Brighton & Hove Albion

Charles Harold Moore: The Victorian one-legged champion swimmer

Charles Harold Moore was a master of the one-legged swimmer during the Victorian era. Moore began to bear the title of champion after defeating another one-legged swimming champion, William Woodbridge, in a race at Lambeth Baths on November 12, 1857.

Photo by Charles Moore, vignette, ¾ face and bust. Catalog ref: COPY 1/8/679

Moore’s early life

It is likely that Charles Harold Moore was born to Charles and Ann Moore around 1832. A record found on FamilySearch shows that he was baptized on June 5, 1832 in St. George’s Church in Gravesend. According to swimming historian Ralph Thomas, Moore lost his leg at the age of 11.

Charles Harold Moore, 1832. From England Births and Baptisms, 1538-1975 database, FamilySearch: September 19, 2020

A career in swimming

Moore competed in races in the 1860s and 70s, most notably beating Fred Cavill, the South Coast champion in a dress race in 1873. As a swimming instructor at Endell Street and the Wenlock Baths in London, Moore taught people like Harry Gurr, another well-known Victorian Swimmer. Moore was also considered to be one of the best swimmers of the time; Newspaper articles describe the frequent swimming galas and the annual perks at which Moore regularly raced or demonstrated fancy swimming.

Details from the program for Moore’s 10th annual fundraiser on September 7, 1869 at Wenlock Bath on City Road show Moore encouraged people to try their hand at competitive swimming. A 120 yard race has been put together for “boys under 14 who have never won an award” and another for “one-legged and one-armed swimmers who have never won an award”. In addition, the program included a “Grand Demonstration of C. Moore’s Ornamental Swimming”, which was supported by a number of swimmers, including “Professor Moore’s Student”. There was also “a presentation by Professor Moore and Mr. Smith on the best way to save a drowning person.”

'Festival at the Wenlock Bath', Bell's Life in London, August 28, 1869, p. 7.‘Festival at the Wenlock Bath’, Bell’s Life in London, August 28, 1869, p. 7

A recent fellowship from Dave Day and Margaret Roberts has shown the importance of individual entrepreneurs in the increasing popularity of swimming in Victorian times. These individuals often assumed the title of “professor” and performed tricks in the water, challenged other professors to races, ran races, and acted as swimming instructors. Swimming galas could attract large crowds and the individuals – both as athletes and performers – could become very well known.

Photo of Charles Moore, standing, ¾ face, left hand on the back of a chair.Photo of Charles Moore, standing, ¾ face, left hand on the back of a chair. Catalog ref: COPY 1/8/680

The National Archives contain photographs by Charles Moore in our copyright collection. At the height of Moore’s fame, four photographs by John Frederick Timms were copyrighted in 1865. People who registered images for copyright usually did so for commercial reasons, so it is possible that these photographs have been reproduced for sale outside of bathrooms.

Photo of Charles Moore, champion one-legged swimmer, standing hands on hips, face.Photo of Charles Moore, champion one-legged swimmer, standing hands on hips, face. Catalog ref: COPY 1/8/514Photo of Charles Moore lying on his back, right leg on shoulder.Photo of Charles Moore lying on his back, right leg on shoulder. Catalog ref: COPY 1/8/515

Charles was also featured in an illustration of Metropolitan Swimming Celebrities that appeared in an 1866 issue of the London Society – an illustrated monthly magazine.

An illustration of An illustration from “Metropolitan Swimming Celebrities” stood in front of a swimming pool, with Charles Moore far right in the London Society, Vol. 10 (1866), p. 50

Karl and his family

In November 1859, Charles Moore and Ellen O’Brien announced their intention to marry, and the 1861 census shows that they lived at 4 Short’s Gardens in St. Giles as husband and wife, Charles’ profession as professional swimmers. The couple did not officially get married until November 12, 1867. They had at least two children, Charles (born around 1868) and Mary Ann (born around 1870).

The 1871 census records Charles, now 38, who lived with his wife and two children – Charles, 3 and Mary, 1, at 21 Endell Street in St. Giles Parish. .

Unfortunately, Moore had phases of illness, which is why he could not always make a living from swimming. The workhouse admission and discharge records, kept in the London Metropolitan Archives and found digitized on Ancestry, show that Moore and his family had no choice but to spend time in and out of the workhouse. An entry dated August 5, 1879 shows that Ellen and the children were admitted to the Broad Street Workhouse in the parish of St. Giles and Bloomsbury Parish Union. Ellen is called ‘w. listed[ife] The next day there is a recording that her daughter Mary Ann was released from Edmonton School.

Charles Moore's wife and children were inducted into the Broad Street Workhouse on August 5, 1879.  London Metropolitan Archives, London Workhouse Admissions and Discharges Register.Charles Moore’s wife and children were inducted into the Broad Street Workhouse on August 5, 1879. London Metropolitan Archives, London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Registers, HOBG / 535/11 (1878-1879)

Charles was also unable to bypass the workhouse and was inducted into the Broad Street Workhouse several times, including February 8, 1879 and again April 30, 1880. The admissions registers list him as a “Professor of Swimming”.

Charles entered the Broad Street Workhouse several times, including February 8, 1879 and April 30, 1880. London Metropolitan Archives, London Workhouse Admission and Dismissal Records.Charles entered the Broad Street Workhouse several times, including February 8, 1879 and April 30, 1880. London Metropolitan Archives, London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Registers, HOBG / 535/10 and HOBG / 535/12 (1879-1880)

Moore was a respected swimming professor and was celebrated in his day; an article in Sporting Life (September 1881) advertised a subscription to raise money to get him out of the workhouse. The article states that Moore suffered from “a long and painful illness” but noted that he held the position of master of the one-legged swimmer for 23 years.

In the 1891 census, we find Charles, about 57 years old, who works as a street vendor and lives in Short’s Gardens with his wife and daughter.

The National Archives, Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891.The National Archives, Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891; Class: RG 12/210/65/19. Available through Ancestry

A description of Moore from this period of his life can be found in Charles Sprawson’s bizarre cult classic The Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero:

“When you leave the beach, on the far right of the road that leads to Waterloo Bridge, you might see a man sitting in a chair who isn’t begging but offering matches for sale. It’s vastly changed in appearance, but a closer look reveals the once-familiar characteristics of Charley Moore. Swimmers could do far worse things than to show their compassion and financial aid to a man whose name was once a household name and whose need is very appealing to their charity.

Illustration of Moore selling matches on Waterloo Bridge, in The People, The People, February 7, 1897, p. 18.Illustration of Moore selling matches on Waterloo Bridge, in The People, The People, February 7, 1897, p. 18

An illustration of Moore selling matches on Waterloo Bridge appeared in The People on February 7, 1897. The accompanying article reported that Moore had been a well-known figure on Wellington Street for the past 12 years, but little readers knew that he used to be ‘once the champion swimmer of England and also held the post of swimming champion in the baths of Endell-st ‘. Sadly, rheumatism was cited as the cause of ‘the cause of all “Old Charlie’s” problems’ which ‘finally landed it on the wooden box that carries its rheumatoid frame’.

The 1901 census lists Moore, 68 years old, as a widower and “match seller”. And an article from the same year in The Globe contains details of Moore seeking help from the Bow Street Magistrate for a lawyer who had approached him about the inheritance of some money from his brother William Henry Moore, who had to 4 ½. had died in China years earlier. Moore complained that “I have to make a living selling matches, and my Landlord at Short’s Gardens is threatening to throw me out if I don’t pay the rent.” However, the judge told Moore that nothing could be done to help him find the elusive lawyer.

Unfortunately Moore could not achieve financial security through his swimming performance due to illness. Nonetheless, his status in the swimming world has been a source of pride his entire life. The People article concluded that “he is very cheerful for an old man of sixty,” and stated that he likes to tell the story of how he became the “proud owner of the title,” “the one-legged swimming master.” from England”‘ .

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