Sport by Dr Denise Amos


Since 1895 swimming has been compulsory in the curriculum of city schools. The Nottingham City Police force and the YMCA were important clubs in Nottingham in 1900. The sport became very popular in Mansfield and the Mansfield Swimming Club was started in 1907. Perhaps this is why the town has produced some excellent swimmers in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games. Rebecca Adlington won two gold medals in 2008 and two bronze medals at the London games. She was not the only one to put Nottingham and, more importantly, their home town of Mansfield in the spotlight as three swimmers achieved medals at the 2012 Para-Olympics following on from the 2012 Olympics. Ollie and his brother Sam Hynd won a selection of medals and Charlotte Henshaw won a silver medal. Peter Jervis from Retford Swimming Club represented Great Britain in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver in the 200 yards breast stroke.

Tom Blower.
Tom Blower (photograph courtesy of Nottinghamshire Archives).

Someone who made quite a stir at the time but has since faded into obscurity was Tom Blower. He was the son of a miner and lived in Radford, Nottingham. Nicknamed ‘Carthorse’ because of his giant appearance he became a long distance endurance swimmer.  In August 1937 he swam the English Channel from France to England in 13 hours and 29 minutes creating a new record and a personal best for him. His training water was the River Trent where he could be seen swimming regularly up and down, as well as Noel Street baths, Radford and Victoria baths, Nottingham. He was the Morecambe Bay swimming champion in 1935, 1936 and 1937. He wanted to do the ‘double’ and swim both ways across the Channel and achieved this in August 1938.

Probably his greatest achievement was in swimming the north channel of the Irish Sea between Donaghadee in County Down and Portpatrick in Scotland a distance of 21 miles. He made two attempts at this crossing in 1947; the first attempt was called-off because the sea was so rough that the rescue boats travelling alongside Blower were unable to keep with him but the second attempt looked to be a better chance for crossing and Blower said he was not getting out of the water for anyone! The first part of the crossing went well but by early morning the weather had changed and the there was an enormous swell in the sea and some of the observers wanted to get him out but on his instructions his wife refused to allow it and he struggled on for several more hours, at one point it took him four hours to cover about one mile. Eventually he came ashore and raised his hands in salute – it had taken him 15 hours and 26 minutes to swim 33 miles and was for many years the only person to have conquered this stretch of water.

He was urged to enter the 1948 Olympics but he said he was built for comfort not speed! He set the long distance swimming record of 20 miles from Dover to Ramsgate in four and a half hours. In 1951 he attempted the 2-way Channel swim, leaving St Margaret’s and arriving at Calais 18 hours and 42 minutes later – his swim was hampered by fog. He immediately set off on the return journey but after two and half hours had to concede defeat. He died of a heart attack on 17 February 1955, aged 41 years.