Posts tagged: Dover

Captain Webb: ‘Shropshire Lad’ and the original swimming hero

By , 16th September 2011 17:59

Matthew_Webb_1848-1883The public reaction to David Walliams’ marathon eight-day swim along 140 miles of the River Thames in aid of Sport Relief is reminiscent of the acclaim received by an earlier endurance swimmer. When, at 10:41 am on 25 August 1875, Captain Matthew Webb struggled ashore near Calais to become the first man to swim the English Channel unaided, he too became a national hero.  Occurring at the time when sports such as football, rugby and tennis were becoming more organized and codified, his achievement did much to popularize swimming as a sport. It also heralded a golden era of pool design between the 1880s and the outbreak of the First World War when more than 600 baths were constructed.

Webb was born on 18 January 1848 at Dawley, Shropshire, one of twelve children of Doctor Matthew Webb and his wife Sarah. Dawley is just a few miles from Much Wenlock where, in 1850, another doctor founded the Wenlock Olympian Class which later inspired de Coubertain to establish the modern Olympic Movement.

His birth certificate records that the son of the surgeon was born at Dawley Green. British History Online notes,”By the mid 19th century High Street, as Dawley Green came to be known, had gained most of the features of a small town…”.

When Matthew Webb was just a few years old, the family moved the short distance to nearby Madeley. The 1851 census, lists the Webb family as living in High Street, Madeley. By his eighth birthday, the younger Matthew had learned to swim in the River Severn below Ironbridge.

Aged 12, he joined the training ship Conway on the Mersey before embarking on a career in the merchant navy where he gained a reputation as a strong, but not necessarily fast, swimmer. In 1874, he was awarded the Stanhope gold medal after diving into heavy seas in the Atlantic in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a passenger who had fallen overboard.

Webb was serving as captain of the Liverpool ship, Emerald, when, in early 1875, he read a newspaper report of an unsuccessful attempt to swim the English Channel.  Inspired, he left the merchant navy to prepare for his own attempt.

A first attempt on 12 August 1875 was thwarted when heavy seas threatened to overwhelm his support boat.  He started his second attempt on 24 August, diving off the Admiralty pier in Dover at 1 p.m.

Battling against strong currents, it is estimated that Webb actually swam close to 40 miles in the 21 hour 45 minutes he spent in the water.  (Benefiting from the 130 years of open water swimming experience accumulated since Webb, David Walliams’ completed his 2006 Sport Relief channel swim in less than half the time: 10 hours 34 minutes.)

As a national hero, Webb was feted everywhere as he toured the country lecturing.  However, his celebrity did not bring prosperity. Having married Madeleine Chaddock in Fulham on 27 April 1880, he was compelled to take part in a variety of endurance swimming races in Britain and America in order to earn a living.

He ended a race against Dr Jennings on 1 October 1881 at Hollingworth Lake near Rochdale in a state of utter exhaustion.  This was considered to be a turning point in his career.

In search of what he hoped would be a big pay-day, Webb sailed with his wife, son and baby daughter to America in 1883.  His plan was to swim downriver through the narrow gorge that runs away from the foot of Niagara Falls and on through Niagara’s treacherous Whirlpool. Disregarding warnings from friends, Webb left his family at Nantucket, where he had spent a few days training, and traveled alone to the Falls.  At 4 pm on 24 July he dived into the middle of the river from a rowing boat.  He was instantly swept away by the strong currents. His body was recovered by fishermen some days later and was laid to rest in the nearby Oakwood Cemetery.

Some 34 years after he conquered the Channel and helped re-ignite interest in swimming as a sport, his elder brother Thomas unveiled a memorial to Webb in his Dawley birthplace.


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This was the year after FINA, swimming’s world governing body, was established at a meeting on 19 July at the Manchester Hotel, London, at the culmination of the 1908 London Olympics.

1948 Olympic Torch Relay

By , 18th May 2011 00:01

The London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay will travel the length and breadth of the British Isles between May 18 and the Opening Ceremony of the Games on 27 July. The Torch Relay for the ‘Austerity Games’ of 1948 was in many ways a much simpler, some might say purer, affair.

In 1948, the Olympic Flame was lit at Olympia at midday on Saturday 17 July. The Greek leg of the relay, shortened at the last minute due to political unrest, carried the Flame to a Greek destroyer which sailed for Corfu where it was received on board HMS Whitesands Bay at 1.30 pm on Sunday 18th. The Royal Navy frigate sailed for Bari in Italy, arriving at 12.30 pm on 19 July. On landing, the Olympic Flame was carried in Relay day and night – stopping only briefly for civic receptions – through Italy, Switzerland, south-east France, Luxembourg, Belgium before re-entering France to embark on HMS Bicester at Calais at 6.15pm on 28 July. Between Bari and Calais, 1051 Torch Bearers covered 2375 km in under 9 days and 6 hours.

HMS Bicester landed in Dover at 8.25 pm on Wednesday 28 July. 73 runners acted by Torch Bearers along the 255 km route between Dover and Wembley Stadium which passed through Canterbury, Charing, Maidstone, Westerham, Redhill, Reigate, Dorking, Guildford, Bagshot, Ascot, Windsor, Slough and Uxbridge. Mark John was the last Torch Bearer, carrying the Olympic Flame into the Opening Ceremony in the Empire Stadium, Wembley at 4pm on Thursday July 29.


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Photos of the Relay passing through the Surrey have been collected into a Flickr group by the County Council.

The Official Report of the 1948 Olympics records how even in the dead of night, large crowds would gather all along the route, especially at points where the Olympic flame was passed form one runner to the next.
“At Charing, in Kent, at 1.30 am, 3,000 people mobbed the torch bearer; at Guildford every available policeman was needed to control the early morning crowds, while Western Avenue, the great double highway from Uxbridge towards London, was lined on both sides for the first time in its history.”

A second Relay was staged to carry an Olympic Flame from Wembley to Torquay, venue for the Olympic sailing competition. The first torch was lit by Lord Burghley, Chairman of the Organising Committee at 9.00 am on Sunday 1 August. The 330 km route to Torquay passed through Uxbridge, Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Basingstoke, Andover, Salisbury, Sherborne, Yeovil, Exeter and Newton Abbot. After passing through the hands of 107 Torch Bearers, the Torquay Olympic Flame was lit at Torre Abbey, at 11.00 am on Monday 2 August.

High Duty Alloys, a manufacturer of aircraft components, supplied a total of 1720 Olympic Torches from its factory on the Slough Trading Estate. The Torches were cast in the company’s ‘Hiduminium’ high-strength, high-temperature aluminium alloys.

Modern Torch Relays are deliberately more inclusive, and physically less demanding. The inevitable corollary is that logistically, they are even more complex. The most recent major relay in Britain was the Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay which heralded the XVII Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. That Relay was based on the operational model used for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Torch Relay.

The 2012 Torch Relays – one for the Olympics and a second shorter one prior to the Paralympics – will require thousands of Torch Bearers. Few will run for more than a few hundred metres. Fewer are likely to run in the middle of the night!

Update: On 15 September 2011, LOCOG announced that the 2012 London Paralympic Torch Relay will run through the night. Typically staged after the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Torch Relay is on a smaller scale compared with its Olympic equivalent. LOCOG will break new ground in 2012 with flames being lit in the capital of each of the home nations. These will be relayed to Stoke Mandeville near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire which is generally acknowledged as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement. Here the four flames will be combined into one which will be carried in a 24-hour relay to the Olympic Stadium for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony on 29 August.

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