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People of Note

Thomas William Burgess

Many people are aware that Captain Matthew Webb successfully swam the English Channel in 1875, but how many are aware that 36 years later and after over 70 unsuccessful attempts, another name entered the record books - that of Thomas William Burgess from Rotherham.


Born on 15th June, 1872 at Lyndhurst Place, Rotherham, Thomas William Burgess was the son of Alfred Burgess,Journeyman and Blacksmith, born 1851, at Youlgreave, Derbyshire, and Camilla Ann Peat, born 1847 in Harthill. Thomas had a sister, Winifred E Burgess (b. 1875). In 1881 the family were living at 26 Bethel Road, Rotherham

Thomas learnt to swim as a small boy and while living in London, he set himself the task of increasing his speed in swimming.

It is not known when Thomas moved to live in Paris where he was employed in the Motor Tyre business. He started channel swimming from a French tug with a party of French sportsmen and journalists. It was thought he was a Parisian until he began speaking in a broad Yorkshire dialect!

On 7th September, 1911, Thomas, on his sixteenth attempt, became the second person to swim the channel. He entered the water near the South Foreland Lighthouse, in St. Margaret's Bay, Dover at 11.15 on the Tuesday morning, and landed at Cape Grisnez at 9.50 the following morning.

As well as receiving a telegram from the King at Balmoral, Thomas received many more telegrams of congratulation including one from Matthew Webb, the son of Captain Webb.

chart showing the course of Webb & Burgess

A bronze bust of Thomas Burgess was placed at the Sheffield Road baths in Rotherham. (The building has since been demolished). From July 2010. the bust went on display at Clifton Park Museum as part of the Rotherham Sporting Greats - an exhibition celebrating the achievements of local sporting heroes.

Nestle's advert featuring 
Thomas Burgess

Thomas later turned to coaching, and was successful in helping Gertrude Erdele and Edward Temme.

Gertrude Erdele became the first woman to swim the channel on the 6th August 1926.

Edward Temme, a London insurance clerk, was the first man to swim across the Channel both ways, from France to England in August 1927 and from England to France on 18 August 1934.


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