Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Golden Age When Our Boys Ruled the World

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Golden Age When Our Boys Ruled the World

Article excerpt

THE golden age of Tyneside rowing began in 1845 when Harry Clasper's crew won the Championship fours race at the Thames Regatta for the first time.

Harry, and Tynesiders Matthew Taylor and Robert Jewitt, pioneered improvements in boat design and built the finest boats for clubs and individuals throughout Britain and abroad. Many songs were written about rowing and performed in the music halls.

The collapse and death of James Renforth in 1871 in Canada, while defending the four-oared Championship of the World, marked the end of this great era when the Tyne was the focus of world rowing.

The last time a local man contested the world sculling championship on the Tyne was when the Canadian, Edward Hanlan, beat Robert Boyd, from Gateshead, in 1882.

The men the crowds loved were:

Harry Clasper, 5ft 8in, rowing weight: 9st 4lb.

He was born in Dunston, Gateshead in 1812 and worked at the Jarrow Pit, then as a ship's carpenter, as a cinder burner, and later as a wherryman. He married his cousin, Susannah Hawks, in 1836 and took up competitive rowing in 1837.

Harry led a four-oar crew made up of his brothers and they soon began to win races. Once they had beaten everybody on the Tyne, they raced against Thames crews. When Harry and his crew won the fours race at the Thames Regatta of 1845, it was in Lord Ravensworth, a technically advanced boat he had built himself.

He went on to six further triumphs at the Thames Regatta. On the last occasion, in 1859, aged 47, his son, John Hawks Clasper, was in the boat with him.

Harry continued to row well into his 50s and won over pounds 2,500 in a career of 130 races. His last race was in 1867 and he died three years later at the age of 58. His funeral attracted over 130,000 people.

Robert Chambers, 5ft 10in, rowing weight: 11st 3lb

Robert 'Honest Bob' Chambers was born in 1831 in St Anthony's, Newcastle. His early working life was spent as a puddler, agitating molten iron with a long hook in a Walker Ironworks. …

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