3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Essex Life today click here

Taking the Thames plunge

PUBLISHED: 10:33 10 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:03 10 April 2018

EXG MAY 15 Wild Swimming

EXG MAY 15 Wild Swimming

Archant

Open water swimming has seen something of a surge in recent years. Here Caitlin Davies, author of Downstream: a history and celebration of swimming the River Thames, explains some of its appeal

In the summer of 2013 I joined the Chalkwell Redcaps, the largest open-water swimming club of its kind in the country, for a swim to the Crowstone off Chalkwell Beach. This was the final leg of my 215-mile journey from source to sea to research Downstream: a history and celebration of swimming the River Thames.

People have been swimming in the Thames for centuries and Essex bathers have always joined in. During my journey, I discovered a fascinating history of estuary swimming, from Victorian clubs and Edwardian family beaches to record-breaking Channel champions and modern day swimmers…

Southend on Sea Pier

Southend Pier was a popular spot for summer regattas in Victorian times. In 1873 the annual aquatic festival was, ‘conducted with even more than the usual spirit,’ reported the press, ‘the swimming, considering the state of the water, was most excellent’ and there was, ‘the usual laughter splitting walking the greasy bowspit for a pig in a box’.

When the Southend Swimming Club was formed in May 1894, naturally they chose the pier to show off their skills, running an annual swim from the pier head. Today participants in the Great Pier Swim travel under the pier, thus resurrecting a great Essex tradition.

Grays Beach

Grays Beach was one of several family resorts created along the Thames. Plans started in 1902 when the suitably named Councillor AW Boatman suggested a permanent memorial to mark Edward VII’s coronation, complete with public baths. The ‘pond’ (as it was known) was dug by teams of local unemployed men and barge loads of sand were brought from Great Yarmouth. The formal opening on July 30, 1906, was greeted with, ‘tremendous crowds and unbounded enthusiasm’. Roads were decorated with flags and fairy lamps; there were fireworks, music and a display of ‘ornamental and scientific swimming’.

Norman Derham

In 1926 the News of the World offered £1,000 to any English person who could cross the Channel and beat the time set by American Gertrude Ederle. Norman Derham, a member of the Southend Swimming Club, rose to the challenge. He had set his sights on the Channel as a boy and had been busy training in the Thames. On June 4, 1925, he made his first attempt to cross the estuary, giving up after four hours because of cramp, but earning the name Sinbad the Sailor when a large porpoise lifted him out of the water.

It wasn’t until a year later, in September 16, 1926, that Norman finally made it across the Channel, becoming the first Briton to swim from France to England. He’d beaten the American record, the British press was ecstatic 
and Southend had its very own 
national hero.

Peter Rae

In modern times there is only one person who has swum across the estuary with official permission and that is Peter Rae. An experienced open-water swimmer, it took him five months to plan the trip. On September 14, 2003, he started next to the Westcliff on Sea casino in two feet of water that was just enough to swim in. After landing on the beach at All Hallows, having avoided a large tanker in the main shipping channel, he had a chicken sandwich and a cup of tea. Then he struck off back to the Essex coast, making the crossing all within one tide.

Chalkwell Redcaps

The Chalkwell Redcaps was founded five years ago by Iain Keenan, who started open-water swimming with friends and his two daughters, Olivia and Maria. ‘My reasons were personal,’ says Iain, who is a full-time nursing lecturer at Essex University. ‘There are very few things we can do as a family and the Thames is on our doorstep.’

A group of 12 people first met up on a Bank Holiday in May 2010 and decided to use the Crowstone, erected in the 1830s, as a marker to swim around. The club now runs a busy timetable of events for open water lovers of all ages, with 240 members aged between seven and 82. n

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Neil Oliver is perhaps best known for his role as the presenter of the BBC’s Coast series, but he is about to embark on a quite different tour of the UK, calling in at Southend. Kate Everett found out more

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Essex-raised TV personality Andy Day has been a favourite on BBC children’s channel CBeebies for over 12 years. Now he’s branched into music, touring nationwide with his family-friendly band, Andy and the Odd Socks. Here he tells Denise Marshall about his Glastonbury debut, fighting bullying and becoming a father

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

We’ve spoken to 6 of Essex’s most inspirational businesspeople to find out their secrets to success, how they achieve a work-life balance and who they are inspired by

Read more
Monday, September 3, 2018

In this second instalment of a postcard mini-series, Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office showcases some of the ERO’s picture postcard collection of Southend-on-Sea

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

On the 60th anniversary of the passing of one of England’s most inspired and iconic composers, Sylvia Kent shares why a visit to Brentwood changed the course of both the career and composition of Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

National Trust rangers find themselves out and about in all sorts of weather, and required to do all sorts of tasks. Essex Life spoke to two female rangers happy to show that it’s a job they still love to do

Read more
Friday, August 24, 2018

There is much to be proud of in Colchester’s extensive history, but one man has been hard at work to ensure we don’t forget some of the darker times too. Petra Hornsby explains more

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Perhaps most noted as the 1980s queen of Page 3, life has taken some unusual turns for Chingford’s Samantha Fox. Tim Saunders catches up on this Essex girl’s career path

Read more
Friday, August 10, 2018

Revd John N Merrill has a love for Essex and a love for walking, and this year marks a special celebration of an achievement that embraced both of these passions

Read more
Wednesday, August 8, 2018

In the first of two features celebrating the traditional British seaside holiday, Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office shares picture postcards of the Essex coast | Words: Hannah Salisbury

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory


Job search in your local area




Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search