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The Channel Swimmer

by Marriott Edgar
Illustrations by John Hassall

Joe starting the big swim
Joe starting the big swim

Captain Matthew Webb received acclaim for being the first person to swim the Channel in 1875 and his portrait subsequently appeared boxes of Bryant and May safety matches.

To date, around 1,000 people have successfully completed the swim, but in the 1930's, only about a dozen swimmers had been daft enough to try.

The Channel Swimmer brings nostalgia to those from that period.

  • The 'Woolsack' was (and still is) a large sack of wool used as a seat for the presider of the House of Lords, the UK's Upper House of the Parliament. Proclamations made from the Woolsack are pretty important.
  • Public bath houses have virtually disappeared in England and 'swimming baths' are now generally called 'swimming pools'.
  • 'Guiness corks' were used as beer bottle stoppers until the late 19th century. Until then, there must have been millions of old beer bottle corks lying around, waiting to be recycled as fishing floats... and for stitching into "an old camisole" for Sam's buoyancy.

Would you hear a Wild tale of adventure
Of a hero who tackled the sea,
A super-man swimming the ocean,
Then hark to the tale of Joe Lee.

Our Channel, our own Straits of Dover
Had been swum by an alien lot:
Our British-born swimmers had tried it,
But that was as far as they'd got.

So great was the outcry in England,
Darts Players neglected their beer,
And the Chanc'Ior proclaimed from the Woolsack
As Joe Lee were the chap for this 'ere.

For in swimming baths all round the country
Joe were noted for daring and strength;
Quite often he'd dived in the deep end,
And thought nothing of swimming a length.

So they wrote him, C/o Workhouse Master,
Joe were spending the summer with him,
And promised him two Christmas puddings
If over the Channel he'd swim.

Joe jumped into t' breach like an 'ero,
He said, "All their fears I'll relieve,
And it isn't their puddings I'm after,
As I told them last Christmas Eve.

"hough many have tackled the Channel
From Grisnez to Dover that is,
For the honour and glory of England
I'll swim from Dover to Gris-niz."

As soon as his words were made public
The newspapers gathered around
And offered to give him a pension
If he lost both his legs and got drowned.

He borrowed a tug from the Navy
To swim in the shelter alee,
The Wireless folk lent him a wavelength,
And the Water Board lent him the sea.

Darts players neglected their beer
Darts players neglected their beer

His wife strapped a mascot around him,
The tears to his eyes gently stole;
'Twere some guiness corks she had collected
And stitched to an old camisole.

He entered the water at daybreak,
A man with a camera stood near,
He said "Hurry up and get in, lad,
You're spoiling my view of the pier."

At last he were in, he were swimming
With a beautiful overarm stroke,
When the men on the tug saw with horror
That the rope he were tied to had broke.

Then down came a fog, thick as treacle,
The tug looked so distant and dim
A voice shouted "Help, I am drowning,"
Joe listened and found it were him.

The tug circled round till they found him,
They hauled him aboard like a sack,
Tied a new tow-rope around him,
Smacked him and then threw him back.

'Twere at sunset, or just a bit later,
That he realized all wasn't right,
For the tow-rope were trailing behind him
And the noose round his waist getting tight.

Showing Joe the course
Showing Joe the course
Throwing him back with a new rope
Throwing him back with a new rope

One hasty glance over his shoulder,
He saw in a flash what were wrong.
The Captain had shut off his engine,
Joe were towing the Tugboat along.

On and on through the darkness he paddled
Till he knew he were very near in
By the way he kept bumping the bottom
And hitting the stones with his chin.

Was it Grisniz he'd reached? ... No, it wasn't,
The treacherous tide in its track
Had carried him half-way to Blackpool
And he had to walk all the way back.


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