Smith, Miss Lily

Born Lillian Maud Smith 18/9/1889 in Shoreditch to James George Smith and Sarah Ann George (married Thornborough, Bucks 1885). Lived over the Whitefriars London Fire Brigade Station in the City of London where her father was a LFB Superintendent. Siblings were James born 1886, Nellie born 1887 and Gwendoline born 1891. All three girls were typists and competitive swimmers

She was in Dover for the summers of 1912 and 1913 but bad conditions limited her to one attempt in 1913. She planned another summer in Dover in 1914, and may have arrived in July, but the imminent war, declared 4th August, scuppered her plans

By 1911 she was perhaps the most famous female swimmer in England; she appeared in a number of movie shorts including 1911 Miss Lily Smith’s Swim in the Solent, 1911 Exhibition of Swimming, 1911 Miss Lily Smith’s Swim from Portsmouth to Ryde and Back, and 1911 Miss Lily Smith’s Swim in the Solent

She was Captain and founder of the City of London Ladies’ Amateur Swimming Club and the Tottenham Ladies’ Swimming Club. She and her two sisters were members of the first team of London Ladies’ Water Polo Club

She came to Dover to swim the ChannelĀ  in late July 1912 but bad weather and tides prevented her making an attempt through all of August and into the second week of September. She did try Dover to Ramsgate on 15/8/1912 but rough seas forced her out near South Foreland. Another Dover-Ramsgate attempt on 28/8/1912 saw her succeed in 6.45 hours and break Wolffe’s record for the swim by 18 minutes

The Washington Post 26/10/1913:-

On September 11, 1912, she dived from the government pier at Dover and started out with a strong stroke for tho other side and kept at it for six and one-quarter hours, but then, like Miss Kellermann, she was overcome with seasickness and had to give it up. Nevertheless, she had covered a distance of twenty miles in that time, which is something of a record in itself. Honors have come to Miss Smith and other members of her family so often, however, that their novelty has worn off. Her father is Jame G. Smith, a superintendent in the London County Council Fire Department, and wears many medals for bravery and life saving. Two years ago he made his way through smoke and ammonia fumes in order to rescue three men who were entrapped in a burning refrigerating plant, and for the deed won the plaudits of all London.

Misses Nellie and Gwendoline, as well as herself, have won medals again and again for feats in the water. Lily had earned the title of “Champion of all London” before she was fifteen years, old by virtue of her success in many competitions. During her sixteenth year she swam for five hours side by side with Jabez Wolffe, who was at the time attempting to cross the Channel. The young girl’s daring on this occasion was quite disquieting to her father, for though he knew that she was a capable swimmer he did not like the idea of seeing her sporting in such treacherous waters for such a length of time. He and his daughter were on the tugboat that was accompanying Wolffe, and when they left the English shore no one in the party suspected that Lily intended to enter the water, even thouph she was wearing a bathing suit. Suddenly, when they were half way across she announced that she would try to swim to land and dived overboard. Both she and Wolffe had to give up the struggle, however, for a strong wind came up and, blowing in exactly the opposite direction than that followed by the current, kicked up such rough water that for the most of the time the swimmers could not be seen nby those on the tug

In her seventeenth year Miss Smith made the fifteen-mile swim from Richmond to Blackfriars Bridge, in the Thames. She was pitted against thirty-four men at the time, and crossed the finish line ahead of twenty-five men, having covered the distance in four hours and nine minutes. This was in 1907, and that marks the date of the first swimming competition in whicn men and women were both entered. She made equally good showings over the same course in 1908 and 1909. She first made England sit up and take notice when, in 1910, she covered twenty miles through rough water in six hours and thirty-five minutes. She started at Dover, struck out for Ramsgate and then came back down the Channel to Deal. This was the most remarkable feat accomplished in the water by any woman up to that time.

Miss Smith decided to do something in the following year which would go further than any prophesies made up to that time she decided to swim the Solent from Southsea to the Isle of Wight and return, a distance of twelve miles each way. She trained faithfully for this event all during the Spring of 1911, for the proposed feat was a difficult one, having been performed previously by only one swimmer, Horace Davenport, who accomplished it in 1884. Leaving Southsea on the minute of 6 o’clock, August 21, she started bravely on the first leg of the journey, reaching Ryde Pier, which marked the end of it, at 10:45. She merely touched the pier, and immediately started on the return journey. When within five miles of Southsea she received a serious cut on the knee from a submerged barrel with which she came in contact. She did net give up the struggle, though the wound bled profusely, but bandaged the limb while still in the . ater and then resumed her task. She kept on pluckily for half an hour longer, but the injured member proved to be too great a handicap, and so, against her own wishes but acting on the advice of her trainer, Walter Brickctt, she gave up the battle. This was a remarkable performance because the Solent waters are even more dangerous and now with greater speed than those in the Channel. It was her showing on this occasion that won her the confidence of her friends and the praise of her compatriots, and from then on she has been regarded as a fit candidate for the cross-channel swim. She was still fresh when she was forced to leave the Solent on account of her injury, and this in spite of the fact that she had swam nineteen miles. That she would have finished and in good time had she not met with the barrel, there is not the least doubt. During that swim it was her lot to pass very close to HMS Thunderer, which was in the Solent. The officer on watch earned a little notoriety for himself by ordering a boat manned and lowered and having it row around and around his ship when she approached. He was under the impression that Miss Smith was merely swimming from shore to the Thunderer, and he was determined that she would not be permitted to “land” on the vessel. Hence, he had put out a boat to keep her off. When those who were accompanying her on a tug shouted through a megaphone and told Miss Smith’s real intention, the boat was called in and every man on the Thunderer came on deck to give three cheers for the plucky English girl. Miss Smith’s next accomplishment In the water was a swim from Worthing to Brighton, a matter of twelve miles, which she did in four hours and thirty-five minutes, coming in only six minutes after Jabez Wolffe.


Swims by Smith, Miss Lily

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