|Born||24 August 1861|
|Died||10 July 1951|
Agnes Alice Beckwith (24 August 1861 – 10 July 1951) was an English swimmer
Beckwith was born on 24 August 1861 at 16b Walcot Place West, Lambeth, south London. She was the daughter of Frederick Edward Beckwith, a noted swimmer who was 'professional English champion' and swimming professor at the Lambeth Baths. By the age of four or five she was performing as a swimmer in shows organised by her father, and by 1871 she and her brother Willie's swimming skills were being shown in Paris.
Her father "Professor Beckwith" had backed Matthew Webb to be the first person to swim the English Channel. Beckwith organised a spectacle by showing Webb swimming miles in the River Thames. Webb completed ‘nearly six miles’, but the poor public interest meant that her father lost money. Her father lost his protege to another.
In August 1875 Matthew Webb became the first man recorded to have swum the English Channel. Professor Beckwith and Agnes built on the public interest by swimming five miles down the Thames. On 1 September 1875, at the age of fourteen, she made swimming history by diving off a boat at London Bridge and swimming five miles to Greenwich. The journey took her one-hour seven minutes and according to the press she ended ‘almost as fresh as when she started', arriving at Greenwich Pier to the reported comment of "See, the Conquering Hero Comes!" No one had succeeded in a Thames swim of this distance, except Captain Webb.
Agnes Beckwith completed numerous record-breaking swims in the Thames. Her 20-mile swim in 1878 received huge press coverage. This time she swam from Westminster to Richmond and back to Mortlake, dressed in a shape revealing amber suit and a stylish little straw hat.
Besides endurance racing Beckwith competed in exhibition races. In 1879 she undertook a challenge against Laura Saigeman who was employed to teaching swimming in Eastbourne. There were three races in Lambeth, Birmingham and Hastings. These "naiads" attracted 1,200 spectators at their final race; which Saigemann won by two races to Beckwith's one.
On 4 March 1882 Agnes Beckwith married theatrical agent William Taylor and their son, William Walter Beckwith Taylor, was born on 19 February 1903. The family lived in Kennington, south London, during this time.
In 1885 she was appearing at the Royal Aquarium in Westminster. She was billed as "The Greatest Lady Swimmer in the World" and her poster boasted of appearing for the Prince and Princess of Wales. Her father had billed himself as the "Greatest Swimmer in the World" in 1851 and her brother was "Baby Beckwith the Wonder of the World" when he was five.
Beckwith continued with teaching and formed her own troupe of 'talented lady swimmers', touring both home and abroad until 1911. Her work is considered to have paved the way for women to represent Britain in swimming at the 1912 Olympics.
Agnes Beckwith died in South Africa on 10 July 1951.
Beckwith appears in Caitlin Davies's book about swimming in the Thames. Davies is also writing a novel based on Agnes Beckwith's life, 'Daisy Belle: Swimming Champion of the World to be published by Unbound in 2018. Beckwith also appears by name in a recent biopic of Webb but the imagined romance between them ignores the fact that Beckwith was a champion in her own right, and that she was fourteen at the time.
- Day, Dave. "Beckwith, Frederick Edward (1821–1898)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/104308. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- James Lambie (2010). The Story of Your Life: A History of the Sporting Life Newspaper (1859-1998). Troubador Publishing Ltd. pp. 173–. ISBN 978-1-84876-291-6.
- Downstream: A History and Celebration of Swimming the River Thames by Caitlin Davies, book review, The Independent, Liz Hoggard, Thursday 16 April 2015, Retrieved 16 October 2016
- Caitlin Davies (2 April 2015). Downstream: A History and Celebration of Swimming the River Thames. Aurum Press. pp. 292–. ISBN 978-1-78131-488-3.
- "Agnes Beckwith (1861-1951)". Blue Plaque Rebellion. 10 July 2017. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
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