History of open water swimming in Morecambe

Action from a Morecambe Cross Bay Swim.
Action from a Morecambe Cross Bay Swim.

Competitive open water swimming will return to Morecambe Bay this summer when on August 28, a one-mile race will be held along the shore starting and finishing at Morecambe Yacht Club. In this special feature, GREG LAMBERT looks back at the history of open water swimming in the town and particularly the epic cross bay swimming competitions from the past.

They were unsuccessful, but realised that better swimmers would succeed.

Arrangements were made for a prominent swimmer of the day, Professor Stearne of Manchester, to make the attempt on July 13 1907. Professor Stearne, 41, was six foot and 15 stone and needed sustenance before embarking, so he consumed a plate of beef steak and two helpings of salmon!

The good professor wore a costume so heavy he threw it off after the start and swam nude.

When he reached Morecambe, in a time of three hours 45 minutes 41 seconds, and stood up, he had to make sure he was facing Grange!

A collection was taken on the Morecambe and Grange promenades, 75% of which went to the professor and 25% was used to form the Morecambe Cross Bay Swimming Association. Lord Ashton donated £25 towards a shield for the winner, Morecambe Corporation donating £10.

The first cross bay swimming championship was held in September that year, won by Brierley Law of Chadderton. He competed in the swim until 1948, winning six times.

By the 1920s the event was attracting huge interest, with up to six swims taking place annually, although with mixed results.

Only one out of nine swimmers finished in September 1921 and six out of 13 in 1927.

The course was 16km (10 miles) from the beach east of Grange Open Air Swimming Pool to the West End beach at Morecambe. Swimmers came from far and wide to compete.

On August 21 1937 Dorothy Simpson of Morecambe and Kathleen Hodgson of Grange dead heated in four hours 50 minutes.

Emily Nicholson, now aged 84, from Bolton-le-Sands, became involved from 1947 to 1957 when she was one of the Girls Nautical Training Corps (now sea cadets) who took out a portable wireless in one of the accompanying boats.

“It was quite an experience,” she said.

“There were usually about seven swimmers, who swam from Grange to Morecambe. They got greased up in the open air pool at Grange and then walked into the sea by there for their swim back to Morecambe’s Stone Jetty.

“Everyone connected to the swims did so out of love for the swims, the swimmers, their trainers, and certainly the local fishermen, who willingly rowed back the nine miles from Grange to Morecambe. That took just as much stamina as the swimmers.”

See The Visitor (17-08-11) for full story.