Swimmers could not resist cross-bay challenge to Grange

Fancy a New Year’s dip? The challenge of swimming the 8.5 miles from Morecambe to Grange-over-Sands (the so-called Cross Bay Swim) was very much a 20th century endeavour.

By Michelle Blade
Thursday, 6th January 2022, 3:45 pm

The first Amateur Swimming Championship of Morecambe Bay in 1907 was organised by three local swimming clubs (Lancaster, Morecambe and the Victorian (Bare) Amateur Swimming Clubs).

The first winner was Brierley Law of Chadderton who won again in 1908 and 1909 and then later in 1924, 1929 and 1932. Law would have won the first prize of 10 guineas, second prize was five guineas and third, three3 guineas. There were another six one guinea prizes plus awards for the pilot bringing in the winner and the best attempt. The prize money came from the 2/6 entry fees.

The results were chalked up on a board outside race headquarters at the Crown Hotel.

The memorial to long distance swimmer Commander Charles Gerald Forsberg OBE on the promenade opposite Regent Road.

Brierley Law’s time was 3h 45m 10s.

An early successful swim was by Professor Stearne of Manchester on July 13, 1907, in a time of 3h 45m 41s, while J McMahon of Preston became the first amateur to make the crossing on August 26, 1907.

Brierley Law had a rival in the form of Henry Taylor (also from Chadderton) who had won gold at the 1908 London Olympics. As a result he was a star entrant in the 1910 Cross Bay Swim which he won. Taylor also won a 1,000 yard there-and-back race between the West End Pier and Stone Jetty in 1914.

In 1946 Jessie Fisher of Grimsby became the first woman to win the Cross Bay Championship.

Action from a Morecambe Cross Bay Swim. (unknown date).

Swimming Galas then became an attraction at the Super Swimming Stadium with prizes for the men’s and ladies’ 220 yard freestyle as as well men’s high diving.

In 1960 the long distance swimmer Gerald Forsberg swam what was thought impossible: West End Pier to Kents Bank.

A two-way Cross Bay followed in September 1960 with a Round Bay race the next year taking in stages from Morecambe to Grange and Arnside back to Morecambe.

However, as swimming Morecambe Bay went from strength to strength, its support

Maureen Newsham swimming from Grange to Morecambe circa 1920-1. Her cousin Lil Barrow is in the boat timekeeping.

network was in decline as the fishing boats used as safety boats became fewer.

Eventually the Cross Bay Swims were replaced by a Fleetwood-Morecambe Race last held in 1974.

Among the locals to have successfully swum the bay are Charles Forsberg and Yvonne Thompson in 1971, Roger Jobling in 1961, Walter Barnes in 1955, Sylvia Barnes in 1954, Dorothy Simpson in 1937 and Maud Newsham.

In more recent years an amateur swimming group has again been taking to the waters of Morecambe Bay.

MALLOWS (Morecambe and Lancaster Lancashire Open Water Swimming) has been arranging group swims off Morecambe Promenade since its formation in 2017 by Jon Gibirdi.

The group has grown to about 50 swimmers but it’s thought there are some 2,000 open water swimmers across North Lancashire.

The swimmers find that a range of physical ailments and mental well-being are helped along by the zing of a dip in Morecambe Bay.

To find out more take a look at MALLOWS Facebook page.