Channel Swim

For many people the highlight of the Club’s history was the successful CHANNEL RELAY SWIM in September 1967.

The team, all of them teenagers,  Tommy Holland, Stuart Hopkins, Chris Hopkins, Mary Reilly, Dennis Topping and Jeff Webster  (reserves were Lester Lowe and Graham Butler) had put in many months of rigorous training under the guidance of  the coaches Tony Trussel and Jimmy Grimshaw.

They covered a gruelling 31 miles from Dover to Wissant Beach, just outside Calais, in 11 hours and 37 minutes – 16 minutes outside the record.

Upto that time 240 had attempted to swim the Channel, either from France to England or from England to France.  Only 4 teams had been successful on the England to France swim and Tyldesley Swimming Club had the second best time.

The team, with a party of supporters, arrived at Dover at 6.00 pm on Saturday 9th September 1967 and at 5.00 pm on Sunday 10th September, Tommy Holland, the team captain, took the plunge from Shakespeare Beach.

The decision to stage the swim had only been made 2 hours earlier, when the Pilot Boat Captain reported that conditions would be suitable for a crossing from England to France.  Tyldesley Swimming Club Officials had originally planned on crossing in the other direction, which for tidal reasons can be accomplished in a shorter time.

During the hurried start, the British Long Distance Association observer – Lt. Tommy Cook of Hackney, was left behind and the Pilot Boat “Envictor” had to return to the beach to collect him. 

The swim got off to a flying start when Tommy Holland, aided by the outgoing tide, completed 6 and half miles during the first hour.  Each of the team members swam for 1 hour each – Stuart Hopkins was the second swimmer followed by his brother Chris, Mary Reilly, Dennis Topping and Jeff Webster – all of them covered in grease to protect their bodies from the cold.

With three quarters of the swim completed the team were well ahead of the time required for the record.  Tommy Holland had just completed his second stint and Stuart Hopkins started his, when the tide changed – 20 minutes too soon.  At that time they were only 3 and a half miles from the French Shore and two and half hours inside the record.

Chris Hopkins, Mary Reilly and Dennis Topping only covered one and half miles in the next three hours against a very strong tide and the last man to swim Jeff Webster completed 37 minutes of his second spell, when he landed on the French Shore.

The team arrived back in Dover at about 7.00 am after a arduous but exciting night.

When returning home, the team stopped in Maidstone, Kent where the team were presented with their badges by Miss Kelam Smith, Secretary of the Channel Swimming Association.

On Wednesday 13th September 1967, the team did a TOUR OF TRIUMPH along the main streets of Tyldesley in an open topped land rover.  They then went onto Wigan, with a stop at the baths and a visit to Hindley Grammar School where Tommy Holland was back in school.