The following article was written by Jeannette Richards, a Specialist Nurse in Women’s Health. It is a small tribute to her Aunt Margaret Feather who died in March 2022, aged 88. Jeannette loves that she was such a strong woman and a trail blazer for women’s sport.
“My aunty was Margaret Ann Dixon (nee Feather), she achieved her channel swim in August 1954 in 16 hours 22 minutes when she was just over 21 years old. She was the 2nd Female finisher in the Butlins race of that year with Brenda Fisher (from Grimsby) being the 1st Female finisher. As in many of these cases these successes don’t happen overnight. Margaret’s first attempt was in 1950 when she was 17 years old, her 2nd attempt was in 1952 and her 3rd was in 1953.
Whilst training at Folkestone for her 1954 Cross Channel Swim in Butlin’s International Cross Channel Swimming race, Miss Feather said she would not cover her body with grease for the actual swim. She did this on the advice of Jim Heath, her manager, who also acted as her pilot. He claimed that grease is only a psychological aid to stop swimmers feeling the cold in the water and hoped Margaret will prove this during her swim. This was further confirmed in later years by one of her daughters who stated that as Margaret trained in the North Sea, she was accustomed to the cold water. There were 17 competitors that year with only 7 finishers.
Her formative years were spent in Scarborough where her parents were hoteliers. The family were well known swimmers, my Uncle Albert Feather also participated in long distance swimming, my mum Doreen Feather also raced and dived. My mum did some distance swims but not as far as her elder siblings, but she was always proud of their achievements. My mum taught myself and brother to swim.
Margaret had already competed in the Morecambe Cross Bay Swim in 1949 – finishing in a time of 4 hours 3 minutes and 22 seconds. This was a swim of a minimum of 9 miles with the distance being dependent on the tide at the time. Albert also finished this swim in 1955 in a time of 3 hours 18 minutes 38 seconds.
Margaret was a trail blazer for women’s sport, she was the first woman in the Capri-Naples swim in 1955, first woman to complete the swim and be recognised by the International long distance swimming federation world championship for 1955. Training was long and hard she trained non-stop for 4hrs daily and 8hrs every 2nd Sunday with 14hrs extra swim time each month.
However, she described her best achievement when she rescued a 16yr old girl from Scarborough sea. A beach patrol man sadly drowned in his attempt to save the girl. She was awarded the Royal Humane Society Bronze medal in 1955 for this heroic act.
Margaret and her brother Albert emigrated to Australia in 1965, both taught swimming.
I competed in races and have later taken on the long distance challenges with the famous Scarborough Castle Foot swim being my first visit – I was hooked. Not especially on the sea but I have covered most of the distance swims in the lakes with Windermere my longest swim last year age 60.
It is clearly in our blood!