THE first Olympic gold medal won by a British female swimmer who only took up the sport after her headteacher called her a DUNCE is expected to fetch thousands of pounds at auction.

The medal has been uncovered along with 39 other gold and silver gongs won by Knutsford's Lucy Morton in the early 1900s.

She became the first British female swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal when she competed in the 1924 Paris Games.

In a fascinating insight into what propelled her to Olympic glory, her memoirs reveal she only took up swimming on the advice of her headteacher who called her a 'dunce'.

She wrote: "At the age of 10 I was at Christchurch School in Blackpool and Mrs Phillips, the headmistress, sent a note to my father stating that I was the biggest dunce in the school and suggested swimming might brighten my ideas up a bit."

Lucy, who was born in Tatton in 1898, went on to win 15 gold and 25 silver medals for swimming.

Incredibly, she won the Olympic gold medal when she won the 200 metres breaststroke just 24 hours after she was badly hurt in a car crash.

Writing about the crash in her memoirs, Lucy said: "I don't know how it happened, but I found myself on the pavement.

"I picked myself up and along with two other girls, walked back to the hotel.

Knutsford Guardian:

Picture by Hansons Auctioneers

"I remember climbing a few stairs, then I am told one of the girls fainted and the other two were on top of her.

"When I awoke 24 hours later my mouth was cleaned up but I had lost five teeth. I continued to train and won my heat."

Her shock victory made her the first British woman to win an Olympic gold medal for swimming in an individual (non-relay) event.

Writing about her victory, she wrote in her memoirs: "I finally finished and looked round to ask who won … all the bath seemed to be teeming with British swimmers trying to pull me out of the water. 'You've won', they cried.

"We waited for the flag to be hoisted but nothing happened…. The reason for the delay was that all week the Americans had swept the board and both the American anthem and the flag 'Stars and Stripes' was pure routine. I upset the applecart - Britain first, USA second, Britain third. Consternation!

Knutsford Guardian:

Picture by Hansons Auctioneers

"They couldn't find a British flag so had to run up a small one in the centre with a large USA one in second position and a small British one on the other side."

After retiring from competitive swimming she became a coach, guiding Anita Lonsbrough to Olympic gold in 1960.

She died in 1980, and her huge haul of medals were passed to her family.

The medals and memoirs are now going under the hammer, with an expected price tag of around £40,000.

Lucy's granddaughter, Julia Routledge, 60, a retired civil servant from Evesham, Worcestershire, is selling them with her sister Annette Judge, 56, from Farnham, Surrey.

Knutsford Guardian:

Picture by Hansons Auctioneers

Julia said: "My grandmother was a swimming pioneer who broke five world records in breaststroke and backstroke, and held world records in 1913, 1916 and 1920.

"No-one expected her to win the Olympic gold in 1924 as the Americans had been winning everything - plus she was involved in a car accident shortly before the race.

"After training, Lucy and some other British swimmers jumped in a cab to return to their hotel but another taxi ran into the side of their car.

"Lucy was 26 when she won her Olympic gold medal, which was quite old to be a champion, but her competitive career was broken up by the First World War.

Knutsford Guardian:

Picture by Hansons Auctioneers

"She started swimming in 1909 and by 1913 was breaking records. She won one medal for a race in the River Mersey and became involved in long distance swimming."

Auctioneer Charles Hanson said: "This archive tells the story of one of Britain's greatest but, perhaps, long forgotten and overlooked Olympians.

"That school put down more than a century ago must have hurt, but Lucy bounced back and showed the world what she was made of.

"She went on to make Britain proud and proved that, no matter what anyone else may think, we all have the ability to excel.

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"She was stunned by the rapturous reception she received when she got back to her home town of Blackpool after winning the 200-metres breaststroke in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.

"She received a civic welcome at St Anne's Station with a band, bouquet and banners emblazoned with 'Our Olympic Victor'."

The Lucy Morton medal and swimming archive will be sold on August 22 at Hansons Auctioneers.