The Thames Traditional Boat Festival was established in 1978
“To encourage the restoration, maintenance and use of traditionally built craft”
The Trad owes its origins to concerns in the 1970s over the demise of many unpowered craft, seen neglected and rotting along the river Thames. The idea of a rally, held annually and open to anyone was taken up by the River Thames Society which agreed to organise an event in 1978 at Fawley Meadows, opposite the Royal Regatta course at Henley-on-Thames. Its focus: beautiful traditional river craft, powered and un-powered.
The following year, 84 craft and over 800 crew and River Thames Society members were registered as attending. Participants were encouraged to relax and enjoy the peaceful and tranquil setting of Fawley Meadows, after the hustle and bustle of the Royal Regatta week. Indeed there were distinct advantages to holding the rally immediately following the Royal Regatta. Boats could attend both functions and the Rally could make use
of remaining Regatta booms.
Over the years the Trad expanded as different boat clubs and societies became involved and new activities were incorporated; but always the emphasis was on the preservation of beautiful craft. Awards were presented and are still keenly fought for. The judging is microscopically precise. The public found the rally as word got around and for a while its name changed to Festival, but for some reason reverted to Rally and as years passed it became clear that it was no longer seen as a public event.
In 2015 we changed the name back to Thames Traditional Boat Festival to show the public that this is an inclusive event, and not just for those who own boats as "Rally" suggests. The event has always been run by volunteers and the current committee would like to see a profit made which could be used to sponsor apprenticeships in the art of traditional boatbuilding. As always, the main focus is the magnificent array of traditional boats lining the river bank at Fawley Meadows. We even have a number of foreign boats here each year now. Our fame is spreading!
We hope that with the addition of more varied attractions (but always in good taste!) and really good catering, we will continue to widen the event’s appeal and really provide a weekend to remember for all participants.
The past three years have seen a huge increase in interest and the numbers of visitors are now in thousands, not hundreds. This is the only truly “inclusive” family event held on the river in Henley (Regatta and Festival are by their nature not “inclusive” and are not actually in Henley!) We want to encourage young people to understand the pleasure of “messing about in boats” and to realise that there are boat and river-related employment opportunities which offer that elusive mix of work and pleasure.
To this end we have teamed up with the River and Rowing Museum and other organisations with similar aims and hope that parents will come to see this event as an essential part of their children’s education and entertainment as well as a lovely way to spend a day or two.
On a lighter note, to use a Motor Sport analogy which seems to be pretty universally understood, if the Regatta is the Festival of Speed, the “Trad” is the Revival Meeting.
So - dress up and come to play, to learn, simply to revel in a weekend on the riverbank or, if lucky, on the river. Do, please, spread the word!