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The History of the Bill Pickering Cup

The following is a short resume of Bill Pickering's life, and a short history of the Bill Pickering Cup held between four local Probus Clubs, Walsall, Aldridge, Gorway and Bloxwich that started in 1987.

Bill Pickering was not strictly 'Black Country', but he had strong local connections. In fact, he was born at Overseal, near Swadlincote in Derbyshire, on 19th July 1921 and had a lifelong affinity to water, both salt and fresh, and had spent most of his long life in, on or around the stuff.

Fired with enthusiasm by reading books about the many channel swimmers since Captain Matthew Webb who became the first to complete the crossing in August 1875, Bill resolved at the age of eight that he would one day swim the channel himself.

It was to be 26 years before his dream would come true, but he obviously started training in earnest at an early age, taking second place in a race in the River Trent at Burton at the age of fifteen and at his very first attempt. His interest in swimming led him to take up seasonal employment in the swimming baths at Ashby de la Zouch, which not only gave him the opportunity to continue his training, it was where he met his wife, Clarrie, whom he married on 13th September 1941.

Following service in the Royal Navy between 1941 and 1946, mostly on board a minesweeper, Bill worked at the Trent Bridge Baths at Burton (now gone), and then Leicester for two years. He then moved to Market Drayton, to run the baths there, and in 1951 to Bloxwich for a two-year stint as baths manager. That two years actually turned into a marathon session, for he was there for no less than 35 years!

The Bloxwich baths eventually became the Leisure Centre in the early '80s and Bill was the manager there until he retired in 1986. He made many good friends in Bloxwich, and had many fond memories of his time in the town. He used to visit there on a monthly basis, in his capacity as a member of the Bloxwich Probus Club, an association of retired businessmen and professional people.

Obviously, working at the various swimming pools gave Bill an opportunity to train and hone his endurance, and it was not uncommon for him to be up at 6.00 am and to spend 6, 8, and sometimes 10 hours in the water. All this paid off when he won the Morecambe Cross Bay Championship in 1954 for the twelve-mile crossing from Grange Over Sands to Morecambe, a course which he competed no less than seventeen times.

The time was coming for him to achieve his ambition of swimming the English Channel, and his chance came in 1955. Most people would be satisfied with just accomplishing the great feat, but Bill is not one to do things by halves. On the 27th August he completed a logged course of some 21 miles in 14 hours 6 minutes to take the world record from American swimmer Florence Chadwick (she was to take the record back just two months later when she completed the crossing in 13 hours 55 minutes).

Bill being prepared for his Channel Swim

Bill was not satisfied with that achievement. In 1958 he also became one of only two people to swim the Firth of Forth, the other being a Canadian, and was the first to swim The Wash in 1960. 1971 saw him swim the Bristol Channel at the age of 50. In 1979, aged 58, he made an attempt at crossing the Irish Sea, but was defeated by fog and the cold waters; at a decidedly chilly 47 degrees Fahrenheit, they drained his strength and forced him to abandon the attempt.

Bill Pickering had a great sense of humour and counts among his friends two well-known personalities, our very own 'Arry 'Arrison, and the inimitable TV and stage comedian Ken Dodd. Bill taught 'Doddy' to swim at Canley in Coventry and at Bournemouth, and they have been friends ever since. In fact, they made a very funny Path Pix colour film together.

Bill moved back to Overseal after he retired in 1986, to occupy his parents' former home, they having passed away in 1976. In September 2001, he and Clarrie celebrated their Diamond Wedding anniversary, and were very pleased, and honoured, to be visited by the then mayor of Walsall.

On his retirement, he joined Bloxwich Probus Club and donated a Cup to be competed for by four local Probus Clubs, Walsall, Aldridge, Gorway and Bloxwich. The Competition is played at the indoor bowling facility at Bloxwich Leisure Centre and is usually played during February of each year, and the winners have the privilege of organising the following years event.

Bill died on 17th August 2014 at the age of 93.

Information courtesy of Black Country Bugle User posted 9 January 2003

The Bill Pickering Cup

Bill Pickering Cup Winners
Bill Pickering Rules

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© Walsall Men's Probus Club

4 January 2019