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River Tyne, boat race



The Tyne's first known official boat race was in 1821. The first Ascension Day regatta was in 1830. The later Tyne Regatta was held at the mouth of the river. Regattas helped transform rowing into a suitable hobby for gentlemen. The golden era of rowing on Tyneside was the 1840s to 1880s. Henry Clasper, Matthew Taylor, Robert Jewitt and other boatbuilders advanced the design of outriggers, inboard keels and lightweight narrow racing shells. Clasper developed a sliding style of rowing known as the 'traditional Tyne stroke'. This led to the Americans inventing sliding seats. Robert Bagnall used a sliding seat in a four oared race on the Tyne in November 1871. His team won the race. The seat is displayed in the Discovery Museum in Newcastle. Unfortunately Henry Clasper, Bob Chambers and Jim Renforth died within around three years of one another. All three were revered as sporting heros and were given a lavish send-off and were commemorated by memorials carved by George Burn, Newcastle sculptor. In 1882 the Amateur Rowing Association banned all professionals from their events (including working rivermen and manual labourers). From then on, Tyneside's professional rowers had one main annual competition, a half mile Christmas Handicap, last contested for a cash prize in 1938. The Championship Course started from the High Level Bridge and continued 3.5 miles upriver to the Scotswood Suspension Bridge. There was an etching showing the race and spectators in The Graphic in June 1881. Several factors contributed to the decline of rowing on the River Tyne: 1. the new Swing Bridge, built in 1876, allowed steamships to access the upper reaches of the Tyne making it busy and polluted. 2. dredging operations by the Tyne Improvement Commission removed the two islands between Elswick and Dunston. There was a pub popular with rowers on King's Meadows. 3. the rise of Association football also had an impact on the popularity of rowing. Inter-collegiate racing between Durham and Newcastle started between the wars (King's College in Newcastle was part of Durham University). The inaugural Newcastle v Durham boat race was in May 1997. It was started by David Clasper, great great nephew of Henry. Today (2010) there are seven rowing clubs in Tyne and Wear. The oldest club is the Tyne Amateur Rowing Club which was founded in 1852. Tynemouth RC dates from 1867. Northumbria University Boat Club was formed in 1994. The newest club is Tyne United RC which was founded in 2007. Its boathouse is at Ryton next to Newburn Bridge.




Lynn Pearson, 2010, Played in Tyne and Wear - Charting the heritage of people at play, p 156-161

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