Runcorn Railway Bridge – scene of a contest between Tommy Burns and Carlisle D. Graham. Photo courtesy Peter Blackmore.
Carlisle D. Graham

On 19th June 1890 Tommy Burns – dubbed the Hero of Runcorn Bridge – took part in a contest against Carlisle D. Graham from Philadelphia, who was billed as the Hero of Niagara Falls.

English-born Graham achieved fame four years earlier with the first recorded barrel stunt at Niagara Falls where he travelled through the Great Gorge Rapids in an oak cask.

The two men had a £25 wager for their contest which involved diving or jumping off Runcorn Bridge, swimming ashore and running 10 miles around the bowling green at the nearby Mersey Hotel in Widnes.

The Manchester Evening News on 20th June reported:

At one o’clock Burns, disguisd as an old woman, and Graham as a labourer, with a view of eluding the police, dived into the Mersey from Runcorn Railway Bridge …

The report added that 8,000 spectators turned up to see the contest which was won by Tommy who finished four laps and 10 yards ahead of his rival.

An advertisement in The Era on 28th June referred to this as Tommy’s fourth dive off Runcorn Bridge.

MERSEY HOTEL: Tommy Burns and Carlisle Graham raced 10 miles around the bowling green. Photo courtesy Peter Blackmore.