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From Oldham baths to American Vaudeville and beyond: the Finney family

Day, Dave (2014) From Oldham baths to American Vaudeville and beyond: the Finney family. UNSPECIFIED. UNSPECIFIED. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

During the course of the nineteenth century, professional natationists, male and female, became a significant feature of the sporting and entertainment landscape of Britain. Individuals taught swimming, competed for prizes, exhibited in swimming baths, and, as the century progressed, increasingly became part of the music hall and vaudeville circuit where they demonstrated their talents in large tanks situated on stage. This transition from sport to entertainment was essentially a function of the limited number of participants and the resultant lack of opportunities for regular and profitable competition. Professional swimmers were forced to consider alternative means of presenting and selling their skills and the invention of portable crystal tanks enabled natatorial entrepreneurs to make a living at home and abroad. Their skills were often passed on through families and the ‘Beckwith Frogs’ were prominent in this respect, although they were not unique. Other aquatic families followed their example and, in cases such as the Finneys, even began to receive almost the same level of respect and support from the paying public. The origins of the Finney family lay in the North-West of England where they were living at 3 Hughes Court, Blinnington, Stockport in 1861. John, registered blind but formerly a brass iron founder, was accompanied by wife Martha and sons Samuel, William, John, and two-year old Timothy,1 the first of the family to become a professional swimmer. In 1880, he was among those who entered for the 'Swimming Championship of the World' on Monday 12 July over 8 miles off Liverpool.2 This working paper outlines the life courses of the Finney family members, chronologically and thematically, over the next sixty years with a particular emphasis on the competitive performances of the best known Finney, James, and on the family’s collective incursions into the late Victorian and Edwardian entertainment industry, both in Britain and abroad.

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