Bust of Captain Matthew Webb, First English Channel Swimmer, Dover, England, UK

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One of a number of memorials and monuments on the seafront, the inscription on this bronze statue reads: "Captain Matthew Webb. Born Dawley 1848. Died Niagara 1883. Swam from Dover to Calais (France) August 24th 25th 1875. Erected by Public Subscription 1910." Located on Marine Parade Gardens in front of the Gateway Flats facing the promenade, beach and harbour with the English Channel beyond.

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Comments (4)

John Latter on November 15, 2012

Captain Matthew Webb (19th January 1848 - 24th July 1883) was the first recorded person to swim the English Channel without the use of artificial aids. He did it in less than 22 hours.

A close-up of the statue's head is shown in the 2007 photo, Statue of Captain Matthew Webb, Dover, Kent, UK.

More about Captain Matthew Webb in the next comment.

Also on Marine Parade Gardens are the Merchant Navy War Memorial, Channel Dash War Memorial, and Statue of Charles Stewart Rolls.

The Indian Mutiny Rifles Monument, Dunkirk War Memorial, Ray Smith's "On the Crest of a Wave" and Tonkin Liu "Lifting Wave, Resting Wave, and Lighting Wave" artworks are also located on, or near, the seafront.

A Dover History photo taken on a cycle ride from Robsons Yard.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

John Latter on November 15, 2012

Mathew Webb: Early life and career

He was born at Dawley in Shropshire, one of twelve children of a Coalbrookdale doctor. He acquired his ability to swim in the River Severn at Coalbrookdale. At age twelve he joined the merchant navy and served a three-year apprenticeship with Rathbone Brothers of Liverpool.

Whilst serving as second mate on the Cunard Line ship Russia, travelling from New York to Liverpool, he attempted to rescue a man overboard by diving into the sea in the mid-Atlantic. The man was never found, but Webb's daring won him an award of £100 and the Stanhope Medal, and made him a hero of the British press.

In the summer of 1863, while at home, he rescued his 12 year old brother Thomas from drowning in the Severn near Ironbridge.

English Channel swimming record

In 1873 Webb was serving as captain of the steamship Emerald when he read an account of the failed attempt by J. B. Johnson to swim the English Channel. He became inspired to try himself, and left his job to begin training, first at Lambeth Baths, then in the cold waters of the Thames and the English Channel.

On 12 August 1875 he made his first cross-Channel swimming attempt, but strong winds and poor sea conditions forced him to abandon the swim.

On 24 August 1875 he began a second swim by diving in from the Admiralty Pier at Dover. Backed by three escort boats and smeared in porpoise oil, he set off into the ebb tide at a steady breaststroke. Despite stings from jellyfish and strong currents off Cap Gris Nez which prevented him reaching the shore for five hours, finally, after 21 hours and 45 minutes, he landed near Calais - the first successful cross-channel swim. His zig-zag course across the English Channel was over 39 miles (64 km) long.

Later life

After his record swim Captain Webb basked in national and international adulation, and followed a career as a professional swimmer. He licensed his name for merchandising such as commemorative pottery, and wrote a book called The Art of Swimming. A brand of matches was named after him. He participated in exhibition swimming matches and stunts such as floating in a tank of water for 128 hours.

On 27 April 1880 he married Madeline Kate Chaddock, and they had two children, Matthew and Helen.


His final stunt was to be a dangerous swim through the Whirlpool Rapids on the Niagara River below Niagara Falls, a feat many observers considered suicidal. Although Webb failed in an attempt at raising interest in funding the event, on 24 July 1883 he jumped into the river from a small boat located near the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge and began his swim. Accounts of the time indicate that in all likelihood Webb successfully survived the first part of the swim, but died in the section of the river located near the entrance to the whirlpool. Webb was interred in Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls, New York.


In 1909, Webb's elder brother Thomas unveiled a memorial in Dawley. On it reads the short inscription: "Nothing great is easy." The memorial was taken away for repair after a lorry collided with it in February 2009. The landmark memorial was returned after full restoration and was hoisted back onto its plinth in Dawley High Street in October 2009. A road (Webb Crescent) and Captain Webb School, both in Dawley, are named after the swimmer. A memorial plaque with his portrait was also unveiled in the parish church at Coalbrookdale. Webb House of the Adams' Grammar School in Newport, Shropshire is named after Webb.

Source: Matthew Webb (Wikipedia)

John Latter on November 16, 2012

Channel Swimming links:

Channel Swimming Association Ltd

The 'CSA' is the Governing Body of Channel Swimming

The Official Channel Swimming Association Record Books list and detail all properly authenticated Swim attempts since 1875 to the present day. Since 1927, Cross-Channel Swims have been organised and regulated by the Channel Swimming Association and all Swims officially observed by its designated Officials are faithfully recorded.

Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation

If you are interested in Channel Swimming or long distance open water swimming you are in the right place read on.

We are also here to help if you want to cross the English Channel by "other methods" such as rowing, canoeing, paddle boarding, etc. and need an escort pilot boat and crew to assist you. - See "Escort Boats" and the "General Information" keys in the panel on the left hand side of this page (also see the Standard Information Pack letter for 2012 onwards).

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on November 15, 2012
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: Canon EOS 600D
    • Taken on 2012/10/16 16:08:31
    • Exposure: 0.010s (1/100)
    • Focal Length: 27.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/9.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO100
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash