John Hawks Clasper

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Professional oarsman and boatbuilder Jack (John Hawks) Clasper was the son of Harry Clasper, oarsman and boat builder. He was born in in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the 13th October 1836 and died in Putney, London on 15th September 1908, aged 72.

Aged 10, Jack, coxed his father's four when they won the championship of England at the Royal Thames Regatta. In 1851 he steered them at Henley Royal Regatta on the only occasion when the stewards offered a prize for professionals. In 1854 he was apprenticed to a London waterman and began a sculling and rowing career that lasted for 22 years.

His greatest rowing success was in fours, highlights being the four-oared championship of England in 1857, 1859 and 1862 at the Thames national regatta. He also piloted scullers in races, and was a formidable trainer.

Clasper was building boats in Durham in 1863 before arriving in Putney in 1868. He expanded the business to Oxford, in 1883 handing over the Oxford branch to his brother-in-law Frederick Rough. Rough inherited the Putney branch also. He presided over the extension of the technique of fitting the keel inboard to eights, and the introduction of outriggers. By the 1890s, his eights were 63 feet or more long and the widest part was towards the bows. He tried shallow drafts, and fitted metal fins under the stern. With slides (1871) in Britain he tried combinations of brass and steel slides with glass and bone rollers.

1866 25th August

Bell's Life reported: 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.


Clasper built both the Oxford and Cambridge University boats used in the Boat Race and interestingly, this was the first year that sliding seats were introduced, although having been in use in the USA for some years previously.


Clasper built the losing Oxford boat; Salters building the winning Cambridge boat.


Both University Boat Race boats were again built by Clasper.


Clasper built the losing Oxford boat, being upstaged somewhat by Swaddle & Winship of Scotswood, who for the first time supplied a boat for the boat race, to the winning Cambridge crew.

Clasper applied for a patent for a Wind Balance Countervail