17 February 2017
It is with great interest HTBS has followed the success of Ed Waugh’s play Hadaway Harry about the professional oarsman and boat builder Harry Clasper (1812-1870). Tonight and tomorrow, Saturday, the play will be performed at London Rowing Club in Putney. Later this month, Friday 24 February and Saturday 25 February, Hadaway Harry will be performed at the 1,200-seat Theatre Royal in Newcastle.
The other day, HTBS was reached by the news that a pair of Clasper’s old oars might have resurfaced in England.
Bill Bell, a trustee and past president of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers based in Neville Hall, Newcastle, recognised the oars as period pieces dating from the mid-19th century. Bell told a local newspaper: ‘I was struck by the construction and the aesthetic shape of the oars; the scoop style set them apart from the ordinary flat ones and I realised they were probably of a type used by the great Tyne rowers in the heyday of the 19th century.’
Looking in Rudie Lehmann’s The Complete Oarsman, Bell saw pictures that suggest a date of 1847 for these 8ft 7in oars, ‘the time that Harry Clasper was at his peak as a rower and a world champion,’ Bell said. He added: ‘Could these very oars have been used by Harry, who led teams from the North East to win the Championship of the World eight times between 1845 and 1859? It would be wonderful to think so!’
Bell has now offered Waugh the oars to somehow be use in Hadaway Harry. Bell said: ‘He jumped at them. Ed’s keen to see any Harry Clasper memorabilia and while we cannot prove Harry and his crew actually used these oars, he’ll have used something very, very similar.’
Of course, this is very interesting news among rowing historians and HTBS contributors. In a comment of the authenticity of the oars, American rowing historian Bill Miller, who has only seen the oars in a picture, remarked:
There’s a way to check the vintage, or at least to be able to tell if the oars are not from Clasper era. The oars constructed until somewhere before the early 1880s were made from one piece of lumber, that is, the loom and blade were carved from one solid piece. If the blades aren’t painted, someone should be able to follow the grain in the loom and blade to see if it follows through and both front and back of the blade. This would indicate that it’s one piece and probably dates before the 1880s. If not, then not Clasper vintage.
An oar can also be dated to before or after 1887 by the way in which the button was affixed to the oar. Prior to 1887, this was done with nails. Following the dramatic breaking of an oar in the 1887 Boat Race, this was changed. It was found that using nails to fix the button weakened the oar right at the point of threatest strain. Broken oars were a common occurrence before this date, but much less common after. [William O’Chee]