In the early 1900s we had Hyde swimmers representing Great Britain in the Olympic Games but many people will remember the town's last Olympian, Lillian Preece.
Born on April 1st, 1928, Lillian learnt to swim when she was 11. Her progress was so rapid that in the same year she won three titles at the Hyde Seal annual gala. The war stopped all competitions but by the time she was 19 she was setting ASA records and winning Cheshire County and Northern Counties championships. In 1947 she was selected to represent Britain in the European championships in Monte Carlo. Money was scarce after the war so because the ASA was unable to provide the swimmers with lightweight costumes an appeal was made to the newspapers, and Lillian had to compete in Monte Carlo wearing a man's waterpolo swim suit. She took part in the 4 x 100m relay team which was placed third.
Lillian at Monte Carlo in a waterpolo swimsuit.
The following year she was selected to represent Great Britain at the Olympics in London. She stayed at the Eccleston Square Domestic Science College along with swimmers from Belgium, France, Switzerland Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. There were no proper training facilities at the Empire Pool where everyone was trying to train at the same time and arrangements had to be made at other pools in the area.
Olympic Games opening ceremony, 1948
After the Olympics there was a reception at Buckingham Palace.
More success and more championships followed and in 1952 Lillian was chosen to captain the women's Olympic team in Helsinki where she reached the semi-final of the 100 metres and was the fastest British competitor.
During her swimming career she went to New Zealand, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Paris, Nice, Monaco, Turin, Curacao, Dutch West Indies and Panama and captained International teams on three occasions.
In 1953 Lillian was awarded the ASA Yeadon Trophy as Swimmer of the Year.
Unfortunately, in 1958 nine of her medals were stolen, including commemorative medals from the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, and one for the 1950 Empire games, all bearing her name.
She left Hyde to live in Wallasey with her husband, himself a former backstroke champion and captain of the Cheshire Waterpolo team, but never lost contact with Hyde Seal and was an inspiration to many younger swimmers.
Many people will remember this picture of Lillian which hung in Hyde Baths for many years.
Lillian eventually emigrated to Zimbabwe where she died in 2004.
Preece Close in Newton is named after her.
Many thanks to Marjorie Robinson for this fabulous account and all the photographs of a very talented lady, all of which are new to me !