One in a series of articles checking out the careers of Warrington's sporting legends, who take a much deserved place in our Hall of Heroes

SUNNY Lowry was a legend of the swimming world, not least Warrington Baths.

Christened ‘Ethel’, Lowry was well known to aspiring swimmers across the town for her work at the Legh Street pools.

Along with husband Bill Anderson, she taught generations of youngsters to swim.

But it was long before Lowry marched the Baths’ banks she made a name for herself, becoming the first British woman to swim the English Channel as a 22-year-old.

Lowry was born in Longsight, Manchester on January 2, 1911 and took an instant interest in swimming, in particular long-distance swims.

She would practice at Levenshulme baths with her sister, as well near her parents’ holiday home off the coast of north Wales and in distance competitions on Windermere.

Lowry spoke of her goal to swim the Channel when quizzed about her future at Manchester High School for Girls, finding little support from her teachers.

It was her father who spotted potential during these long swims, suggesting Lowry should train for her ambition.

She would famously fuel her three to four hours training in the sea each day with an eight-egg omelette for breakfast.

Lowry, second cousin to artist LS Lowry, identified Westgate on Sea, near Margate in Kent, as the spot she would set off on for her first Channel crossing attempt in August 1932.

This came five years after the Channel Swimming Association was founded, authenticating and ratifying swimmers’ efforts after a number of dubious claims were made.

However, Lowry would struggle against the strong currents near the French coast that August and was eventually defeated in her attempt.

Lowry went back and tried again in July, swimming in the reverse direction, from France to England, and is rumoured to have been in sight of the Folkestone lights when a thunderstorm broke out around 3.30am.

Lowry – who had been swimming for a total of nine hours up to this point – is said to have disappeared out of the crew’s view when they began flashing red lights to inform her to abandon the attempt.

They eventually found her again when a flash of lightening allowed boat members to catch sight of her swimming cap. Two months later, Lowry would try again.

The 22-year-old’s swimming costume had raised some eyebrows, with Lowry choosing to ditch a traditional heavy-duty woollen one-piece for a more efficient, bikini prototype.

She told people the traditional costume would chafe her neck and shoulders, preferring the lighter two-piece swim suit.

With the bikini and build up diet of 40 eggs per week, Lowry was ready to leave Cap Gris Nez in France on August 28, 1933.

At nearly 15st, Lowry expected she would lose a pound for every hour she spent in the sea during the swim.

Supported by trainer Jabez Wolffe, she set off and swam mostly throughout the night – Wolffe believed getting near land in the morning would give Lowry the incentive to finish.

Some 15 hours and 41 minutes after leaving France, Lowry reached St Margaret’s Bay, Dover and was received by a large crowd.

She was said to be covered in grease, she had smeared her body in lanolin and chilli paste to combat the cold, and had been fed coffee, cocoa and beef tea by the boat crew.

The crowd were particularly impressed with Lowry’s bravery, as when she emerged from the sea her face and neck were swollen from being stung by jellyfish.

Lowry revisited the site 70 years on for an appearance on Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour.

She said: “Strange to think that 70 years ago I was walking up this beach – crawling up it actually, not walking up it.”

After her successful Channel attempt, Lowry then decided to take up swim teaching. She helped many in the town learn to swim at Warrington Baths.

Lowry would also become president of the Channel Swimming Association in 2000, and one of her more famous students would be David Walliams, who she advised before his charity Channel swim in 2006.

Lowry was asked to present Ian Thorpe with one of his gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 and a year later she was inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Association’s Hall of Fame.

In 2005, aged 94, she was awarded an MBE for services to swimming in the North West.

Ethel ‘Sunny’ Lowry died in Warrington Hospital on February 21, 2008, aged 97.

If you have any pictures, information or stories about Warrington sporting legends we have already covered or those you feel should make the Hall of Heroes, then please send them to