By Norman Jacobs
One of the most popular visitor attractions during the Edwardian period was a display of stunt diving off Clacton Pier by “Professor” Webb. His real name was George Webb and he was born in Builth Wells in Wales. He came to Clacton in the early years of the 20th century, moving to a house in Oxford Road and later to Ellis Road.
Stunt diving from seaside piers had become a popular attraction during the late 19th century with Clacton itself having already seen divers such as “Professor” Gautier and “Professor” Reddish perform short season at Clacton Pier.
As an already accomplished diver, Webb offered his services to Clacton Pier on a more permanent basis. A number of stunts had become popular features of every diver’s repertoire and Webb’s programme was no exception including, as it did, being tied into a burning sack and thrown into the sea and riding his bike off the end of The Pier.
Unfortunately, two of his performances had unexpected and unfortunate consequences of differing degrees of seriousness. The first was his “Cigarette Dive”, in which he would dive in to the sea with a lighted cigarette in his mouth and come up out of the water with the cigarette still alight. The way he used to do this was to flip the cigarette inside his mouth just as he reached the water and then flip it out again as he came back up. One day, however, he flipped so hard that he flipped his false teeth out and they were lost forever beneath the waves.
The second occurred during his bike ride, which he always used as the finale to his act. On one occasion, in 1911, just as he commenced his dive, a rowing boat come round the end of The Pier and the Professor landed smack in the middle of the boat. The poor woman passenger in the boat never knew what hit her and was rushed off to Clacton Cottage Hospital suffering from concussion. Webb, although shaken, received nothing more than slight bruising and was ready to dive again the next day.
Although he retired from professional diving when the First World War broke out, he continued to keep fit and just one week off his 74th birthday, he was given the honour of performing the first dive from the top board of the Pier Swimming pool at its opening ceremony on 2 July 1932.
Webb put his continued fitness down to the fact that he continued to walk six miles every day and never smoked or drank. He also worked hard, owning two provisions shops in Clacton, one in Pallister Road and one in Colne Road , and he and was often to be seen cycling round Clacton delivering goods to customers. The cycle he used was very rusty and he was once asked if this was the same bike that he used for his dives off The Pier. He just laughed!
Apart from still being able to dive at the age of 74, his fitness stood him in good stead generally as he died at the age of 95 on 11 July 1954, having, it is said, never had a day’s illness in his life until then.
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