Frank Gadsby

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Frank Gadsby
Frank Gadsby postcard (1c).jpg
Gadsby as featured on a British postcard
Personal information
Full nameFrank Calladine Gadsby
Born(1881-12-19)19 December 1881
Basford, Nottingham, England
Died7 February 1958(1958-02-07) (aged 76)
Nellie Crossland
(m. 1907)
CountryGreat Britain

Frank Calladine Gadsby (19 December 1881 – 7 February 1958) was a British competitive diver and swimmer. He was nicknamed "Peggy" on account of having only one leg, after having it amputated following an accident when aged four. He learnt to swim under the instruction of Professor Touhy, who also taught King George V.


Gadsby was a fishmonger and a publican before taking up competitive diving. His exhibition diving started around 1911 and continued into the 1940s. He declared bankruptcy in 1913, with unpaid debts of £300. He performed stunt dives in films, as well as in front of royalty. Despite retiring around 1949, Gadsby continued to perform diving displays, by that time being over the age of 60, on some occasions replacing his son Leslie who was injured. He continued to dive into his 70s, once saying "I can do it still if anyone likes to dare me."

With his wife Nellie Crossland, he had two sons, including Leslie who was also a diver. Gadsby died in February 1958.

Early life

Frank Calladine Gadsby was born on 19 December 1881 [1] to parents James and Charlotte. He was baptised the following month. [2] According to the 1891 United Kingdom Census, he was born in Basford, Nottingham, and was the second of four children, behind an elder sister. [3] At the age of four, one of his legs had to be amputated after an accident following a dislocated hip. [4] Gadsby learned to swim around the age of 12 and was instructed by Professor Touhy, who also gave swimming lessons to King George V. [5] Gadsby would later perform a diving exhibition for King George V. [6]


Prior to becoming a professional diver, Gadsby was a fishmonger and publican, holding the licence for various public houses around Nottingham, including the Albany Hotel and the Black's Head. He would frequently participate in swimming competitions around mainland Europe, as well as being known around British seaside resorts, particularly in Skegness where he dived from Skegness Pier [5] several thousand times. [6]

During the early 1900s, he was a member of the Nottingham Swimming Club's water polo team, [6] and reportedly defeated previously unbeaten world champion swimmer J. A. Jarvis in 1904 during the 440-yard (400 m) King's Cup Race [7] in front of the King and Queen; the Queen sent a lady-in-waiting to Gadsby to enquire how he lost a leg, which he considered a "kindly thought". [4] Gadsby declared himself bankrupt in 1913, explaining that his earnings at that time were dependent upon public generosity and weather conditions during his dives, with earnings ranging from £5 to as little as 10 shillings. In 1911, he owed £300 in unpaid debts and had £180 in cash, which he said he would not use to pay his debts as he "did not like to pay one without paying the lot". The official receiver during his cross-examination suggested that Gadsby's circumstances were the result of an extravagant lifestyle. [8]

Later in September 1913, he swam 13 miles (21 km) from Formby to Southport Pier, which was described by a local newspaper as being "a remarkable swimming performance", covering most of the distance by trudgen stroke with water of a low temperature. Gadsby was accompanied by a dinghy and went a mile off course around a third of the way into his swim due to the tide. He previously swam from Hastings to Eastbourne, which he considered to have been easier due to calmer tides. [9] In 1920, he was reportedly a swimming instructor on the Cunard Line Imperator, at a time when he was described by The Wichita Beacon as having "achieved a world reputation as a swimmer". [10] He was later described by The Leicester Mail in 1927 as being "the champion one-legged swimmer and diver of the world". [11] He became the diving and swimming master at Butlin's seaside resorts around 1946. [6]


Gadsby jumping from an aeroplane into the River Mersey Frank Gadsby new brighton dive.jpg
Gadsby jumping from an aeroplane into the River Mersey

Gadsby's diving exhibitions began around 1911. [6] He began diving into fire around the age of 29 and sought to abandon professional swimming due to lack of money and a desire for the "sensationalism" that diving offered. [12] He once dived 1,250 feet (380 m) with a parachute from an aeroplane over the River Mersey. [7] During an interview in 1929, he reflected on this dive, describing it as what he believed to be his most sensational feat, particularly as it was only his second time in an aeroplane. After jumping from the plane wearing a lifebelt and a parachute, he dropped for around four seconds before the parachute opened, describing the experience as being "much easier than the usual way of diving". [4]

In October 1927, he dived from a height of 80 feet (24 m) into a tank while on fire. [11] He later did a similar stunt dive in April 1931, diving from a 75 feet (23 m) height into a shallow pool with just 5 feet (1.5 m) of water depth, to a backdrop of fireworks. [7] Gadsby was known as a stunt diver and continued this throughout the 1930s, such as in September 1938 when he dived with his cloak set alight into a portion of pool water also in flames. [13]

As well as public exhibition diving, Gadsby also performed diving in films, working in around 20 by 1929. [4] In 1927, he recalled while working on the 1926 silent film Forbidden Cargoes , he jumped into a net that was suspended over a cliff and it broke, but he managed to hold on and avoided dropping 300 feet (91 m). Gadsby reportedly had a previous close encounter with near death or injury, when he dived from the bridge of the RMS Berengaria and barely cleared a 24 feet (7.3 m) barge. [11] During his career, he performed in front of royalty and once entertained a crowd of over 90,000 at the Wembley Arena. [12]


Gadsby retired around 1949, yet came out of retirement in August 1953 to dive in place of his son Leslie, who was injured. The act involved diving "in flames, through flames and into flames" from a 74 feet (23 m) platform into a 5-foot-6-inch (1.68 m) deep tank. Gadsby's other son Kenneth also participated in the act, but did not dive. When asked how he felt about the dive after several years into retirement, Gadsby reportedly replied "Not a bit of it", noting it was his lifetime work and that he had learnt it to perfection. [12]

During a dive in December 1953, he replaced his injured son and performed a high dive at a fair ground in Carlisle. [14] Gadsby continued to dive into his 70s, once saying "I can do it still if anyone likes to dare me." After retirement, he moved to Hyson Green. [6]


He married Nellie Crossland on 20 June 1907 in Nottingham, England. [15] Together they had two sons, Leslie and Ken. [6]


Gadsby died on 7 February 1958. [16]

In 2000, a hotel in New Brighton, Merseyside, was renamed "Peggy Gadfly's" for a number of years, in reference to Gadsby who was known to dive off New Brighton Pier. [17]

Gadsby inspired the character The Diver in the BBC radio comedy It's That Man Again. [18]

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  1. "Frank C Gadsby in the 1939 England and Wales Register" . 1939. Retrieved 6 March 2023 via
  2. "Frank Gadsby in the Nottinghamshire, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1919" . 16 January 1882. Retrieved 27 February 2023 via
  3. "Frank Calladine Gadsby in the 1891 England Census" . 1891. Retrieved 27 February 2023 via
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Death Dives for a living: Dare Devil Peggy Stunts". Sunday Sun. 31 March 1929. p. 6.
  5. 1 2 "Death of Mr. Frank Gadsby". Nottingham Evening Post. 11 February 1958. p. 8.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Death of daring city diver". Nottingham Evening News. 11 February 1958. p. 7.
  7. 1 2 3 "The Death Dive". Nottingham Evening Post. 6 April 1931. p. 6.
  8. "A Diver's Earnings: One-legged swimmer on his failure". Nottingham Evening Post. 9 May 1913. p. 5.
  9. "One-Legged swimmer covers thirteen miles from Formby to Southport". Evening Despatch. 9 September 1913. p. 7.
  10. "A One-Legged Champion". The Wichita Beacon. 2 June 1920. p. 11.
  11. 1 2 3 "Eighty Feet Fire Dive". The Leicester Mail. 10 October 1927. p. 9.
  12. 1 2 3 Brian Woosey (19 August 1953). "(74) In 'Death Dive' Again, To Replace Injured Son". Bristol Evening Post. p. 3.
  13. "Frank C. Gadsby shallow pool stunt dive". The Glasgow Herald. 30 September 1938. p. 14.
  14. "Father Dives for Son". The Pittsburgh Press. 31 December 1953. p. 4.
  15. "Frank Calladine Gadsby in the Nottinghamshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1937" . 20 June 1907. Retrieved 27 February 2023 via
  16. "Frank Calladine Gadsby in the Web: UK, Burial and Cremation Index, 1576-2014" . 12 February 1958. Retrieved 27 February 2023 via
  17. Elle May Rice (28 July 2019). "The colourful history of New Brighton's first hotel". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  18. "Can I Do You Now, Sir?". BBC. 24 September 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2023.