Lightning Merman Joey

JOEY Nuttall was known as the Lightning Merman to the crowds who paid to watch his skills in the flooded ring of Blackpool Tower Aquatic and Variety Circus back in 1895.

More than that, he was acknowledged to be “The Champion Swimmer of the World” during his professional career from 1888 to about 1911.

During that time he earned a living racing in swimming baths and the open sea throughout the country for wagers and valuable trophies that could be sold on.


The displays of speed swimming in Blackpool supplemented his income from competitive swimming admirably.

Keith Myerscough, a lecturer in Sport at Blackpool and The Fylde College, says: “Joey is an important part of the town’s recreational past and I would like to further my research into a man who should be immortalised for his athletic feats, both as a swimmer and as an entertainer.”

Born in Manchester on August 31, 1869, Joey moved with his family to Stalybridge where he learned to swim in one of the country’s first public baths. As early as 1884 he was establishing a reputation as the “boy champion” in amateur competitions, often appearing on the same bill as professional swimmers. In a five year period he had met and defeated every amateur of the day, travelled over 6,000 miles and won 18 championship races out of 20, amassing over 150 prizes.

Keith says: “Nuttall was a leading exponent of the Trudgeon Stroke with which he excelled both as an amateur and then as a professional. Joey had established 14 world records from 100 yards to one mile. His peak years as an amateur were 1886 and 1887 when he retained several national championships and became world champion over 500 yards.”

At 19, Joey made his professional debut at London’s Lambeth Baths on October 18, 1888, winning the 1,000 yards swim for the Topping prize in a new world record time, beating the existing mark by an impressive 26.5 seconds.

His complete dominance of the amateur swimming scene was replicated in the professional ranks, providing him with a fearsome reputation, particularly at the longer distances, both indoors and outdoors.

In August 1893, Nuttall took part in an international swimming championship contest over one mile for 500 prize money and a championship cup. The challenge came from the American champion swimmer, JL McCusker, and took place at Hollingworth Lake near Rochdale. Nuttall beat McCusker comfortably by over 200 yards in a time of 26 minutes and 8 seconds. By 1897, Nuttall was considered to be invincible with many prospective opponents regularly withdrawing from challenging him.

But Keith notes: “Mysteriously, little is recorded about Joey’s life and times after 1905 when he stopped performing at the Tower Circus.”


Then, in 1925, the Joey Nuttall Testimonial Fund was organised and boosted by the Stalybridge Amateur Swimming Club which held a swimming gala in his honour in November 1925 at the Corporation Baths, Stalybridge.

Keith says: “It was suggested 1,000 people attended with both local and guest swimmers honouring Nuttall by taking part in the proceedings. Following Joey’s retirement he was reported to have been the landlord of two pubs in his home town before retiring to 47 Calder Road, Blackpool, where he died on June 1, 1942, aged 72, leaving a wife Gertrude and a daughter Mrs W. Bailey.”

n Readers with information about Joey can email Keith at or ring him on (01253) 893253.