In the early days of competitive swimming the Garston Swimming Club was one of the strongest in the country, producing such notable Olympians as Hilda James and Austin Rawlinson and providing four of the six members of the Great Britain ladies’ team at the 1920 Olympic Games. Much of the credit for the club’s pre-eminence belonged to Bill Howcroft, who established himself as the country’s leading swimming coach and a key figure in developing technique and training regimes.
He was born in Tamworth in 1875, his family moving to Garston (then outside the Liverpool city boundary) where his father ran a greengrocer shop at 22 St Mary’s Road L19 (now demolished). At the time of the 1901 census he was living at Pendleton, Lancashire earning his living as a self-employed hardware dealer. He returned to Garston where he worked at the gasworks, living at 32 Tudwal Street L19 (now demolished).
His achievements at the Garston club led to his being elected onto the Northern Counties Amateur Swimming Association in 1919 and shortly after he became a member of the national Amateur Swimming Association. The British swimming team fared badly at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics and Howcroft was commissioned to establish what action was needed to effect improvement. In order to research the latest developments in the sport he travelled to America to study their methods. Sailing on the SS Aquitania in 1922 his address on the passenger list was 124 St Mary’s Road L19. Coincidentally, this had also been the childhood home of Hilda James, one of his most successful swimmers in the Garston club. In 1924 he became a full-time professional swimming coach and besides the Olympic team he had spells training both Oxford and Cambridge University. He wrote several books on swimming technique and for many years wrote a column for the Morning Post.
He died, aged 76, on August 14th 1951 at his home in Hillingdon, Middlesex.
Howcroft's address when he sailed on the Aquitania in 1922.
Two of Howcroft's books on swimming
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