James Percy

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James Percy was a celebrated rower and boatbuilder at Low Elswick, just west of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The first rowing boats he built were the "Newcastle" and the "Gateshead" four-oared boats built in 1868 and first used in anger by the Albert Gymnastic & Rowing Club.

25th August 1866:
Bell's Life reported on a match between J.H. Clasper and Jem Percy - The preliminaries for a £100 match, to take place over the Championship course of the Tyne between these men, has just been settled. The men were to meet at Harry Clasper’s Clasper Hotel, Scotswood Road, to draw up articles and arrange details. £4 a side is down.

15th July 1871
Cheltenham Chronicle reported: The English Champion Four, which are matched with the St. John (New Brunswick) crew on the 23rd of next month, left Newcastle for America on Wednesday last. About 3,000 people assembled to bid them farewell. James Percy (bow), Robert Chambers (2), Henry Kelly (3) and James Renforth (Stroke) is the present arrangement of the crew, while John Bright accompanies them as spare man. All seemed very well and confident.

23rd November 1871
The Times reported: The Championship of the Tyne - This Wednesday afternoon, the great four-oared race for the Championship and a stake of £400 between the Chambers crew (James Percy, John Bright, Harry Kelly, Robert Chambers); and the Adelaide crew James Taylor, J.H. Sadler, Robert Bagnall, Thomas Winship) was rowed from the High Level Bridge Newcastle to Lemington Point, the course being 4 1/2 miles and it resulted in a victory for the Adelaide Winship crew. These two crews of Tyne oarsmen rowed in several races in the United States and British America during the past summer with varied fortunes. After the death of James Renforth at St. Johns, his crew with their odd man pulled several matches upon the lakes and great rivers of America but with very ill fortune. When the crews returned to England, it was determined to test which was the better and this match was made, but the ill luck which attended the Renforth crew or the Chambers crew appears to have followed them home, for it was stated in the beginning of the week that Percy was suffering from illness and it was feared that Bright was strong enough for his seat.

The betting has been about 5 to 4 in favour of the Chambers crew, however, but a limited amount of money was invested. The morning broke fine but as the day advanced it became overcast and gloomy but after 12 o'clock sleet and rain fell copiously. The race would have been started at twenty minutes past 11 but as consequence of something having gone wrong with the Adelaide's rudder, it was fully an hour after that time before the men got away - as is usual with a great race on the Tyne. Notwithstanding the bad state of the weather, there were immense crowds of persons upon the bridges and bank overlooking the course, and on board numerous steamers upon the river. There was a south-west wind, the water was comparatively smooth and a first rate course was kept.

Mr. J.H. Clasper of Oxford was the Referee and Chambers crew won the choice of sides. The two crews being placed in position, a start was made about twenty minutes past 12. Winship's crew showed some signs of hesitation at the start, which enabled Chambers crew to get well away with about half a length advantage, which they maintained to Wylie's Quay, pulling a long powerful stroke. They maintained this lead to the Skinner Burn. Winship's four had now settled down to a short, sharp regular stroke and putting on a splendid spurt, they rapidly drew upon Chamber's crew. The latter, however, effectually replied and still held their lead at the Grindstone Quay.

A fine smooth stretch of water now lay before the competitors and as money had been invested and depended upon the lead to the Redheugh Bridge, both crews redoubled their exertions in order to accomplish this result for their backers. Between the foot of the bridge and the quay there was a severe struggle, one of the most brilliant sights ever witnessed on the Tyne. Continuing their short stroke with extraordinary rapidity the Winship four inch by inch overhauled their opponents and drew level. Chambers crew never varied their splendid long stroke, while on the other hand, the Winship crew pulled a very quick stroke and the result of this was that they sent their boat gradually in advance, shooting underneath the bridge by a quarter of a length. Winship's crew therefore drew the first money for their backers. They maintained this lead to the Shot Tower.

Passing Cooper's stairs, Chamber's crew drew away and reaping the benefit of the bend to the New Quay corner took up half a length lead. Taylor took his men to the off side to clear the dredger opposite the Gasworks Quay, then quickly set the boat straight again. Chamber's crew at first seemed inclined to go between the dredger and the quay on the northern side but took the off side also. This allowed Winship's crew to draw level and the struggle continued with unabated severity past Waterstone's gates and the Tyne Amateur Rowing Club boathouse and to the foot of Annie Island, where Winship's crew led by two feet. The water between Annie Island and the shore was as smooth as a millpond, with no tide running. On nearing the Annie, Winship's crew were in front and leaving the Annie they were a full length ahead, coming up inside the Meadows Island. The cheering was great; in response to shouts from those on the shore, Chamber's crew put on a slight spurt, the result being that the gap between the boats lessened. In order to clear a wherry lying at Armstrong's Crane, the two boats had to move to the centre of the stream. Passing the west end of the Meadows, the two crews rowed steadily until they reached Messrs Thompson and Scotts Brickworks when Winship's crew put on a spurt and gave Chambers crew their backwash. They passed the Delaval Coal Jetty and headed for the houghs. Winship called upon his men again and passed the Chainbridge a length ahead. In the clear waters of the Scotswood Railway Bridge, another spurt from Chamber's crew reduced the gap and lifted the hopes in the breasts of their many admirers. Their challenge was quickly answered and by the time the Tyne Commission dredgers were reached, the lead was again increased to two or three lengths, with Winship's crew being the winners.