The development of the racing shell: Tyne Innovations Part 1 – by Ian Whitehead

The impetus for this post was provided by a chance meeting at Tyne Rowing Club. Phil Kite, one of the club members, was explaining the thinking behind his plan for a Tyne crew to take on the Talisker Atlantic Challenge in 2018. Phil told me that he wanted Team Tyne Innovation to demonstrate that the pioneering spirit of the North East is still very much alive by incorporating innovative products and services developed by regional businesses and universities. (1)

For my part, I couldn’t resist telling Phil how, in the 19th century, Tyne boatbuilders and oarsmen were also innovators, and were a major influence on the development of the racing shell.  Sadly, very few people today are aware of the importance of the North East region’s contribution to the sport of rowing. The Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums Collections contain an interesting group of objects that illustrate that story, so what better time to bring these to the attention of a wider audience through a blog post. Thus, the innovators of today can be seen as the inheritors of a tradition stretching back almost two hundred years.

It all turned out to be a rather longer tale than even I expected so it has been split into two parts. Part 1 covers the outrigger, the bringing inboard of the keel, single strake (shell) construction, and the refinement of foot steering for coxless pairs and fours. Part 2 will deal with the development of the sliding stroke, the sliding seat and what seems to me might be the first bowloader coxed boat.

This race took place in September 1864 in very rough conditions. At the first attempt, on September 5th, Chambers’ boat was holed and the race was stopped when his scull began to sink. The race was rowed again the next day and this time Bob Chambers won. TWCMS : G1197 (Shipley Art Gallery)

This race took place in September 1864 in very rough conditions. At the first attempt, on September 5th, Chambers’ boat was holed and the race was stopped when his scull began to sink. The race was rowed again the next day and this time Bob Chambers won.
TWCMS : G1197 (Shipley Art Gallery)

As Britain awaited the coronation of George IV, the leading citizens of Tyneside were casting around for a fitting way to mark the occasion. They agreed to promote a boat race on the River Tyne between the watermen of the settlements along its banks. The race would take place on Coronation Day, 19th July 1821, with cash prizes being awarded to the first four crews home: the brethren of Trinity House offered an extra prize of a blue silk flag for the winner.

Thirteen boats were entered but, when the day came, there was no race. Twelve of the crews refused to take part because the North Shields boat, the Experiment, had been built specially for the race, whereas the rest were work boats, used daily on the river. The Coronation Committee awarded the first prize to the Experiment, while Trinity House decided that the race was null. A new date, 1st August, the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile, was fixed for a contest for the boats that had been entered, except for the Experiment. Six boats started the rearranged race, with the Stella boat, the Laurel Leaf, winning the blue flag, and the first three boats home picking up the three cash prizes which had not been awarded on Coronation Day. (2) At the time the Laurel Leaf was regarded as a very fast boat, but her dimensions: length a little over 30 feet, breadth 6 feet, and height 30 inches, show how far things needed to progress before the racing boats for which the Tyne became famous would appear. (3)

Thus began the history of official boat racing on the River Tyne. Innovation in boat design and argument accompanied the first race: a pattern that was to be repeated over the following fifty years. Those years would create a golden age of rowing on the Tyne. At the start the men of the Tyne were striving to be able to compete against the best – the Thames watermen. But by 1870, greatly assisted by improvements in boat design and construction pioneered and developed by the boat builders of their native river, they were recognised as being the best in the world.

The 1821 North Shields boat the Experiment was clearly different from its contemporary foy boats, cobles and gigs from other localities along the river, but how it differed we do not know. However, the Tyne soon became the scene of many of the changes in design, construction and even rowing technique which led to the transformation of the work boat into the racing shell.

It is rare in life that somebody invents something that is both completely new and a perfect embodiment of their pioneering thought. Inventions are most often the practical application of an idea which may have been imperfectly executed by somebody else. This seems to be particularly true of boat design. It is not easy to pinpoint who first thought of a particular design change, but the Tyne has strong claims to the successful development of the outrigger, the bringing inboard of the keel, single strake (shell) construction and the refinement of foot steering for coxless pairs and fours. Despite a common local misapprehension, the sliding seat was not invented on Tyneside. But the sliding stroke had its origins on the northern river, which perhaps confused the issue, and a version of the successful American pattern of sliding seat had its victorious European debut in an important race on the Tyne. There is at least a moral claim of a Tyne component in the development and swift adoption of the sliding seat by the rowing world and so I have dealt with it here, without any intention of claiming the sliding seat itself as a Tyne innovation.

Finally, I will explore how and why the Tyne Champion four adapted their coxless four craft to take part in a coxed four race for professionals at the 1872 Tyne Regatta to produce what seems to have been the first bowloader coxed boat.

The Outrigger

The outrigger made its first appearance on the Tyne in 1828, fitted to a sculling boat, Diamond, for a race against Fly of Scotswood. A local boat builder by the name of Ridley built the wooden structure to the design of Anthony Brown of Ouseburn. In the same year Frank Emmet of Dent’s Hole on the Tyne produced a similar design. Two years later his Eagle made use of iron outriggers. Further attempts were made to develop the idea since a successful outrigger would enable racing boats to be made narrower and consequently lighter. Boats rowed on the gunwhale required sufficient beam (width) to enable an oarsman to apply adequate leverage to his oar. The fitting of outriggers altered the relationship between beam and leverage.

Outrigger on a model of a racing four by Matthew Taylor, Newcastle 1855 TWCMS : 1999.215Scale: 1:12 (Discovery Museum)

Outrigger on a model of a racing four by Matthew Taylor, Newcastle 1855
TWCMS : 1999.215 Scale: 1:12 (Discovery Museum)

In the early 1840s Harry Clasper and his brothers were racing in St Agnes, a four-  oared boat, fitted with outriggers, which had been built by John Dobson of Hillgate, Gateshead. The Claspers became so successful in their races against other Tyne crews that Harry Clasper was convinced that they could take on the best of the Thames watermen.

A challenge was sent to London and the Thames men came north, encouraged to make the journey by the payment of expenses. The race was rowed over a five mile course from the 1781 Tyne Bridge to Lemington on 16th July 1842 for a stake of £150 a side. The Thames men were rowing on the gunwhale which meant that their boat was beamier than the St Agnes. But their boat was also considerably lighter; so much so that local opinion held that the London craft would prove too flimsy for the job in hand. The result of the race was an embarrassment for the Tyne crew with the Londoners winning easily.

Harry Clasper’s view of the loss was succinctly put in a letter to the Newcastle Daily Chronicle many years later in 1866.

“…… For I can prove that the outriggers were no use till I made the boats to suit them, nor was our old boat the St Agnes, for she was beat easy when we pulled the London boat on the Tyne;”

(Newcastle Daily Chronicle 22nd June 1866)

Despite the advantage of a considerably narrower hull, (29 inches as against 40 inches) the St Agnes was much more heavily-built than her London rival, weighing in at an estimated 224 lbs, fully 60% more than the Thames craft.

Harry had already starting building a new four-oared boat, The Five Brothers, with the help of finance from his wife, Susannah. Susannah came from the wealthy ironworks-owning Hawks family, but presumably also believed that her husband’s new boat was worthy of investment.

The appearance of The Five Brothers at the Thames Regatta in June 1844 was probably the moment when the outrigger reached a stage of development such that the rowing community recognised that this would be the future. The boat’s looks were the object of much admiration, with the five strake mahogany hull being French polished rather than being given the usual treatment of black lead (powdered graphite) and grease. At 168 lbs she was still heavier than the very finely built London boats, but now only by about 20%. The Claspers won the £50 prize and got very close to carrying off the £100 prize awarded to the winners of the top fours race. (4)

Advertisement from a Newcastle Trade Directory c 1861

Advertisement from a Newcastle Trade Directory c 1861

Harry Clasper had persevered with the outrigger and refined boat design to suit the innovation until all recognised that his boats were faster than those rowed on the gunwhale. Thereafter Harry always claimed in his advertising literature that he was “the inventor of the present outrigger”, which was his way of saying that he had taken a previously impractical device and developed it until it worked successfully.


The Inboard Keel

While Harry Clasper was refining the design of the narrow, outrigger hull to reduce its weight, there were already signs that the need to reduce surface resistance (skin friction) was beginning to be understood. Although The Five Brothers had been planked up with five mahogany strakes each side of an external keel, the French polishing of the hull shows that Harry was looking for as smooth a finish to the underwater surface of the boat as he could achieve. The obvious next step was to smooth the hull still further, by moving the keel inboard and planking with a single strake, but who was the first to make that step is a matter of some debate.

Smooth hull of a model of a racing four by Matthew Taylor, Newcastle 1855. TWCMS : 1999.215

Smooth hull of a model of a racing four by Matthew Taylor, Newcastle 1855. TWCMS : 1999.215

It has been claimed that the Londoner, Bill Pocock, was the first to build a keel-less boat but it is more generally accepted that the first keel-less boat came from the Tyne. This is all well and good, until one looks further into it, to find that three highly regarded Tyne boat builders, Harry Clasper, Robert Jewitt, and Matthew Taylor all have claims to have built the first keel-less boat!


Harry Clasper

Harry Clasper was encouraged by the success he achieved with his light, narrow-hulled outrigger, The Five Brothers, but he certainly was not satisfied. He would remain active as a professional oarsman for many years and his interest in developing racing boat design helped both his rowing career and his boatbuilding business. For his sculling match with Coombes on the Tyne in December 1844 he built a skiff (single scull) with a smooth hull, which had only one strake each side of the inboard keel.

He (Clasper) has built himself a beautiful mahogany skiff, a perfect model in form, almost a toy, more fit as an ornament for a parlour than a boat to row in.”

(Newcastle Weekly Journal 14th December 1844)

Harry Clasper, probably shown in the boat he built to race against Coombes in December 1844

Harry Clasper, probably shown in the boat he built to race against Coombes in December 1844

The race took place on the 18th December but soon after the start Harry began to veer off towards the Newcastle bank because he was pulling too hard with his right- hand scull. After fouling a moored keel (lighter) on the northern side of the course, he found it difficult to get back on terms, and Coombes won comfortably by five or six lengths. A rematch was suggested for the following Monday, but in the event Coombes’ backers forfeited the £20 they had put down as the first instalment of the stake. In 1866 a newspaper review of Tyne oarsmen over the years, looking back at this contest, claimed that this was because Harry’s boat was better than Coombes’ old fashioned riggerless craft. Harry’s boat was still heavier than the Londoner’s, but only by a few pounds, and it may well be that despite his less polished technique Harry would have triumphed in the rematch, barring any further tangles with keels! Now the outrigger had been combined with lighter, one strake construction and an inboard keel, Harry’s boat was recognisably similar to today’s single sculls. (5)

Harry’s next four-oared boat, the Lord Ravensworth, was a further refinement and was also built with one strake a side. Using this boat the Claspers were victorious in the Thames Regatta of 1845, winning the top prize of £100. Harry’s boats in future would always be built this way, and over the next twenty years his boats were prominent at regattas all over the country. Many years later Harry’s son Jack (John Hawks) claimed in a letter that he steered a four to victory at the Thames Regatta of 1849 in which they, “used the same smooth-bottomed boats as are in use now”. (Dodd, The Story of World Rowing P75) If John Hawks Clasper remembered rightly then Harry Clasper’s claim to this change in construction is strong, since the other favourite, Matthew Taylor, did not bring the keel inboard until 1854. But that argument does not hold good in considering Robert Jewitt’s claim, since he declared he had built three boats with an inboard keel before December 1844.

Robert Jewitt

Robert Jewitt of Dunston on Tyne was an extremely popular builder of racing boats, with successful customers, both professional and amateur, on Thames and Tyne. He was particularly well known for the boats he built for James Renforth and his crews from 1868 to 1871, but he had established his reputation at a much earlier date. He was mentioned by the Newcastle Daily Chronicle as being worthy of special notice, together with Harry Clasper and Matthew Taylor, in 1859. The newspaper reported that,

the Londoners seem to think that they (Jewitt and Taylor) have the only skiffs able to contend against Clasper,”

(Newcastle Daily Chronicle July 30th 1859)

However, Jewitt was active as a boat builder well before 1859. An illuminating, but bad-tempered, exchange of letters with Harry Clasper in the columns of the Newcastle Daily Chronicle in June 1866 indicates that Jewitt began building boats in 1843.

Jewitt had written a letter responding to a piece in the Chronicle  by “STROKE”, and Clasper had taken Jewitt’s remarks to be a criticism of him (Clasper) and responded angrily, complaining that Jewitt and all other builders had copied from him. (6)

Clasper v Jewitt – Harry Clasper’s first letter to the Newcastle Daily Chronicle (12/06/1866) in response to Robert Jewitt

Clasper v Jewitt – Harry Clasper’s first letter to the Newcastle Daily Chronicle (12/06/1866) in response to Robert Jewitt

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find either STROKE’s piece or Jewitt’s first letter, to which Clasper took such exception. Jewitt replied, saying that he had been building boats for 23 years, and claimed that he had been the first to build boats with one strake from keel to gunwhale. He went on to say that he had built three boats on this principle before Clasper built his first, the single scull built for his race with Coombes on 18th December 1844. Jewitt also claimed that Clasper had copied the single strake idea from him. (7)

Clasper v Jewitt – Robert Jewitt’s letter to the Newcastle Daily Chronicle (18/06/1866) replying to Harry Clasper’s first letter.

Clasper v Jewitt – Robert Jewitt’s letter to the Newcastle Daily Chronicle (18/06/1866) replying to Harry Clasper’s first letter.

Clasper responded again, repeating his claims that Jewitt, along with others, had copied from him. However, in this second letter, the two boats Clasper references to back up his claim, the Lord Ravensworth, (1845) and the skiff he used to race against Coombes, (1844) were both built after the period when Jewitt claimed he had built three single strake boats. It is interesting that Clasper’s argument doesn’t refute Jewitt’s claim, but possibly his annoyance with Jewitt got in the way of delivering a more convincing response. (8)





Clasper v Jewitt – Harry Clasper has the last word, Newcastle Daily Chronicle, (22/06/1866) and the Editor closes the correspondence.

Clasper v Jewitt – Harry Clasper has the last word, Newcastle Daily Chronicle, (22/06/1866) and the Editor closes the correspondence.

It is impossible to say who was right. The Editor of the Chronicle saw no future in continuing the argument and declared the correspondence closed after Clasper’s second letter was published. After the elapse of so much time the dispute can hardly be settled, but at the time nobody cast doubt on Jewitt’s claim that he was building boats in 1843. He could have built a boat on the single strake principle before Clasper built his boat to race Coombes in 1844, but the only evidence seems to be the claim he made in his letter of June 18th 1866.


Matthew Taylor

Inscription on the model of the Matthew Taylor four, dating it to March 12th 1855 together with his name and Newcastle location. TWCMS : 1999.215

Inscription on the model of the Matthew Taylor four, dating it to March 12th 1855 together with his name and Newcastle location. TWCMS : 1999.215

Matthew (Matt) Taylor was a ship’s carpenter and a member of the well-known Taylor family of Tyne rowers. As well as pursuing a successful career as an oarsman and a coach, he also became a renowned boat builder. He built a smooth-bottomed four in 1854 in which the keel was brought inboard for the Royal Chester Rowing Club when he was working as the club’s trainer. In 1855 the club used the boat at Henley to win the Stewards’ Challenge Cup, and in 1856 Taylor built an inboard-keeled eight with which the club was again successful at Henley. This is really Taylor’s claim on the inboard keel: that he was the first to build an eight without an external keel. The principle seems to have been established in fours and sculls, perhaps by Harry Clasper, but possibly by Robert Jewitt, when Matt Taylor was only 15 or 16 years of age, and well before he gained a reputation for building boats with inboard keels.


Interior of Matthew Taylor model – showing the internal keel and also the footboard and the canted seat arrangement. TWCMS : 1999.215

Interior of Matthew Taylor model – showing the internal keel and also the footboard and the canted seat arrangement. TWCMS : 1999.215


Taylor’s most important contribution to the development of racing boat design was in his recognition that longer did not necessarily mean faster. His eights were 55 feet long, about ten feet shorter than the keeled eights of the time. They were also beamier than contemporary craft, but the great reduction in length resulted in a lighter boat with less surface in contact with the water and therefore with less skin friction. His boats were also shaped rather differently with the maximum beam being forward of the midships section.

Overhead view of Matthew Taylor model – The bow is at the right of the image and this view shows that the hull shape is rather fuller forward of amidships than it is aft. TWCMS : 1999.215

Overhead view of Matthew Taylor model – The bow is at the right of the image and this view shows that the hull shape is rather fuller forward of amidships than it is aft. TWCMS : 1999.215

Matt Taylor was the most fashionable builder of his time, building boats for Oxford and Cambridge, sometimes, as in 1859, for both in the same year. In 1857, when both universities had agreed that only amateur coaches could be employed, Taylor was engaged by Oxford, who had commissioned him to build a boat for them. Obviously, they could not admit that he was coaching them and they needed to come up with a suitable reason for retaining his services. The Oxford President, Lonsdale, wrote of the arrangement,

We employed him not to instruct us in the art of rowing, but to show us the proper way to send his boat along as quickly as possible.” (Dodd, The Story of World Rowing P73)

University Boat Race historians do not record whether or not Lonsdale went on to enjoy a career in politics!

Foot Steering

In July 1867, a crew made up of three fishermen and a lighthouse keeper from St. John, New Brunswick, in Canada, had caused a stir when they appeared at the Paris Regatta rowing a foot-steered coxless four. They won the amateur race against a background of concern, in Britain at least, as to whether or not they ought to have been classified as amateurs. The professional race was won by the Tyne Champion Four, which included James Taylor, a younger brother of Matt Taylor, the boatbuilder, from the famous rowing family of Ouseburn.

The St John crew’s boat was much heavier than a Tyne racing shell, but against amateurs the Canadians had put up an impressive performance. They rowed at a very high rating, used no foot straps and had no buttons on their oars. These features impressed the Tynesiders not at all, but foot steering was an idea that James Taylor saw would be worth developing further. In January 1869, when Taylor teamed up with the sculling champion James Renforth for a pairs race on the Tyne, he realised that adding foot-steering to their boat would greatly improve their chances of steering a true course up river.

Photograph of James Taylor 1871 – James was a younger brother of the boatbuilder Matthew Taylor. His usual rowing weight was around 10 stone 7 pounds.

Photograph of James Taylor 1871 – James was a younger brother of the boatbuilder Matthew Taylor. His usual rowing weight was around 10 stone 7 pounds.

Renforth was a stone heavier than Taylor and an immensely powerful oarsman. Fitting foot-steering enabled Taylor to compensate for the imbalance of power between the two men without asking Renforth to ease his stroke.

Taylor has adopted a rudder to the boat in which they row which he works by means of his feet, and he is thus enable to secure a certainty of steerage rare indeed in pair-oar races.”

Taylor and Renforth easily won the race, with near-perfect steering from the bow seat by Taylor adding to the margin of their victory. (9)

In England, fours races continued with coxes, largely because the London crews refused to dispense with them, but in 1870, when Renforth led a four to race against the St. John crew in Canada, the match was made in coxless fours. The correspondent of the Toronto Daily Globe saw this as an advantage to the Canadians since the Tyne men had no previous experience of racing in a coxless four.

The race was to take place at Lachine, near Montreal. While the Tyne crew were training on the course, James Taylor became dissatisfied with the design of the steering apparatus. He was steering with his feet from the bow seat, but felt that the working of the apparatus interfered with the free action of his feet. It is not made clear how exactly the feet were hampered, but it seems likely that the bow man’s ability to drive off the footboard was restricted. I would suggest that the controlling device was some sort of fore and aft pedal. The St. John crew rowed a fast, arm stroke so this was not significant for them, but the Tyne crews used their feet a great deal in executing their sliding stroke. The bow man probably had to restrict his leg drive in order to maintain a steady course.

Model of a pair oar c1880 with foot steering fitted for use by the rower in the bow seat. This model has two footed steering controlled by a lever which sits between the feet. The long slides and seats running on wheels suggest that this model was made a few years later than the first appearance of sliding seats on the Tyne in 1871. TWCMS : 1999.215

Model of a pair oar c1880 with foot steering fitted for use by the rower in the bow seat. This model has two footed steering controlled by a lever which sits between the feet. The long slides and seats running on wheels suggest that this model was made a few years later than the first appearance of sliding seats on the Tyne in 1871.  Tyne Rowing Club. Scale 1:12


Taylor designed a semi-lunar lever, working freely on a pivot, that moved side to side across the footboard and therefore allowed him to drive his feet off the board without inadvertently altering course. Fortunately for the Tynesiders there was a large body of workers at the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway workshops who had been recruited from Northumberland and Durham. They were delighted to be of assistance and quickly manufactured the new apparatus to Taylor’s design. Renforth’s crew gained an easy victory over the Canadians, rowing with their usual, long, fluid stroke, but also able to benefit from accurate foot steering. (10)  It seems to me that the Tyne Rowing Club pair oar model has this type of foot steering fitted to it.

A further refinement seems to have been made when two professional fours raced for the Championship of the Tyne on 22nd November 1871. Most of the details of this race can be found in the following section on the sliding seat, since this was the first outing for sliding seats on the Tyne. However, following the experience of both crews in racing without coxes in America earlier in the year, this race was also contested in coxless fours.

All the previous accounts of steering apparatus used in coxless boats referred  to steering with the feet, plural. The account of the race published in the Chronicle the following day described something new.

The steering apparatus is the invention of Mr. Thos. Swaddle, foreman to Mr. Jewett, and its novelty consists in the fixing and arrangement of the lever, which is worked with one foot only, whilst the other is strapped in the usual manner.”

(Newcastle Daily Chronicle Thursday 23rd November 1871)

This arrangement allowed the bow man to use the strapped foot to drive off the footboard exactly as he would have done before. This is much the same arrangement as in use in coxless boats today. Incidentally, this is the Thomas Swaddle who a few years later went into partnership with William Winship to build famous racing boats from their yard near the Scotswood Bridge.

In Part 2 I will explore how the sliding stroke on a fixed seat pioneered on the Tyne developed into a viable sliding seat in North America and also what seems to be a first, and successful, outing for a bowloading coxed four in 1872.


Part 1 – References

  1. See the team’s website, and also the challenge they are taking on,

One of the innovative products Team Tyne are using on their boat is, Intersleek 1100SR Foul Release paint, developed and manufactured by International Paints (Akzo Nobel) at their plant in Felling. This paint already has a place in the Tyne & Wear Collections and was chosen in 2013 as one of 100 objects that tell the History of the North East.


  1. Newcastle Daily Chronicle (NDC) Sept. 20th 1870
  2. NDC July 30th 1859
  3. NDC 15th February 1866
  4. Newcastle Weekly Journal (NWJ) 21st December 1844, NDC 15th February 1866
  5. NDC June 12th 1866
  6. NDC Monday June 18th 1866
  7. NDC Friday 22nd June 1866
  8. NDC 26th January 1869
  9. NDC September 28th 1870




Clasper, David, Harry Clasper Hero of the North, Gateshead, 1990

Clasper, David, Rowing: A way of life, The Claspers  of Tyneside, Gateshead 2003

Dillon, Peter, The Tyne Oarsmen, Newcastle 1993

Dodd, Christopher, The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, London, 1983.

Dodd, Christopher, The Story of World Rowing, London, 1992

Waters, Balch, The Annual Illustrated Catalogue and Oarsman’s Manual for 1871, Troy, New York, 1871

Whitehead, Ian, The Sporting Tyne, A history of professional rowing, Gateshead 2002

Whitehead, Ian, James Renforth of Gateshead, Champion Sculler of the World, Newcastle 2004

Chamberlayne’s Shako by David Weatherstone, Assistant Outreach Officer

A new gallery, Charge! The Story of England’s Northern Cavalry, opened at Discovery Museum on 21 October 2017.  The Gallery gathers together the collections of the antecedent regiments of The Light Dragoons and also tells the continuing story of the Northumberland Hussars since becoming the Command & Support Squadron of the Queen’s Own Yeomanry.

The quality and historical importance of the objects on display are obvious. What is interesting is the personal stories of the men behind these objects.  Over the coming months, I’d like to tell the stories of some of my favourite objects from the collection.

One of the stand out objects in the gallery is Chamberlayne’s shako, which was worn at the Charge of the Light Brigade. This engagement, which included the 13th Light Dragoons, one of the antecedent regiments of today’s Light Dragoons, is one of the British Army’s most iconic actions.

Noun: shako; plural: shakos A cylindrical or conical military hat with a peak and a plume or pom-pom

Noun: shako; plural: shakos
A cylindrical or conical military hat with a peak and a plume or pom-pom

Denzil Thomas Chamberlayne was born on 8 May 1833 to a Hampshire J.P. and his wife, the daughter of a senior officer in the Grenadier Guards. His father, Thomas Chamberlayne, raced his yacht ‘Arrow’ in the inaugural America’s Cup race of 1851. Young Denzil was raised on the Cranbury Park estate south of Winchester, still the home of the family today, and educated at Eton. Being the eldest son, Denzil was expected to take over the estate from his father when the time came. The problem for privileged young men at this time was what to do with themselves until they came into their inheritance. Many of them opted for military service and in March 1853, a few weeks before his 20th  birthday Denzil joined the 13th Light Dragoons, stationed in Hounslow, as a Cornet (2nd Lieutenant).

Fourteen months later, on his 21st birthday, Cornet Chamberlayne embarked for the Crimea. The campaign against Russia started badly and deteriorated, cholera struck our allies the French first in mid-July and reached the British troops only days later. By autumn it had decimated the ranks. That’s why, on 25 October, the Light Brigade could muster only around 670 men, barely the strength of a fully-manned regiment.

There are as many stories surrounding the famous charge as there are men who took part, and the details of petty jealousies between Commanders and misunderstood orders are very well documented. Cornet Chamberlayne, in a letter to his father dated two days after the battle, wrote of ‘very many hairbreadth escapes’ and describes how, being one of the last to make his escape back along the valley, his favourite horse ‘Pimento’ was just able to carry him out of range of the enemy guns before succumbing to two gunshot wounds.

Lieutenant Percy Shawe Smith of the 13th tells a tale of how, on returning down the valley he chanced upon Cornet Chamberlayne sitting beside his dead horse. The younger man asked what he should do. The advice given was to take his saddle and bridle and make his way back as best he could as “another horse you can get, but you will not get a saddle or bridle so easily”. This he proceeded to do and, displaying remarkable composure, he placed his saddle on his head and picked his way through the carnage of the battlefield back to the British lines avoiding the Cossacks who presumably took him for one of their own helping himself to a saddle.

There are details of Denzil Chamberlayne’s life after the Charge of the Light Brigade but sadly, not the circumstances or factors behind these details. He returned to Britain on 10 July 1855 on a ‘medical certificate’ but we can only speculate as to why this was issued; perhaps there are clues in the years to come. In March 1856 he was notified by Horse Guards that he was “to remain in this country”. At this time, the 13th were still in Turkey but were soon to leave and take up their post in Ballincollig, near Cork in Ireland. Was this evidence that he was still unfit for service?

In January 1862 he was commissioned into the Hampshire Yeomanry as a Lieutenant. He married his cousin Frances on 10 June 1867 and the couple set up home in Dartmouth. They had two daughters, one of whom died in infancy. Denzil’s father was still alive so it is possible that he was still searching for something to occupy his time until he inherited the estate.

Sadly, any thoughts that this was a model Victorian family, or that Denzil would inherit the family estate would be wrong. The Western Morning News of 6 February 1873 reported that Frances had been granted a judicial separation on the grounds of her husband’s adultery and cruelty. Evidence given at the hearing stated that he was often drunk, had ‘delirium tremens’ (usually attributed to alcohol withdrawal symptoms) four times and was violent and threatening towards her.

Denzil died on 16 April 1873 after what his obituary described as “a protracted and painful illness”. Clearly his life, at least in the later years, had been very unhappy. It may be speculation to attribute this to mental issues relating to his experiences in the Crimea, but the description of his home life in the previous paragraph would surely strike a chord with those people working with traumatised veterans today. These days, thankfully, we are aware of the mental toll that warfare can take on our soldiers, but in those days there was little or no understanding, and certainly no treatment, of the problem. Denzil’s tragic story is not unique amongst those who rode in the charge. Many of their number suffered problems in later life, as indeed soldiers have throughout history. The Spartans described the symptoms of PTSD in the period before the Roman Empire, which might be the earliest reference to the psychological condition.

Group of 13th Hussars photographed by Roger Fenton

Group of 13th Hussars photographed by Roger Fenton

The picture above shows Denzil Chamberlayne in a relaxed, if rather staged photograph of a group of 13th Hussars taken by the famous war photographer Roger Fenton. Also in the photo are Percy Shawe Smith and Joseph Malone, later to be awarded the VC for his actions at Balaclava.

Family memorial tablet in St Matthew’s Church, Otterbourne

Family memorial tablet in St Matthew’s Church, Otterbourne

A family memorial tablet in St Matthew’s Church, Otterbourne contains the following tribute to Denzil “One of the Gallant Six Hundred who rode in the Heroic Charge of Balaklava, Buried at St Petrox Dartmouth in the County of Devon”.







Chamberlayne’s shako can be seen in the Charge! The Story of England’s Northern Cavalry gallery at Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Display cabinet at Discovery Museum

Display cabinet at Discovery Museum

A Comparative study of Tintoretto’s “Washing of the Disciples’ Feet” from the Shipley to the Prado by Conservation Officer Ana Flynn

On 30 October, I had the opportunity to visit The Prado Museum in Madrid to meet with the conservators and researchers who had been studying “Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet”, an oil painting by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1548-1549. There is also a version of the same painting which is part of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums’ collection and is on display in Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead, UK. Both have been authenticated as “of the hand of Tintoretto”.

The original composition was painted in 1547 for the church of San Marcuola in Venice. It attracted the attention of collectors early on and by 1648 it was purchased from the church and replaced with a copy by the painter Carlo Ridolfi.

What happened to the painting next is less certain. One version of the painting made its way into the collection of King Charles I of England and now hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid. Some believe this Madrid copy may be the original; the Shipley Tintoretto, however, bears the closest resemblance to Carlo Ridolfis’ replacement suggesting it may be the original.

Prado Tintoretto

The Prado version

There is reference to a painting by Tintoretto of this title in a sale of work owned by Sir Joshua Reynolds in March 1794. This was bought by Berwick, but we cannot link this definitively with the Shipley painting.

The Shipley Tintoretto can be traced to the Delahanty collection, where it was sold at auction by Philips of London in June 1814 to the collector, H. Baring. Baring sold it the very next day to Sir Matthew White Ridley of Blagdon Hall in Northumberland. In July 1818, Ridley gave the painting to St Nicholas’ Church in Newcastle (which would become St Nicholas’ Cathedral in 1882), where it hung behind the altar. After many decades in the church, the Tintoretto was loaned to the Shipley and eventually purchased in 1986.

The Shipley version

We are currently working in partnership with the Conservation Department at Northumbria University to analyse the Shipley painting. Along with the help of the Restoration and Analysis Department at the Prado, we are hoping to do a comparative study of the two paintings.

The Prado painting has already had a lot of research done on it and I was very grateful for the generosity of the staff there for sharing their insights with me. I now have a head full of things to look for in our picture, some of which I have already managed to find.

What was really interesting, after having seen the two paintings in the flesh, is that they are as equally different as they are the same. The Prado painting is undoubtedly brought to a finer finish and has far more paint applied, particularly in the back ground. In the Shipley version, the artist has used the priming layer and underdrawings to create the background. Whilst the underdrawings are still visible in the Prado version, a layer of lead white covers most of the background making the overall effect much brighter.

Prado tint buildings

Shipley architecture on left, Prado on right

The Shipley painting is not in a particularly good state and has had several rather crude repairs made to it, as well as having been over-cleaned in the past, causing considerable loss to the thin paint layers in some areas (particularly the bottom right corner). Some areas are also down to the ground.

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Prado bottom right corner






Left image of bottom right corner of Shipley painting has suffered serious damage and paint loss compared to the Prado version on the right. However, the decoration on the hem of the left garment is more detailed.

Despite the Shipley painting not being in as fine a finished state as the Prado version, there are some areas where we find more details. For example, the background scene of the last supper which is quite detailed in the Shipley’s, but far more sketchy in the Prado version.

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Prado last supper detail

Above the vignette of the last supper seen in the background of both paintings, in the Shipley one on the left the details and figures are clearer than the Prado version.

Rather interestingly on the x-radiography taken of the Prado painting, square paving stones can be seen underneath the paintings of the figures. These have been changed into lozenge shaped tiles in the upper visible layers. My favourite bit of information from the Prado’s x-rays is the large nail hole in the centre of the vanishing point where the string was attached to mark out the perspective.

Prado painting







Details from the X-ray of the Prado painting on the left, you can see the square tiles under the figure, and on the right you can see the hole where the nail has been hammered through the canvas.

Going forward, I would like to find a way of x-raying our painting to see if we have similar features.

Also further pigment analysis would be a must. I am hoping with the information and connections we have made between the two museums, we will be able to move forward together to unlock more information from these two important paintings.



The legend of St. Cuthbert – a journey of discovery by Kate Buckley

My name is Kate Buckley and I am a third year History student at Newcastle University. I also act as a Library Volunteer in the Great North Museum: Hancock Library where I work with the fascinating collection of books that are available for anyone to use.

Are you interested in St. Cuthbert? If not, you should be. The tale of the ‘Farne Islands hermit’ St. Cuthbert is well known in the North East, but there is much more to St. Cuthbert’s legacy. Whilst volunteering at the Great North Museum: Hancock Library , I uncovered a story which I believe has been neglected in favour of the traditional more acceptable history of St. Cuthbert. However, it is clear to me St. Cuthbert’s tale did not end with his death, and it certainly did not end with his internment at Durham Cathedral.

St. Cuthbert

St. Cuthbert


The traditional story of St. Cuthbert concentrates on the failure of his body to decompose after his burial, and is used to evidence St. Cuthbert’s saintliness. This saintliness has been reinforced by the tale of Cuthbert’s life at Lindisfarne, where he worked as a spiritual healer, a guide and a Bishop, before retiring as a hermit on the ‘Inner Farne’ island, living in ‘isolation’ (although he did receive regular visitors) until his death in 638 AD. The legend tells that fearing Viking and Danish raids, the monks of Lindisfarne fled with the relics and body of St. Cuthbert to a number of locations. These included Melrose, Chester-Le-Street and Ripon before a site was reached in Durham which became his final resting place and where the Cathedral was subsequently built. After this point the attention that has been paid to St. Cuthbert has mostly been focussed upon his cult of saints. However, I would argue this concentrates upon the spirituality of St. Cuthbert; whereas the information I have uncovered considers the remains of the body of St. Cuthbert, and continues this fascinating story into the 19th century.

In the library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne there is a first edition of a book by James Raine, titled An appreciation of St. Cuthbert: with an account of the state in which his remains were found upon the opening of his tomb in Durham Cathedral in the year MDCCCXXVII”.

This book details the excavation of St. Cuthbert’s tomb which occurred on 17 May 1827. Raine (the Librarian for Durham Cathedral), provided an in depth account of the excavation, and I argue Raine’s account is of interest for any archaeologist or enthusiast alike; after all, Raine was the first to lay eyes on St. Cuthbert’s skeleton since 1542!  However, once you delve into the history of this excavation a story of deception and disbelief is revealed. Raine,  a man so determined to disprove the ‘magic’ surrounding St. Cuthbert, conducted this illegal excavation during the twilight hours before anyone could awaken and stop him. I believe this is one of the reasons Raine’s work has been generally dismissed by historians; whilst yes it may be riddled with inaccuracies and biases, I think anyone with an inquisitive mind would be wrong to be so dismissive. After all, Raine, a man who declared his excavation “completely disproves the tale of centuries, invented for interested purposes in a superstitious age—the incorruptibility of St. Cuthbert”, represents a time of growing disbelief towards the supernatural. So I advise anyone with an interest in the legacy of St. Cuthbert and also those in social history to visit the GNM: Hancock Library and read this text. It reveals more than one might expect.

Statue of monks carrying St. Cuthbert’s coffin

As an added bonus, this copy of Raine’s appreciation contains a letter written by James Raine to J.G Hodgson – the man kind enough to donate his copy of the book to the SANT collection (housed at the GNM: Hancock Library). The letter reveals another side to Raine. It shows he was not just a man of academia, but also provides an insight into the life of Raine as the churchwarden: an ‘ordinary man’. As a History student, I made my best attempt to transcribe the letter; alas it is a skill I have yet to master and therefore I have been unable to fulfil my task (but I am still trying!). So I invite you to not only venture into the tome, but to read the letter and attempt to identify and then transcribe the words that James Raine took the time to write to his “dear Hodgson.”

James Raine

James Raine

My dear Hodgson,

I thank your son (?) very sincerely for his admirable index,  and send although I fear you will think but late the head and tail of my book. I shall be thankful for your candid remarks upon this tract at your leisure as they may be of use to my evidence (?).

Meldon came safe. It makes a very nice book. I will settle with Walker when I am at Newcastle and I shall be glad to give copies to Wailes, Lenon and the very sensible man Coxon (?) of the garden house my perpetual churchwarden.  I am going away into Yorkshire (?) on Wednesday but shall return home again on Saturday after which I intend to spend a day or two with you at Whelpington.  I shall perhaps travel northwards in the beginning of next week.

The Chancellor as you will see has given me the Little Living here of which I have for some time been Curate. I am now safe inn the event of my losing (?) the Chief  ………… (?).

If I have sent you too much or too little of St. Cuthbert be kind enough to tell me so. In the former cas you must be so good as send back the spare sheets otherwise a copy will be left here imperfect and if it should happen that you are still are imperfect no time shall be lost in rendering (?) you complete.  With ….  ….. ….. …. (?)  Hodgson believe (?) me yours most faithfully.

James Raine

Letter from James Raine

Letter from James Raine

If this tome is not enough to entice you, the Great North Museum: Hancock Library contains a number of books and articles pertaining to St. Cuthbert.  These include Connor O’Brien’s “Attitudes to St. Cuthbert’s body during the nineteenth century” in Northern History, September 2016 and C.F. Battiscombe (ed) “The relics of St. Cuthbert”.

O’Brien’s work is fascinating, as it provides context to the life of James Raine and an explanation for his actions on 17 May 1827. O’Brien explores alternative accounts of this night. One of the most outlandish alternatives is the claim that Raine was found standing on top of St. Cuthbert’s bones attempting to destroy them. This certainly paints an even darker picture of the excavation undertaken by Raine. However, whilst these alternatives are interesting, the value of O’Brien’s work is that he places the excavation in context and goes beyond what those involved wanted us to see. In my opinion, O’Brien was successful for he maintains Raine’s actions were part of a larger picture. O’Brien argues the excavation was not a quest for truth, but part of an ongoing picture in England of Protestant v Catholic, as proving a Catholic Saint to be ‘false’ was an apt way for the Anglican Church to assert its authority over the Catholic Church. This certainly provokes further interest into St. Cuthbert’s story as it proves that his saintliness and the impact he had on society remained strong.

As an alternative to O’Brien, Battiscombe’s collection is a must for anyone interested in the more quirky side of history. It contains fabulous images of some of the surviving relics of St. Cuthbert. For instance you can see St. Cuthbert’s comb, along with artist renderings of what St. Cuthbert’s tomb would have looked like in the 7th century.  The collection of  articles goes further than simply describing each relic; it analyses each one, therefore enabling any interested party to learn the significance of these archaeological pieces, which offer invaluable insight into the past. More importantly, it allows us to go beyond the legend of the saintly St. Cuthbert, to delve into the everyday life of the pious man.

St. Cuthbert's comb

St. Cuthbert’s comb

It is clear the story of St. Cuthbert is a fascinating one, and that his place in history remains strong.  Therefore, even if you are not a history buff, the events surrounding the life and death of St. Cuthbert should be known as it is a story that is enshrined in the identity and heritage of the North East of England. And, after all, he is our patron Saint.

The Great North Museum Hancock Library is located on the second floor of the Great North Museum.  It is free to use and is open to everyone. It houses the collections of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Newcastle University’s Cowen Library. For more information please visit



So…you’ve decided to get married in front of a T. rex, what now?

A wedding at the Great North Museum: Hancock

Newlyweds in front of the T. rex at the Great North Museum: Hancock

Museums and galleries are becoming popular choices for ceremonies, evening receptions and wedding breakfasts. Couples are opting to surround their guests with curious artefacts and world-class art. But how do you make the very most of a quirky wedding venue? Here are a few of my best tips for getting married in a museum or gallery:

Wedding favours

The best party favours are the most memorable

There are countless companies out there offering all kinds of unique wedding favours, from personalised chocolate bars to candles, but how do you make those wedding favours as memorable as the magnificent, curious objects in a museum or gallery?

Whether you’re getting married in front of the T. rex in the Great North Museum: Hancock, or Charles Parsons’ 34-metre steam powered ship Turbinia (once the fastest ship in the world) at Discovery Museum, why not check out the museum shop for inspiration? The shop will contain all kinds of weird and wonderful gifts for adults and children.

Themed wedding breakfast

Speak to your caterers, especially if they offer bespoke menus

Believe me, chicken supreme is a delicious classic, but why not take some inspiration from your surroundings to create a themed wedding breakfast to remember? For example, the Hadrian’s Wall Gallery at the Great North Museum: Hancock – featuring a 1:4700 scale model of the 73-mile structure which ran from the mouth of the River Tyne to the Solway Firth – lends itself spectacularly to a Roman themed menu. Now I’m not saying you need to forgo any cutlery for a more authentic meal, but you could consider a twist on the classics.


Take inspiration from the venue’s defining features

The Laing Art Gallery – home to the spectacular stained glass windows from 1896 by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) – creates the most impressive backdrop to a wedding breakfast. So why not take inspiration from these unique surroundings? Use seasonal stained glassware such as vases or bowls as your table features. Oh, and remember my tip about the gallery or museum shop? It may stock exactly what you are looking for. Or you could be creative and use glass paint to decorate vintage glassware.

Table settings at the Laing Art Gallery

Table settings at the Laing Art Gallery

You don’t need to stop there either. You can make your centrepieces more personal by including a short written anecdote about the first time you visited the gallery together. Create conversation on the tables by sharing these defining moments with your guests. You never know, it may even encourage new relationships.

Dress code

If your style isn’t traditional, should you tell your guests?

You’ve chosen your venue for a very special reason, it may be the location of your first date, or perhaps the museum’s period features or exhibitions are the perfect inspiration for your wedding day. If the latter is the case you may want to think about including this information on your invites. It may be fun to see your guests take on some elements of your theme.

For example, the magnificent Great Hall at Discovery Museum lends itself perfectly to a 1920s themed day. The Art Deco period features are the perfect accompaniment to the roaring 20s style.

The Great Hall at Discovery Museum © Jonny T Photography

The Great Hall at Discovery Museum © JT Photography

So if you find that your venue’s defining features provide the perfect gateway to your wedding theme, it might be worth letting your guests know that they are welcome to join in.

After all, your big day is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. You might as well make it unforgettable for everyone.

This guide has been written by Leann Hay, Trading Development officer at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. Four of our venues – Great North Museum: Hancock, Discovery Museum, The Shipley Art Gallery, and  Laing Art Gallery – are licensed for weddings and offer unique backdrops for wedding breakfasts and evening receptions. You can find out more about these museums and galleries on our website: