Specific river bathing areas became necessary when Matthew Webb opened the floodgates to outdoor swimming by conquering the Channel in 1875. Boys in particular took the distance swimming challenge to heart, unperturbed that a lack of swimwear was scandalising the ladies. Indoor and outdoor pools were to follow as a means of containing and controlling the increasingly popular swimming movement.
A legacy of these times is evident in many areas with no swimming signs proliferating near to city’s. Leicester for example has a well documented NO SWIMMING policy, with advice given to call the police if swimmers are seen enjoying themselves in the water.
These die hard attitudes are hard to keep down, see for instance the advice provided by Milton Keynes Park Trust, including direction to call the police below:
In the UK we have a significant lack of inland bathing waters when compared with the rest of Europe.
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In England, outdoor swimmers have been chased out of open water.
Yet, despite banning swimming in rivers and lakes for our health and safety, we still seem to experience roughly the same rate of drowning as the rest of Europe where swimming is very much encouraged? Does this mean that discouraging swimming in relatively safe and visible swimming locations push swimmers out of sight and into danger? Perhaps a lack of education and open water experience leave people ill equipped for misadventure, thus risking lives?
Despite alarmist headlines, ROSPA reason that the risk of dying in UK waters are similar to the risk of being struck by a motor vehicle as a pedestrian 1:200,000 each year. Yet with better education even this very low risk can be dramatically reduced. Education makes a huge difference.
If children can be taught to cross roads with care, surly the British public could be reeducating in water safety.
Read the full story in: Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture
“A persuasive book… intriguing from the outset, a fascinating chronology of British swimming which goes much deeper than one might expect. Well researched and interestingly written… the historical ebb and flow of swimming popularity is quite remarkable.” November 2012 Swimming Times