The craggy features and muscular frame of Jimmy Niblett will have been familiar to many fell race competitors throughout the Northwest over the past few decades. He had been battling prostate cancer in recent years but up to last Autumn was still able to take his long Sunday walk from his home on the northern outskirts of Bolton to Winter Hill summit and back. I last saw him just before Christmas when he was planning to spend the holiday period at Dubai, where his son is based, and then to visit friends in the South of France early in the New Year.
At the age of 15, Jimmy had worked at a coal pit near Montcliffe Stone Quarry above Horwich and then worked in the quarry itself, breaking stone with a 141b hammer on piece work. In 1942, aged 20, he volunteered for the Royal Marines:” l did my training at Lympstone in Devon and afterwards commanded a landing craft at Normandy on D-Day. It was child’s play to me in the Marines as I was so strong and fit and it was here that I first began running.
After the War, he went back down the mines and took up both football and wrestling, joining Bolton Wrestling Club, where he was coached by a retired wrestler, Johnny Nelson: “We used do all our training on local fields but then Billy Riley opened a gym in Wigan and I started going there. I won the Northern and Lancashire welterweight titles and also the Northwest Olympics trial. I was due to travel down to London for the final selection on a Wednesday but injured my ankle playing football on the Monday, which put paid to my Olympic hopes. In 1952, Jimmy married Ruth, a Swiss girl (she died in 1985) and was advised to turn professional, which he did. He continued to enjoy the same success as an all-in wrestler, touring such countries as Sweden, Finland, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, competing under the name of ”Killer James:’ He had also built up a successful scrap business over these years and wrestled at many charity shows throughout Lancashire. Along about 1948, Jimmy had begun running regularly on a non-competitive basis and liked nothing better than to get out on his local moors. In 1979, he joined Horwich RMI Harriers and began to enter races, competing all over the Northwest and at Ben Nevis and Snowdon, and even in Continental races, including Sierre-Zinal. His living room, whose widow looked north easterly to the Holcombe moors, was adorned with trophies, certificates and photographs from both his running and wrestling careers.
Jimmy certainly lived a very full and rewarding sporting life and will be remembered for both his hardy competitiveness and for his down-to-earth character and sense of humour.
Jimmy’s funeral will take place on Wednesday 3rd December in The Old Parsonage, 20 Park St, Bolton BL1 4BD at 12 noon, followed by internment in St Mary’s, Deane at 12:45pm. No flowers please by request. Cheque donations in memory if desired may be sent payable to Royal Marines Association.
All enquiries and cheque donations to Shaw & Son, Funeral Directors, The Old Parsonage, 20 Park Park St, Bolton BL1 4BD ~ 01204 526218.