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David Sydney Billington, arguably the world's greatest swimmer

This article is from the Lancashire Evening Telegraph website.

Bacup: Boy wonder who made a splash
By Gill Johnson

DAVID Sydney Billington, born in Bacup on July 5, 1885 and baptised at St John the Evangelist Church could arguably be the world's greatest swimmer. His father was superintendent at the local swimming baths so David had early opportunities to develop his swimming prowess and by the age of 13 was the 'Boy Champion of England.' Six years later he had won nine national championships including the prestigious King Edward VII Cup as well as swimming in front of the King and Queen Alexandra, winning the famous five miles River Thames "Lords and Commons" race. After this race his reputation spread and he was known as the "World's Greatest Swimmer." In 1905 he competed in what was then the greatest Continental race of its time, a seven-and-a-half mile swim along the River Seine through Paris, only to come into conflict with amateur officials who deemed him to be a professional according to their rules.

David did turn professional after winning 300 prizes as an amateur and held every professional championship from 100 yards to 13.5 miles. In 1913 he took part in what was to be one of the greatest swimming contests ever held in England. The great Australian swimmer, Oscar E Dickman had thrown down a challenge to race him over one mile. The event took place on August 2 at the Clarence Recreation Ground reservoir in Bury and around 7,000 people turned out to see it. David beat the Australian by 108 yards in the record time of 24 minutes and 11 seconds. The event raised over 105 of which 20 per cent went to local charities. David himself made only 50 from his efforts. Later, David toured the world and passed on his skills, turning out world class swimmers especially during his stay a swimming coach in Ontario, Canada. Sadly, David's other great love turned out to be gambling which did him few favours.

His final job was in Radcliffe where he was schools instructor at Whittaker Street Baths.

2:44pm Thursday 2nd March 2006