The determination by Martyn Arbib to establish a museum for Henley on Thames grew from the discovery by his wife, Sally, of a 250,000-year-old axehead in 1976 on their local farm. Coincidentally, inspired by an exhibition at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984, David Lunn-Rockliffe, then recently retired as executive secretary of the Amateur Rowing Association, and historian and author Christopher Dodd resolved to start a museum for rowing. Henley on Thames was the logical place to site the museum where they found willing support from a keen group of local historians and river enthusiasts.

The two ideas came together, encompassed the River Thames, and the result is the River & Rowing Museum. Henley Town Council granted a 99-year lease for the plot in Mill Meadows for a peppercorn rent of one red rose a year. The British architect David Chipperfield, acclaimed at the time for his work in Japan, emerged from a talented list of applicants to win the commission to design it.

The Queen officially opened the Museum on 6 November 1998 and we were awarded Museum of the Year and Building of the Year Awards a year later.