worthing history


Angela Barnwell, Worthing’s Olympic star
Angela Barnwell
Angela Barnwell,
 who, in 1952 aged 16, became
Worthing's only ever Olympic
 swimming finalist

SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Angela Barnwell was one of Worthing’s youngest and most successful sporting heroes.
     But nobody in the excited and admiring crowd of 5,000 welcoming her home in August, 1952, realised how easily her memorable sporting triumph could have ended in tragedy.

   For a tram knocked down Angela only four days before she swam for Great Britain in the final of the women’s Olympic 100 metres event at the Helsinki Olympics.
      “Everything in Helsinki is on the wrong side of the road, of course,” she explained. “I stepped off the pavement and was hit full force by the buffer of a tram as it went by. I went flying, quite seriously grazing the side of my thigh and my elbow. I was due to swim only four days later . . .”

It didn’t get any better. The 100-metres final got off to a false start when the gun went off late. “This upset all the competitors because we had all dived in,” said Angela. “Then we were kept waiting for five minutes on the side in the drizzling rain before the race was actually started.”
     She wasn’t placed but in no way did that dim her remarkable achievement of becoming one of the top 20 swimmers in the world.
     Next day, the plane that brought Angela home to England was two-and-a-half hours late, but she made the 75-mile dash by car from Heathrow to Worthing in just over two hours.
     A large crowd was waiting patiently in front of the town hall and when her car arrived, cheering men, women and children surged forward to surround her. Angela walked shyly up the steps of the Town Hall to be welcomed by the mayor, Mrs Rita Summers, who declared, “We are enormously proud of her. She has brought credit and distinction not only to herself but also to her town.”
     Knowing Angela now had high hopes of being chosen for the British swimming team at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 (and stood a good chance of winning a gold medal) the mayor added: “We all wish her luck in her future swimming.” 
     But it was never to be. The fates intervened and Angela’s untimely death from cancer at a very early age meant she was never to realise her enormous sporting potential.