Tim Koch completes his journey through history along the Doggett’s course:
The Boat Builders of Lambeth
‘H Clasper’ was presumably the legendary rower and boat builder, Harry (1812-1870), while ‘JH’ would be his son, John Hawks (1835-1908). The father did not ever live in London but perhaps added his prestigious name for business reasons. After moving South, ’JH’ worked, at various times, in Lambeth, Wandsworth, Oxford, Cambridge and Putney. There is a record of the Robert Bain and John Hawkes Clasper partnership in a business called ‘Clasper and Co’, boat builders of Lambeth and Westminster, being dissolved in January 1868. Around that time, another great name in rowing, that of Edward Ayling, oar and scull maker, was based next door but one. In the list of 50 barge and boat builders listed in the 1852 London Commercial Directory, ten were operating in Lambeth.
There has been four ‘Fish Halls’ around this site, the first in 1310, the next in 1434, another after the Great Fire in 1671 and this one in 1827. It is increasingly dwarfed by the construction around it, but my objection is not to the massive and spectacular buildings of recent years but to the surrounding modest and unimaginative products of the 1960s and 1970s.
At their peak, the LMS Canteens were providing 80,000 meals a week. A two-course meal was a shilling (5p) and three courses were 1s 3d (8p). The photo above shows the similar but opposite end of the Hall to the picture above it, and it can be seen that the stained glass window near the ceiling is bricked up and all the paintings and treasures have been removed. On 9 September 1940, bombs fell on all sides of the Hall, causing great damage. Fortunately, most of the essential structure survived. The Hall also did its patriotic duty in the 1914-1918 War when it became a hospital for the wounded.
Thus, my boat trip from Cadogan Pier covered over not only four-and-a-half miles of river but also hundreds of years of the story of rowing. Proof, were it needed, that the River Thames is truly ‘liquid history’.