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Henley is best known for its Royal Regatta held every July since 1839. For about a mile at Henley the river is straight providing an ideal course for what has become a major international event. It became 'Royal' in 1851 when Prince Albert became Patron of the Regatta. As well as a sporting event it is a major social event retaining much of the 'garden party' feel of Edwardian times.
The town became established in the 12th century as a river crossing and port for the supply of timber and grain along the river to London. The present five-arched bridge over the river was built in 1786 with the church of St. Mary close by. The church has a16th century tower built with decorative flint and stone chequerwork. Although restored in the 19th century, the 13th century and nave arcades can still be seen.
Many buildings in Henley are designated 'of special architectural interest' including a 14th century chantry house, connected to the church and the Speakers house, the home of William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons (1629-1640) who was a signatory to the warrant for the execution of Charles I. The main street has many Georgian frontages built on to older buildings. There are many coaching inns including the Red Lion, which, so legend has it, has accommodated Charles I, Boswell and George III.