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Kathleen Thomas Swims the Bristol Channel

Posted by
Philip (South Wales, United Kingdom) on 25 January 2012 in Documentary & Street.

A seaside town now has a permanent reminder of one its pioneering daughters. At 21, Kathleen Thomas, from Penarth, became the first person to swim the Bristol Channel, on September 5, 1927. To mark the 80th anniversary in 2007, plaques were unveiled on Penarth Pier, near her starting point on the beach below, and at Weston-super-Mare, where her swim ended after seven hours and 20 minutes.

Kathleen died 20 years ago, but her children Graham Day, 68, Sabrina Steelsmith, 72, and Leucothea Simms, 62, were at the unveiling.

Graham, who now lives in Spain with his partner Ursula Cutts, said it was an emotional moment for the family.

He said: "The last time I was here was 20 years ago. We came to scatter my mother's ashes across the Bristol Channel in a boat. It was quite choppy that day, but suddenly the waves went calm and I poured the ashes over the side. Within two minutes, the waves started lapping again and a bell sounded from the shore. It was quite emotional."

He hoped the plaque would encourage people to remember her remarkable achievement and those of others.

Soon after swimming the Channel, Kathleen moved to London where she became a swimming teacher and met her husband Frederick Day.

The couple brought up their children in Kent, where Sabrina continues to live with her husband Ian.

Life-long Penarth resident Denise Llewellyn remembered watching Kathleen embark on her swimming adventure as a five-year-old.

She said: "I was getting very bored because I could see this lovely lady, Kathleen, but she wasn't making any effort to go into the sea.

"I didn't blame her, mind. I realised later they were smearing her with lard to keep the cold at bay."

Denise's father Gus Taylor, former chairman of the Welsh Amateur Swimming Association, had accompanied Kathleen in a boat during her swim.

Sabrina and Leucothea, who lives in Norfolk, remembered their mother telling them about her feat when they were young.

Grandmother-of-five Sabrina said: "When mother and father died, within a month of each other, my father said 'you should see that the plaque goes up for your mother. I really think she deserves it'."

Article from the South Wales Echo in 2007.

NIKON D90 1/6 second F/11.0 ISO 100 26 mm

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Ronnie 2¢ from Atlantic Shores, United Kingdom

This is very touching. A huge moment in one small life and Kathleen is truly deserving of the memory. Strong posting, Philip.

25 Jan 2012 11:57am

@Ronnie 2¢: Thanks. I thought it a great story. I've seen this plaque at the Pier before but never thought much of it. The article posted was a great one I thought from a much maligned regional newspaper.

Anthony Morgan Lambert from Bielefeld,old West wales boy., Germany

An impresive swim even today,there are big currents and very fast running tides in the Bristol channel.Thanks for sharing !!

25 Jan 2012 6:23pm

Jeff from Pembroke Dock, Wales., United Kingdom

Nice to see a real local hero has not been forgotten, in this age of "so called celebrity" worship.

25 Jan 2012 9:02pm

Doug from Burnham-on-Sea, United Kingdom

Wow, living on the other side of this very treacherous stretch of water I can only marvel at the accomplishment, what an incredible achievement and both the words from the South Wales Echo and on the plaque honour her deservedly.

26 Jan 2012 6:23pm

Jo Scurry from Petworth, United Kingdom

I am the second cousin, once removed, of Kathleen... It's amazing!

25 Aug 2012 8:53pm

Jessie from United Kingdom

This is my great grandma. Never met her but she seems like a great person. I wish I could have met her.

6 Feb 2015 6:50am

Gaynor Spencer, nee Cheal from Cardiff, United Kingdom

kathleen is my 2nd cousin, I never knew her. We found out about while doing our family tree. Jo Scurry is my niece, she has also left a post. We have been to see the plaque, I took my daughter and my grandsons, it was a very poignant moment to know that this lady was a relative of ours. What a fantastic achievement. We are well proud of her x

4 Apr 2015 4:24pm

NIKON D90
1/6 second
F/11.0
ISO 100
26 mm