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James Clarke (born in British Guiana in 1886), hero who saved children’s lives
James Clarke - Jim Clarke was an outstanding Liverpool athlete, who for many years carried the banner of the Scotland / Vauxhall district to all parts of the country through his prowess as a champion swimmer and life-saver. He was admired and respected not only in his own community, but also in many other districts of Liverpool where his enviable reputation had spread.
Born in Georgetown, British Guyana, Jim arrived in Liverpool in 1900, as a fourteen-year-old stowaway aboard a cargo vessel. The priests of St. Augustine's, Great Howard Street, found him cold and hungry wandering around the streets, and took him into the presbytery where they provided food and shelter. Later they arranged lodgings for the youngster with a local Irish family, and soon the well-mannered likeable young-man became a popular member of the community. In 1914, he was married to Elizabeth Murphy, in the church of Our Lady of Reconciliation, Eldon Street, and set up home in Elizabeth Terrace, Silvester Street. In later years as the family grew-up, the family moved to Ashfield Cottages, in St Sylvester's parish. He was a natural athlete, ideally built for the sports he loved - swimming, running, and boxing, yet despite his incredible sporting achievements, he remained a humble and kind person who cherished his family and friends The family were very close and in the summer months Jim often took them all over to New Brighton on the ferry-boat. He had a passion for music and particularly liked to listen to the renowned American singer Paul.Robeson. He worked as a docker in the North-end of Liverpool, and each evening, groups of youngsters would wait for him coming home, because he always brought them 'handfuls' of peanuts, which they took home and roasted on a shovel over a coal -fire.
Throughout his lifetime he was a tremendously gifted swimmer and from an early age his capability was far superior to that of youngsters of his own age. During his adult life, Jim used his swimming skills to save the lives of many people who were in danger of drowning in the River Mersey and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The deep canal ran between Burlington Street and Athol Street, not far from where Jim lived, and many children although they had been forbidden to do so, went swimming or fishing in the canal and were soon in difficulties. As soon as he was alerted by neighbors or police that someone was in danger, Jim would race to the spot, dive in and swim at amazing speed to rescue the person. He saved the lives of many children in the canal, and between 1911-1916, he bravely rescued several seamen and dock-workers from the River Mersey. He started his swimming career with the Wavertree Swimming Club, where he won many medals between 1908-1910, but he also swam for Bootle, Waterloo, and Everton Swimming Clubs. He made a very valuable contribution to the history of the Everton Swimming Club, being instrumental in their winning the coveted North Lancashire League Cup on many occasions. During these years he was often called upon by the Liverpool Police, to assist with the coaching of the Police Boxing and Swimming teams. He was very involved in charity work, frequently donating some of his more elaborate trophies to various organizations to raise money for their appeals.
There were instances when the police were unable to locate the body of a drowned person, and on these occasions they would enlist the assistance of Jim Clarke. Calling to his home or his place of work the police would quickly take him to the scene of the tragedy. He would dive in and remain underwater for an incredibly long period of time. Occasionally surfacing for air, he would dive repeatedly until he eventually located and recovered the body. Having saved numerous children from drowning, and having been involved in the recovery of so many bodies and witnessing the sorrowful aftermath, Jim was convinced that positive efforts should be made to ensure that all local school children were able to swim. He expressed his concerns to the authorities and largely due to his initiative and enthusiasm, the children from local schools were brought along to Burroughs Gardens Baths, where Jim was responsible for teaching countless numbers of youngsters to swim.
For more than forty years he delighted swimming gala spectators all over the country with his skilful display of synchronized swimming. One of his favorite routines was a swimming demonstration he called 'Me and My Shadow', which he performed with one of his swimming colleagues. He would swim underwater whilst his partner swam on the surface, turning and diving in perfect harmony, the pair enthralled the crowds wherever they performed. Another display of his ability to remain underwater was to put a bucket over his head and sit on the bottom of the baths singing 'Oh My Darling Clementine'. Jim continued to give exhibitions of his swimming skills up to several months before his death in 1946, at the age of sixty. Swimmers and officials throughout the Liverpool area, were saddened at the news of the death of their old comrade, as were his friends and neighbors who had such genuine respect and admiration for him. He was regarded as a local hero in the Scotland / Vauxhall district and on the day of his funeral, the children from the local schools of St, Anthony's and St.Sylvester's, lined the pavements from Jim's home in Ashfield Cottages, to St.Sylvesters Church, where his funeral Mass was conducted. His great friend, Olympic Swimming Champion, Austin Rawlinson, who became a senior officer in the Liverpool City Police, came to pay his respects to his pal, and to offer condolences to the Clarke family.
Jim Clarke, a well-respected gentleman, who made such a positive contribution to the well-being of his fellow man, remains a legend in the Scotland / Vauxhall neighborhood, and today his family speak with pride of their fathers achievements and the honest way in which he lived his life, always looking for the good in people and helping out wherever he could. In 1986, a fitting tribute was made to Jim Clarke's name, when a local street was named after him. James Clarke Street, which runs between Tatlock Street and Hornby Walk, is not far from where he once lived, and where many of the older generation still recall his name with affection.
A PLAQUE honoring the Liverpool hero who taught children to swim after rescuing school children from the Leeds Liverpool Canal, was unveiled November 18, 2008 at Liverpool Aquatics Center in Wavertree.
The late James Clarke, who became a champion swimmer and boxer across Liverpool was remembered
A blue plaque was unveiled by his only surviving daughter Winnie Clarke, 75, and the great-granddaughter of the man who adopted James as a young boy.
Born in British Guyana, Clarke arrived in Liverpool in 1898 as a 14-year-old stowaway. He was found wandering the docks by Edward Crawford who brought him to his home in Vauxhall.
Edward and his wife applied for James to become a resident and had him baptized as a Catholic.
It was at the home in Eldon Street that Edward taught James how to box in the cellar, which was converted into a boxing gym.
He went on to defy the racists by marrying a white-Irish woman, Elizabeth Murphy in 1914 in the Church of Our Lady of Reconciliation, in Eldon Street, Vauxhall. They set up home in Elizabeth Terrace and had 13 children.
As well as becoming a top boxer he went on to win numerous swimming medals between 1908-1910.
He was a member of Wavertree and Everton swimming clubs winning the Lancashire League Cup and captained Woolton Polo team.
He became a local hero and was admired across the city after rescuing numerous children who got into difficulty in the canal at the back of his home.
He began to visit schools to encourage children to learn to swim and held swimming lessons for everyone at the local pool.
One of his favorite tricks was sitting underwater on the bottom of the pool with a bucket over his head either drinking a glass of lemonade or singing “Oh My Darling Clementine”.
His daughter, near to tears after pupils from St Hugh’s Catholic Primary performed a short play on James’s life, said he would have been delighted by the plaque.
Winnie Clarke said: “I was evacuated during the war and when I returned to Liverpool my father took ill with TB and died a year later. But I still have happy memories and I remember he used to read us Bible stories. It was amazing because he had taught himself to read and write from the Bible and everything he did was always for charity and people less fortunate. "
Among the friends, family and dignitaries was Bernadette Crawford, great-granddaughter of Edward Crawford.
She has spent the last few years researching the history of her family and James Clarke after her father recognized a picture of Clarke in a newspaper.
Ms Crawford said: “I've traced back to the day James arrived in Liverpool and it's been great meeting up with his family and putting the story together.
“My father, Thomas, remembers James having to fight against racism but earned respect with his natural athletic ability and personality. He was asked by Merseyside Police to teach their officers how to box which he did. "
Liverpool Council leader Cllr Warren Bradley installed the plaque after pleas from pupils at St Hugh's Primary who campaigned for the Aquatic Center to be named in his memory.
Cllr Bradley said: “We see swimming as an integral part of the development of this city and that is because of the work James Clarke did in rescuing lives and ensuring children were taught to swim. When I met the pupils they wanted James Clarke to be remembered, he is not just a local hero and swimmer but was a tremendous sportsman for the city. "
The children came up with the idea while carrying out a school project looking at black history and positive role models.
St Hugh’s class teacher Diane Crute, added: “The children thought Clarke was a great role model, especially as many pupils come from different countries. They see how he succeeded and became a local hero and they know they can do the same. "
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