Tribute to Scarborough sporting hero Margaret Feather, who swam the English Channel in the 1950s

A well-known Scarborough swimming celebrity of the 1950s, Margaret Dixon (nee Feather), passed away in Australia in early March, aged 88.

By Steve Bambridge
Friday, 8th April 2022, 10:01 am
Updated Friday, 8th April 2022, 10:02 am

Better known as Margaret Feather, at the age of 17 she was the youngest person at the time to try to swim the English Channel.

After three attempts, she finally conquered it in 1954.

Born in April 1933, the daughter of George and Elsie Feather, who owned the Feathers Hotel in Blenheim Terrace, Margaret began her remarkable swimming career as a member of the Scarborough swimming club from the late 1940s.

Sign up to our daily The Scarborough News Today newsletter

Margaret Feather, on the left preparing for the start of the 1954 Butlin’s International Channel Swim. Photos courtesy of the Sam Rockett Collection., Dover Museum (www.channelswimmingdover.org.uk) and Kim Abdou

Her early achievements included the Castle Foot and the Scarborough to Filey swims in the late 1940s.

At 17 she was the youngest person at the time to attempt to swim the Channel, in 1950.

Margaret was part of the Great Britain team in the 1954 Butlin’s International Cross Channel Swimming Race, and she finally conquered the Channel in 1954 in 16 hours and 23 minutes.

Margaret getting lambs' fat put on by her father George Feather for the Scarborough Castle foot swim in 1950. Photos courtesy of the Sam Rockett Collection., Dover Museum (www.channelswimmingdover.org.uk) and Kim Abdou

Aged 21, she came fourth in the race, the second female to finish. She had been unsuccessful in the 1950, 1951 and 1953 races.

One of her daughters, Kim Abdou, said: “She was the first person to swim the Channel without being coated with lambs’ fat, to combat the cold. She trained in the North Sea at Scarborough and was accustomed to the cold water.”

Around five years ago she donated her silver Channel swimming trophy to the Scarborough community in gratitude of their support during her career. It is on display in Scarborough Town Hall.

In 1955 Margaret was awarded the Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal for successfully rescuing a 16-year-old girl from the Scarborough sea, after running into the sea fully clothed. A beach patrol man sadly drowned in his attempt to save the girl; he also received the bronze medal.

Margaret Feather being photographed by Damian Piza Beltran, of Mexico; both were competing in the 1954 race. Photos courtesy of the Sam Rockett Collection., Dover Museum (www.channelswimmingdover.org.uk) and Kim Abdou

Margaret completed many other swims in the UK and abroad. Her achievements also included The Nile swim in Egypt in 1953, where she won the ladies section and again in 1955.

In 1955 she was the first woman to complete the Capri to Naples swim.

For this event she was also awarded the World Championship Title for Long Distance Swimming.

Margaret with Abdou and the Egyptian swimming team. Photos courtesy of the Sam Rockett Collection., Dover Museum (www.channelswimmingdover.org.uk) and Kim Abdou

After retiring from long distance swimming, Margaret moved to Chelmsford in Essex and later emigrated to Australia in 1965 where she raised her family of five daughters and two stepchildren.

Margaret had quite an adventurous life in Australia as she continued to pursue her passion, teaching swimming and managing swimming pools.

She also had an Old English Bakery business and an esoteric gift shop called Nefertiti’s Crystals.

Margaret was married to a fellow Channel swimmer, Egyptian Abdel Moneim Abdou, but divorced a few years later and later married a Chelmsford man, Edward (Ron) Dixon.

Margaret is survived by her five daughters, who all live in Australia, as well as a stepson and stepdaughter, 14 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren. Margaret has three siblings – Albert (in Australia) and Doreen and Jennifer, who still live in Scarborough and Filey respectively.

Kim Abdou said: “During my mother’s swimming career, apart from the gruelling training of four hours of non-stop swimming a day, eight hours every second Sunday and 14 hours extra each month, she worked as a swimming teacher in Scarborough, Hull and Chelmsford.

At Scarborough Open Air Pool to give a Channel swimming training exhibition, from left, Margaret Feather, Sam Rockett,Ted Temme and Willy Van Rijsel. Photos courtesy of the Sam Rockett Collection., Dover Museum (www.channelswimmingdover.org.uk) and Kim Abdou

“She continued to teach swimming in the swimming pools that she managed in Australia.

“In Australia, Mum lived in many places in Victoria and New South Wales.

“In her final years she was at a wonderful nursing home called Andrews House, at Trafalgar in Victoria.

“In her swimming career era, she always said that her greatest achievement was in rescuing the girl at Scarborough beach.

“Margaret’s courage and determination led the way for future generations of women to succeed in the sport.”