It had been allowed by Prince Albert to include Royal in the title in 1851 but it remained a provincial affair with locals lining the banks and only a tiny enclosure for the stewards' guests.
The racing was almost exclusively reserved for British oarsmen with only the odd sculler and even more rare four or eight coming from abroad. All who had earned from working with their hands were excluded.
To be a winner then was easier; and once a winner it was a much easier to stay one. Guy Nickalls holds the record of 22 Henley wins six of them for the pairs event - the Silver Goblets.
Nickalls was competing and winning from 1885 to 1907 just before Jerome felt the event was spoilt by being 'turned into a society function'. This year Steven Redgrave starts in the Goblets for the sixth time and as the reigning world champion with his partner Matthew Pinsent since 1991 he is the favourite to win and equal Nickalls' record.
But he must first overcome the Germans Detlef Kirchoff and Hans Sennewald, the last international crew drawn from the old East German system and second in the world last year. He must also contend with the Belgians Jaak Vandreissche and Luc Goiris who finished only three seconds behind him in the World Championships last September.
Redgrave's achievement, although it is measured against the best the world can offer, is on a different scale to Nickalls' because Henley is now only one step in the World Championships and is treated on the training schedule as only a minor peak whereas for Nickalls' generation it was the culmination to the season.
On Sunday Redgrave will be presented with a silver gilt 'Pineapple pot' which used to be given each year to the winner of the Diamond Sculls. Nickalls won five of them. Redgrave has won twice in 1983 and 1985. Ten years before that, lack of funds had forced the stewards to make it a Challenge Cup. However, good management and the financial benefits of corporate entertainment have restored the regatta's fortune.
Redgrave does not rule out the possibility that his good fortune will continue too: 'I will go on at least to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996,' he said. 'And then we'll see.'