Rowing champ Harry Clasper’s family pull together to launch play about his life

The Mayor of South Tyneside Coun Richard Porthouse launches the Hadaway Harry exhibition and play about the life of Harry Clasper, at the former Riddicks shoe shop, with relatives of Harry Clasper.
The Mayor of South Tyneside Coun Richard Porthouse launches the Hadaway Harry exhibition and play about the life of Harry Clasper, at the former Riddicks shoe shop, with relatives of Harry Clasper.

A celebration of South Tyneside sporting hero Harry Clasper certainly proved to be a family affair.

More than 50 members of the champion rower’s family joined together for the launch of an exhibition and play chronicling his life.

Harry Clasper's relatives Emma Cornish Mellish, 91, Shannon Small, 16, and John Clasper, 87.

Harry Clasper's relatives Emma Cornish Mellish, 91, Shannon Small, 16, and John Clasper, 87.

The Claspers, aged ­between 16 and 91, met for a talk by South Shields playwright Ed Waugh, who is taking his play on tour later this month.

The clan met Ed at South Shields Central Library, in Prince Georg Square, before going to see the Harry Clasper exhibition in the former Riddick’s shoe shop, in Fowler Street, where they also met the Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside, Coun Richard Porthouse, and his wife Patricia.

The 19th century rower is set to be remembered in the new work, which marks the 170th anniversary of the World Rowing Championships coming to the North East for the first time.

Ed said: “This story has everything; humiliating defeats, dedication, persistence, death and finally overcoming adversity to win.

This story has everything; humiliating defeats, dedication, persistence, death and finally overcoming adversity to win.

Ed Waugh

“It is an incredible human interest story about how Harry and his brothers, who were raised in Jarrow, took the crown from the ‘unbeatable’ London rowers on the Thames in June 1845. It caused a sensation locally and nationally.

“The Blaydon Races was written as a tribute to ­Harry in 1862 and when he died in 1870, aged 58, more than 130,000 people lined the streets of Newcastle to pay their respects.”

He added: “This is a brilliant story of a true working- class hero.

“Harry was aged two when his family moved to Jarrow in 1814. It’s where he learnt to row and make boats.

Harry Clasper and his brothers brought the world rowing title to the North East for the first time in June 1845 - 170 years ago this year.

Harry Clasper and his brothers brought the world rowing title to the North East for the first time in June 1845 - 170 years ago this year.

“Later, as a Durham miner in Hetton, Harry was involved in the Great Strike of 1831, before becoming a professional rower.”

The play will run at the North East Maritime Trust in Wapping Street, South Shields, from June 29 to July 1.

After that, it will call at the Gala Theatre, Durham on July 2 and 3, the Low Light, North Shields on July 4 and 5, the Discovery Museum, Newcastle, from July 7 to 9, and at Bede’s World, in Jarrow, from July 10 to 11.

Hadaway Harry has been supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and South Tyneside Council.

All tickets cost £10 and can be booked through the venues.