7 April 2017
Editor’s note: The following article is based on writings, information and comments by Clive Radley, Roger Bean and Chris Dodd:
On Monday, 27 March, Clive Radley hosted a celebration party in the Rowing Gallery at the River and Rowing Museum (RRM) in Henley-on-Thames for 35 invited guests. The group was celebrating the installation of the J. Hopper, a wooden clinker single scull with plywood decks, built by Radley’s late uncle, Sid Radley, on the Lea in 1956.
The J. Hopper, which originally was named the Maxwell, was one of six single sculls ordered by the Fishmongers’ Company for the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race from Sid Radley for £100 each. These boats were, as Chris Dodd, rowing writer, historian and co-founder of the RRM, writes ‘the last batch of “committee” boats before Doggett’s adopted conventional fine sculling boats’. Two of the scullers were later sold to Hexham Rowing Club in the early 1960s and only the Maxwell/J. Hopper has survived.
Jack Hopper was a professional sculler based at the club, who competed on the Thames and Tyne against many famous scullers in the 1920s and 1930s, but it is uncertain how the boat got his name; it might be, according to Dodd, that the J. Hopper was either owned by, used by or named after the sculler or all these three alternatives.
‘The credit of saving the J. Hopper goes to Roger Bean, whose grandfather had sculled at Hexham and had raced against Jack. Roger also knew Jack in 1960 when he joined Hexham Rowing Club as a junior,’ Clive Radley said.
In 2012, Bean, then a member at Durham Amateur Rowing Club, was racing at Hexham and saw the derelict hull of the J. Hopper lying on the boat house floor gathering dust. ‘A wave of nostalgia led me to offer £50 for the boat, and the club captain agreed to sell it,’ Bean said. ‘I noted the “V. Radley & Sons” maker’s plate, and as I wanting to know more about the boat builder, I contacted Chris Dodd at the RRM. Chris put me in contact with Clive, who was working on a book about his boat building ancestors.’
The book, The Radleys of the Lea, was published in 2015.
‘The museum was able to help Roger with information about Radley, but his enquiry also reminded me of an old project that I had started some decades ago,’ Dodd remarked.
‘The story started in about 1980, when David Lunn-Rockliffe [a co-founder of RRM together with Dodd] was running the ARA. 1982 was the ARA’s centenary year, and David mooted the idea of a book exploring rowing in the regions to celebrate it.’ Dodd added: ‘I spent several days in Newcastle researching a sample chapter (as far as the book went), and one of the people I interviewed was a very ancient Jack Hopper, who had reached the final of the Newcastle Christmas Handicap five times.’
While Bean restored the J. Hopper and sculled it for a while, although it did have a disconcerting leak, Dodd dusted off the sample chapter he had written more than three decades earlier and turned it into the book Bonnie Brave Boat Rowers (2014), which tells the story of Hopper, the Claspers and the Tyne music halls.
In 2015, Bean moved to Kidderminster for family reasons, but the two local rowing clubs there had no indoor storage to spare, so the J. Hopper was sidelined on trestles in his garden, where deterioration began to set in again. He spoke to Clive Radley and said he would give it another coat of varnish and offer it to a museum.
‘I replied that the RRM might take it but only after restoration by a craftsman to pristine condition, as it was years since Sid had built it,’ Clive Radley said. ‘I offered to find and fund a suitable boat builder. I found 79-year-old Bill Colley, the last wooden racing boat builder in the country, based by the road bridge at Richmond. Bill, who is from a long line of boat builders in Hammersmith, quoted a very fair price.’
Bean agreed to Radley’s nice offer to fund the restoration of the J. Hopper and gave him a 50 per cent ownership of the boat, which Radley happily accepted. ‘Bill went ahead and did a great job,’ Radley stated. The restoration work was covered in a two-piece article by HTBS’s Tim Koch last autumn (part I here and part II here).
Radley and Bean offered the restored J. Hopper to the RRM, which gratefully acknowledged the donation. ‘Chris Dodd was very much supportive of our offer, Radley remarked.
It was an emotional time at the celebration at RRM on 27 March, when Clive Radley and Roger Bean officially handed over the J. Hopper to the museum. ‘I was overwhelmed by the occasion and almost fell off the speech dais during my speech,’ Radley said.
The 1956 Sid Radley-built J. Hopper is in fine company at the museum, as in the boat collection you will also find the winning Oxford boat, which was built by Stephen Davis and Isaac King in 1828, in the first Oxford-Cambridge University Boat Race in 1829; Matthew Taylor’s 1854 The Victoria, one of the first boats – if not the first – with an inboard keel, built for Royal Chester RC; Rupert Guinness’s 1894 single scull built by J. H. Clasper; and the George Sims-built coxless pair, which was used by Ran Laurie and Jack Wilson to win Olympic gold in 1948. More on the RRM racing boat collection here.