The first record of Henley is from 1179, when it is recorded that King Henry II "had bought land for the making of buildings". King John granted the manor of Benson and the town and manor of Henley to Robert Harcourt in 1199. A church at Henley is first mentioned in 1204. In 1205 the town received a paviage grant, and in 1234 the bridge is first mentioned. In 1278 Henley is described as a hamlet of Benson with a chapel. The street plan was probably established by the end of the 13th century.
As a demesne of the crown it was granted in 1337 to John de Molyns, whose family held it for about 250 years. It is said that members for Henley sat in parliaments of Edward I and Edward III, but no writs have been found to substantiate this.
The existing Thursday market, it is believed, was granted by a charter of King John. A market was certainly in existence by 1269; however, the jurors of the assize of 1284 said that they did not know by what warrant the earl of Cornwall held a market and fair in the town of Henley. The existing Corpus Christi fair was granted by a charter of Henry VI.
During the Black Death pandemic that swept through England in the 14th century, Henley lost 60% of its population.
By the beginning of the 16th century the town extended along the west bank of the Thames from Friday Street in the south to the Manor, now Phyllis Court, in the north and took in Hart Street and New Street. To the west it included Bell Street and the Market Place.
Henry VIII granted the use of the titles "mayor" and "burgess", and the town was incorporated in 1568 in the name of the warden, portreeves, burgesses and commonalty. The original charter was issued by Elizabeth I but replaced by one from George I in 1722.
Henley suffered at the hands of both parties in the Civil War. Later, William III rested here on his march to London in 1688, at the nearby recently rebuilt Fawley Court, and received a deputation from the Lords. The town's period of prosperity in the 17th and 18th centuries was due to manufactures of glass and malt, and trade in corn and wool. Henley-on-Thames supplied London with timber and grain.
A workhouse to accommodate 150 people was built at West Hill in Henley in 1790, and was later enlarged to accommodate 250 as the Henley Poor Law Union workhouse.
Landmarks and structures
Henley Bridge over the River Thames
Henley Bridge is a five arched bridge across the river built in 1786. It is a Grade I listed building. During 2011 the bridge underwent a £200,000 repair programme after being hit by the boat Crazy Love in August 2010. About a mile upstream of the bridge is Marsh Lock.
Henley Bridge, engraved in 1812 from a drawing by J. P. Neale, and published in The Beauties of England and Wales
Chantry House is the second Grade I listed building in the town. It is unusual in having more storeys on one side than on the other.
Chantry House, next to the church
The Church of England parish church of St Mary the Virgin is nearby, and has a 16th-century tower.
The Old Bell is a pub in the centre of Henley. The building has been dated from 1325: the oldest-dated building in the town.
To celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee, 60 oak trees were planted in the shape of a Victoria Cross near Fair Mile.
Two notable buildings just outside Henley, in Buckinghamshire, are:
Fawley Court, a red-brick building designed by Christopher Wren for William Freeman (1684) with subsequent interior remodelling by James Wyatt and landscaping by Lancelot "Capability" Brown.
Greenlands, which took its present form when owned by W. H. Smith and is now home to Henley Business School
Lloyds Bank's analysis of house price growth in 125 market towns in England over the year to June 2016 (using Land Registry data), found that Henley was the second-most expensive market town in the country with an average property price of £748,001.
Henley-on-Thames from the playground near the railway station
The town's railway station is on the Henley Branch Line from Twyford. There are direct trains into London Paddington during peak hours. At other times one must change trains at Twyford. There are express mainline rail services from Reading (6 miles or 10 km away) to Paddington. Trains from High Wycombe (12 miles or 20 km away) go to London Marylebone. The M4 motorway (junction 8/9) and the M40 motorway (junction 4) are both about 7 miles (12 km) away. The bus service around the town is operated by Whites Coaches as routes 151, 152, 153 and 154; other routes are provided by Arriva Shires & Essex, Thames Travel and Courtney Coaches.
Well-known institutions and organisations
The River and Rowing Museum, located in Mill Meadows, is the town's one museum. It was established in 1998, and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II. The museum, designed by the architect David Chipperfield, features information on the River Thames, the sport of rowing, and the town of Henley itself.
The University of Reading's Henley Business School is near Henley, as is Henley College.
A race during the Henley Royal Regatta
Henley is a world-renowned centre for rowing. Each summer the Henley Royal Regatta is held on Henley Reach, a naturally straight stretch of the river just north of the town. It was extended artificially. The event became "Royal" in 1851, when Prince Albert became patron of the regatta.
Other regattas and rowing races are held on the same reach, including Henley Women's Regatta, the Henley Boat Races for women's and lightweight teams between Oxford and Cambridge University, Henley Town and Visitors Regatta, Henley Veteran Regatta, Upper Thames Small Boats Head, Henley Fours and Eights Head, and Henley Sculls. These "Heads" often attract strong crews that have won medals at National Championships.
Local rowing clubs include:
Henley Rowing Club (located upstream of Henley Bridge)
Leander Club (world-famous, home to Olympic and World Champions, near Henley Bridge)
Phyllis Court Rowing Club (part of the Phyllis Court Club and set up for recreational rowing)
Upper Thames Rowing Club (located just upstream from the 3/4-mile mark/Fawley/Old Blades)
Henley Whalers (associated with UTRC) focus on fixed-seat rowing and sailing.
The regatta depicted throughout Dead in the Water, an episode of the British detective television series Midsomer Murders, was filmed at Henley.
Henley has the oldest Football team Henley Town F.C. recognised by the Oxfordshire Football Association, they play at The Triangle ground. Henley also has a rugby union club Henley Hawks which plays at the Dry Leas ground and a hockey club Henley Hockey Club which plays at Jubilee Park.