Exhibition tells story of rower Harry Clasper’s amazing sporting success

Rower Harry Clasper, whose story is being told in an exhibition at the former Riddick's shoe shop.
Rower Harry Clasper, whose story is being told in an exhibition at the former Riddick's shoe shop.

THE hard, complex lives of ordinary people have often inspired authors here in the North East.

It’s not hard to see how. The story of Harry Clasper, his family and his accomplishments have all the elements of drama: superstar sporting success, suicide, death in the workhouse.

In this case, though, it’s playwright Ed Waugh who has taken a compelling real-life narrative and turned it into a play which will tour the region in June and July, 170 years on from Clasper bringing the title of World Rowing Champion to the region.

You can learn more about his astonishing story in an exhibition which opened in the former Riddick’s shoe shop, in Fowler Street in Shields, at the weekend.

It complements the play, Hadaway Harry, which opens at the North East Maritime Trust in the town on June 29, ending at Bede’s World at Jarrow on July 11.

A number of aspects of Clasper’s life resonate with what is now South Tyneside.

Although born at Dunston, in 1812, he moved with his family to Jarrow at the age of two. It was there that he and his brothers first learned to row.

At the age of 14 he went down Jarrow pit with his miner father, but soon afterwards became an apprentice at Brown’s boatyard (later Palmer’s shipyard).

In 1831 he and his father were involved in the Great Strike, against the bond system. Afterwards he moved to Dunston, where he became a coke burner and also operated a wherry, eventually progressing to professional rower.

In 1834, 10,000 people watched from the banks of the Tyne as he won the Shields Regatta.

Harry died in 1870. Tragically, Harry’s brother, Robert, later died in Harton Workhouse; while Ned Hawks, a member of the 1845 winning team, hanged himself.