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James Renforth (1842 - 1871)

James Renforth sculling on the Tyne

James Renforth was born in the Manors area of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1842, and was the third of the great oarsmen that the Tyne produced in the heady days of professional rowing. James was an epileptic, and he died in the arms of his friend and rower Henry Kelley in the boat at a tragically young age of 29 while racing for the Championship of the World in Canada. The town of Renforth is situated on the banks of the Kennebecasis river in honour of this fine rower.


(with grateful thanks to Ian Whitehead)
  • 7th April. Born in New Pandon Street, in the Manors area of Newcastle upon Tyne to Jane and James Renforth, who was a smith.
  • 1843
  • Family move to the Rabbit Banks/Pipewellgate area of Gateshead..
  • 1857
  • Joins an East India Company regiment and sails as part of the relieving force for the Indian Mutiny
  • 1859-1863
  • Smith's striker at NER Engineering Works at Greenesfield, Gateshead; Tyne Port Authority, Howdon; and probably also in other works on both banks of the Tyne.
  • 1860
  • 23rd July. Joined Durham Royal Garrison Artillery at Gateshead.
  • 1860-1865
  • Swimmer. Won a gold medal for swimming at Northumberland Baths. Walked to Talkin Tarn to take part in a swimming race. Lost.
  • 1861
  • 26th June. Marries Mary Ann Bell at Newcastle Register Office.
  • 1862
  • 29th June. Birth of daughter, Margaret Jane. Living at Dean Court, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
  • 1863
  • 21st January. Death of daughter, Margaret Jane, from bronchitis. Living at Tuthill Stairs, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
  • 1863
  • 21st December. Birth of daughter, Ann Elizabeth, in Lying In Hospital, New Bridge Street, Newcastle.
  • 1866
  • Employed in demolition of Old Tyne Bridge.
  • Debut against Robinson alias Princey. Won easily. Princey led, but blew up.
  • Saturday May 19th. Victory over G. Curry of Gateshead in open boats for 20.
  • 1867
  • Monday 22nd April. Race with Balmbra (or W. Bambrough) of Gateshead, in open boats for 20. Won.
  • Won heat in an open boat handicap at Talkin Tarn Regatta (Cumbria, nr Carlisle)
  • August. Beat Edward Boddy at Newcastle Swimming Club competition in the Tyne. Won a medal.
  • 21st September. Beat Robert Boyd for 50 in open boats
  • 5th October. Beat James Boyd in skiffs for 100, High Level to Scotswood Suspension Bridge.
  • 9th December. Should have rowed a skiff race against John Bright for 50 a side. Bright was unable to race because of illness and forfeited the 40 he had down.
  • 1868
  • 28th March. Race with Bright in open boats for 20. Won easily.
  • 23rd June. Birth of daughter, Margaret Jane, at the family home, 6 Church Street, Gateshead.
  • 30th June at Durham Regatta. Won the Brancepeth Castle Plate defeating James Taylor and other local scullers. At same meeting was part of Albion R.C.second crew which was beaten in a race for the Patrons' Plate by the Champion Four.
  • July. Leeds Regatta. Defeated by James Taylor in a handicap skiff race. Taylor had an allowance of two lengths. At the same regatta, on the 14th July, Renforth won the Aire Stakes, value 25, and a local title of champion.
  • 6th July - Wear Boat Club Regatta. Renforth won the Open Professional Skiff race.
  • 14th July. James present at death of daughter, Margaret Jane, from tabes (emaciation) at 6 Church Street, Gateshead.
  • 4th August. Thames National Regatta. Won 90 in a skiff race in which Kelley, Sadler and Percy also competed. Tyne crews also won the fours and the pairs. Commemorated in the song, "Defeat of the Cocknies".
  • First public appearance in "champion four" crew, Renforth (bow), M. Scott, A. Thompson, J. Taylor, J. French (cox), at the Chester Regatta where they won the Waterman's Prize of 40 with great ease. Renforth also won the Scullers' Prize of 10 beating James Taylor of Newcastle and Harry Lang of Manchester.
  • Part of same crew which won the Town Purse of 30 at the Burton-on-Trent Regatta
  • 17th November. Beat Harry Kelley for the championship of the world on the Thames.
  • 1869
  • Split in champion four-oared crew of which Renforth was a member. It was made up of Taylor, Renforth, Thompson and Scott.
  • January 6th. Assault charge heard in Newcastle Court after attack on man in spirit bar. Found guilty and fined.
  • 25th January. Taylor and Renforth, in one boat, rowed against Thompson and Scott, in another, from bridge to bridge on the Tyne for 200. Renforth and Taylor won easily.
  • May 5th. Deserted from Durham RGA Militia.
  • May 31st. Pro-am race in pair oar boats. Renforth and Gulston against James Taylor and James Wallace. Lost.
  • Wednesday June 10th. Won scullers' race at King's Lynn Royal Regatta.
  • Wednesday July 14th, Hartlepools' Regatta. Lost scullers race to James Boyd of Gateshead. In awkward sea conditions but arousing the suspicions of the crowd.
  • Renforth and Taylor form a crew to compete at 1869 Thames National Regatta. These two plus Thomas Winship and John Martin.
  • By early August Renforth is landlord of the Belted Will Inn, Hinde Street, Scotswood Rd.
  • Thursday August 5th, Chester Regatta. Won Watermen's Sculls (7) beating James Taylor and Thomas Winship. Next day Renforth's crew won Watermen's Fours (40).
  • Friday August 6th, Wear Boat Club Regatta. Renforth and Taylor win pairs (5) as they please. Renforth wins skiff race (8) in Adelaide.
  • Saturday 21st August, Thames Regatta. Above-mentioned four beaten by Surbiton crew. Tyne crew challenge Surbiton crew to race twice more, once on the Thames and once on the Tyne, for 400 each race.
  • 5th and 6th October. Renforth rows against Bright for 100 a side in open boats from High Level Bridge to Meadows House. Bright getting two lengths start in 1 miles. Foul on first day leading to re-row. Foul again but decision given to Bright. After the race on the 6th Renforth collapses in a fit in the bar of the Star Hotel, Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne and is taken home in a cab. Renforth living at Belted Will Inn, Hinde Street, Scotswood Rd.
  • Tyne four-oar crew win both races against Surbiton crew. November 5th on Thames and November 18th on Tyne.
  • Two days after the match on the Tyne, November 20th, Renforth and Taylor are beaten in a double scull race for 200 with Kelley and Sadler on the Tyne from bridge to bridge.
  • 1870
  • February. Moves from Belted Will Inn to take over as landlord of Sir Charles Napier Inn, Queen Street, St. Nicholas' Buildings.
  • 5th July. Wins Brancepeth Plate (scullers race) and Patrons Plate (as part of Champion Four) at Durham Regatta.
  • Sunday 17th July. Pall bearer at Harry Clasper's funeral.
  • September. Renforth's crew (Renforth, James Taylor, Thomas Winship, John Martin, with John Adams as spare man) defeat Canadians at Lake Lachine, Canada.
  • 1871
  • 16th January. Renforth and Kelley beat James Taylor and Thomas Winship in a pair-oar race on the Tyne for 400.
  • Sells Sir Charles Napier Inn.
  • Thursday 15th June, Tyne Regatta. Renforth and Kelley beaten by James Taylor and Thomas Winship in pairs. Kelley suffering from sciatica and rowing against medical advice. Renforth's crew, Renforth, Kelley, Chambers, Percy, Bright (spare) which was formed to go out to Canada, has to be reorganised because of Kelley's indisposition.
  • Friday 16th June, Renforth, Bright, Chambers, Percy beat Taylor's crew in fours.
  • (23/08/1871) Death of James Renforth, after collapsing during a race against the Canadians on the Kennebecasis river at St. John, New Brunswick. His dying words reputed to be "What will they say in England?"
  • Deeth o'Renforth Champion sculler of the world by Rowland Harrison:

    Ye cruel Atlantic cable
    What's myed ye bring such fearful news?
    When Tyneside's hardly yeble
    Such sudden grief to bide.
    Hoo me heart it beats - iv'ry body greets,
    As the whisper runs throo dowley streets,
    "We've lost poor Jimmy Renforth,
    The Champien o'Tyneside."

  • Sunday 10th September. Funeral of Renforth and burial in Gateshead Cemetery. Funeral procession starts from Renforth's house in James Street, Gateshead, which he probably bought after the sale of the Sir Charles Napier Inn earlier in the year.
  • 1872
  • Monday late October. Inauguration of Renforth Memorial.
  • 1884
  • 19th May. Court Case at Newcastle County Court concerning whereabouts of 200 due to Renforth's daughter, Ann Elizabeth now married and called Heler. Case found in favour of daughter and widow Mary Ann, now remarried to William John Renforth (James Renforth's cousin).
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