We’re all accustomed to seeing blue plaques commemorate a building’s role in Blackpool’s success story – or whatever previously stood on the site.
There are approximately 55 in and around the town. Very few individuals make the grade. When they do their names ring bells nationally, even internationally. Such as Blackpool’s famed fast bowler (and sweet shop owner) Harold Larwood – who was involved in the infamous “bodyline” Ashes Test series tour and became Blackpool’s club professional.
His plaque can be seen at Blackpool Cricket Club. Or Nobel Chemistry Prize winner Dr Michael Smith – humanitarian, chemist and one of the founding fathers of genetics. His plaque can be found at St Nicholas’s School, Marton, where he was educated. Or acclaimed writer and Radio Four Letter from America broadcaster Alistair Cooke – marking when he lived at 10 Vance Road (now the Iona Hotel) when his family first moved to the resort, from Salford.
A blue plaque at Richmond Villa, Whitegate Drive, commemorates Cornelius Bagot, former Little Marton windmill owner. Even Sooty makes the grade – a plaque at North Pier part of the town’s Heritage Trail. Queen Vera Road, a tiny cul-de-sac off Edward Street in Blackpool is also the site of another blue plaque – in memory of a former cotton mill queen Vera Bunn (nee Greenwood), who was named Cotton Queen of Great Britain in 1937.
The story goes that the road behind Abingdon Street Market was named in her honour by stallholders Vera visited after a refurbishment of the market.
And this month it’s another woman’s turn to join the walls of fame.
At noon on April 27 a blue plaque will be unveiled at Blackpool Town Hall – to mark the place where young Lucy Morton left for the Olympics of 1924, and returned triumphant to a civic reception and huge crowds welcoming her home.
The plaque will be unveiled by Lucy’s son Peter. The family have funded its purchase to commemorate their mother’s achievement.
Elaine Smith, chairman of Blackpool Civic Trust which authorises and issues blue plaques, points out: “There couldn’t be a better time to recognise Lucy’s achievements – in another Olympic year.”
Lucy won the first ever Women’s 200m breast stroke at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.
She became Britain’s first woman Olympic swimming champion winning a gold medal for her time of three minutes and 33.2 seconds.
She was already well known in civic and community circles, as her father Alfred was the mayor’s attendant and Lucy lived at the Town Hall with her family until she married Harry Heaton MBE in 1927.
Harry was a post office clerk who later became assistant head postmaster in Blackpool. By coincidence Barry Shaw, president of Blackpool Civic Trust, recalls working there “as a lowly postal and telegraph officer” in the 1960s. “In those days we could not address Harry Heaton by his Christian name – it was Mr Heaton, or Sir.”
The couple lived at Mereland Road, Marton. Members of the family – including two grandchildren – will be attending the ceremony this month. Son Peter admits: “I don’t think we’ll manage the 10,000 people who crowded the route from the station to the town hall when mum returned though!
“We are very pleased. My mother did a tremendous amount of work for Blackpool schoolchidren – there was very little recognition and suddenly this one comes out of the blue.”
Lucy’s already been inducted into the international swimming hall of fame at Fort Lauderdale in America and received awards – and royal recognition – for her outstanding contribution to swimming.
She died at Blackpool Victoria Hospital in August 1980 at 82.
For 42 years – until 1972 – she taught swimming for Blackpool Council. In that time she coached three Blackpool swimmers to international level.
She won her own first northern counties title at 15 and a few years later held the first world record for the 150 yards backstroke.
She competed in long distance swimming races locally and nationally – such as the Preston to Lytham race, the 12-mile Morecambe Bay championship, and events on the Mersey and Thames.
In 1920, at 22, she held the record for the 200 yards breaststroke and was the Amateur Swimming Association’s champion for the 150 yards backstroke.
The local council endorsed her efforts as a potential Olympian and opened up Cocker Street Baths for her – closed for the winter – to facilitate her training. She was selected as a member of the 443-strong British team for the 1924 Olympic Games. Barry says the swimming events were held in a purpose-built 50-metre pool at Tourelles on the outskirts of the city.
Lucy, the clear winner, returned to a heroine’s welcome, and a civic reception, and was presented with the diploma by the international Olympic committee and a piano purchased through public subscription.
She also made sure her thanks to her Blackpool coach Richard Swarbrick, Cocker Street baths superintendent, were put on record “in making me what I am.” He also trained her son Peter to championship standard. Peter adds: “I would love to invite any of Dick Swarbrick’s relatives to attend – if they still live locally.”
Barry reckons there was only one other Olympics gold medal winner associated with
Blackpool. “Alfred Tysoe, a Blackpool barrister who trained on the old Raikes Hall track. He won a gold in the 800-metres final of the 1900 Olympics also held in Paris. But if there’s more, I stand to be corrected.”