in memory of J.H. Page and awarded to the fastest club crew (excluding university, college or school crews) normally rowing on the Thames or its tributaries and ineligible for the Vernon Trophy.
  • Jackson Trophy — The Trophy was instituted by members of Nottingham Britannia RC in 1950, as the prize for an annual "County Eights" event between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In 1960 it was presented to The Head of the River Race as the trophy for Provincial Clubs; it was by then in the form of a mounted blade. The 2002 Race saw it won by Nottingham Britannia, who to mark the event, have now presented a replacement trophy, a late Victorian rose bowl. It is now awarded to the fastest British Rowing club crew (excluding university, college and school crews) ineligible for the Vernon or Page Trophies.
  • Services Pennant — crews from Her Majesty's Armed Forces
  • Churcher Trophy — university crews of any standard
  • Halladay Trophy — university crews at or below Intermediate 2 status
  • Overseas Entrants Trophy — crews from overseas

"Club crews" refers to all British Rowing clubs except universities, colleges, and schools.

There are also pennants awarded to the fastest Senior, IM1, IM2, IM3, Novice (British Rowing status), and Lightweight crews.

Recent Head Wins[edit]

  • 2014 race started 15 minutes late waiting for tide, then abandoned less than 40 minutes into the race due to unsafe conditions at the finish line.
  • 2013 – Race cancelled
  • 2012 – Czech Rowing Federation
Leander Club first VIII starting the 2011 Tideway Head
  • 2011 – Leander Club[2]
  • 2010 – Molesey
  • 2009 – Tideway Scullers School
  • 2008 – Leander Club
  • 2007 – Race abandoned (Cambridge University BC was fastest crew out of those that finished)
  • 2006 – Leander Club
  • 2005 – Leander Club
  • 2004 – Race cancelled
  • 2003 – Leander Club
  • 2002 – Leander Club
  • 2001 – Queen's Tower (Imperial College Alumni)
  • 2000 – Queen's Tower (Imperial College Alumni)
  • 1999 – Queen's Tower (Imperial College Alumni)
  • 1998 – Leander Club

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Percival, Serle (1949). "Fairbairn, Stephen". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "Tideway Head of the River Race 2011 Final Order". 2 April 2011. Archived from the original on 2 April 2011. 


  • Cleaver, Hylton, A History of Rowing.
  • Page, Geoffrey, Hear the Boat Sing — A History of Thames Rowing Club and tideway rowing.

External links[edit]