Mercedes Gleitze was born at 124 Freshfield Road, Brighton on 18 November, 1900. She
became famous during the 1920s and ’30s as a professional open-water and endurance
swimmer. She was the first British woman to swim the English Channel and the first person to
swim the treacherous Straits of Gibraltar, the Thames, Lough Neagh, the Hellespont and more.
On 24th January 2022, a blue plaque was placed on the house where she was born and a film
portraying her life and achievements will be out in 2022 /23.

Gleitze wasn’t an over-night success story. It took perseverance. She made eight formal
attempts before becoming the first Englishwoman to conquer the English Channel on 7
October 1927.Her historic swim lasted fifteen hours and fifteen minutes under bitterly cold
conditions. Unfortunately, Dr. Dorothy Cochrane Logan’s record-breaking swim just days
after was revealed to be a hoax, bringing Gleitze under suspicion too. Her “Vindication Swim”
took place on 21 October. Water temperatures were around 12 degrees causing her to lose
consciousness and she was reluctantly hoisted out some seven miles short of her goal. But her
ability to withstand the treacherous cold for ten and a half hours ended all doubts over the
legitimacy of her previous swim—it was, indeed, a victory in defeat.
She established many records for endurance and open water swimming including a record of
46 hours, and eight significant swims in South Africa while pregnant. On her return, she spoke
out about apartheid and how black people were banned from swimming baths there.

Gleitze was driven to alleviate family poverty during the years leading up to the Great
Depression and used the money she made from her heroic swims to form the Mercedes Gleitze
Homes for Destitute Men and Women (still existent today as part of Family Action). She
retired from swimming in 1933.
More about Mercedes Gleitze’s swimming career here: