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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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Glasgow Live reports: We chart the evolution of swimming from the River Clyde to the public and private baths that sprung up across the city.

In the 18th century, long before the appearance of swimming baths in the city, swimming as a leisure pursuit was practiced by plenty of Glaswegians in the most obvious place – the River Clyde.

Its popularity among the working classes was down to the easy access afforded to the river, alongside the obvious fact that is was both an activity without cost and killed two birds with one stone in that it was both refreshing and a way to ensure personal cleanliness.

Another reason for success of informal river swimming in the city was the formation of the Glasgow Humane Society in 1790 (the oldest continuing lifeboat service in the UK) – which helped to bring down the number of drownings that were occurring.

The construction of a boat house and a room with life saving equipment reduced the risks involved in taking to the Clyde along with it, as well as the introduction of a life saving officer working out of the boat house and rewards for people who helped people who had gotten into difficulty on the river.

But with fatalities continuing the Council decided to take it upon themselves to build facilities at the river to try and ensure people would bathe at the same (safe)  location.

Not that it mattered much post 1850 – as the increase in river traffic and the move by industries to secure locations next to the Clyde, alongside the polluting of the river, practically put a halt to the popular Glasgow pasttime.

While the Council also passed a law prohibiting river bathing in certain (dangerous) areas and used local police to strictly enforce a rule limiting the amount of flesh you could display as you took a dip.

Things began to change with the opening of an opening air facility in Alexandra park in Dennistoun in 1877 form the summer months and an increase in national (and local) concern for general public health.

Prior to that, one of the first indoor swimming and bathing facilities for the public to use was situated up in the Blythswood area from which Bath Street gets its name.

Constructed by businessman William Harley (who made his money in the cotton trade), the lavish setup and social facilities attempted to attract the upper echelons of Glasgow society.

But it struggled to do so in a time where physical exercise wasn’t regarded as necessary (especially in a 12 hour, six day a week industrial working day) and where few people could swim – coupled with the hard fact that Glaswegians loved a ‘bevvy’ and a bet couldn’t do either in the confines of the swimming pool.

But with renewed interest in swimming in the 1870s into the 20th century, ten indoor swimming pools were constructed in the city (five public and five private), such as North Woodside Pool in 1882 – the oldest public pool in operation today.

Private baths such as the still-standing Arlington Baths proved popular given that the upper levels of society had begun to enjoy making trips to seaside resorts outside of the city on the West Coast and the fact that they offered swimming lessons to members.

Figures show that in 1900, male Glaswegians made 475,000 trips to public swimming pools, with that figure rising to over 700,000 by 1914. Compare that to 30,000 females visiting public baths in 1900 increasing to 100,000 in 1914.

A by-product of the increase in swimming was the rise in popularity in Glasgow of competitive swimming both in participating and as a spectator. With clubs springing up across the city – numbering 109 in 1914.

Cut to today and with Glaswegians more keen on staying fit and active than ever before, we remain pretty much spoilt for choice with 12 public swimming pools to choose from at sites such as Scotstoun, The Gorbals, Tollcross and Maryhill, as well as a handful of private baths.

Enough to ensure both that, like in years gone by, residents are never too far away from their nearest pool and that our love affair with going for a wee dip remains as strong as ever – although doing so in the River Clyde is well and truly a thing of the past!

Discover swimming history in your region…

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Edinburgh Live reports: Feeling fresh this morning? Well, you probably weren’t as as invigorated as the 69 women who ran into the sea at Wardie Bay in Edinburgh for a sunrise wild swim in honour of International Women’s Day.

With the sea at a brisk 5.5 degrees, they gathered in wetsuits and swimsuits to celebrate their own bodies and those of women everywhere – sharing their message of solidarity and body positivity.

Organised by activist Danni Gordon of The Chachi Power Project and photographer Anna Deacon of the Wild Swimming Photography Project, the event drew swimmers from all across the Scottish Central Belt, Fife, East and West Lothian.

They were inspired by the joy of wild swimming, but also by the intense and sometimes heart-breaking stories people told to explain why they had decided to take it up – among these stories were a number related to body confidence. Read more…

Discover how changing attitudes towards the body forced swimmers out of open water and into the chlorinated confinement of the swimming pool.

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Sky News reports: The plans include a 25-metre swimming pool, children’s splash area, pavilion and cafe for the public. Water will be naturally treated and heated with alternative energy sources.

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But the original features of the Grade II listed Georgian building will be maintained, including its crescent shape, which mimics the city’s renowned architecture.

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The baths first opened in 1815 after the Bathwick Water Act, which banned nude bathing in the city’s river.

It closed in 1984 and had a brief second life as a trout farm but has fallen into disrepair. It’s been maintained by volunteers and more than £800,000 has been raised to help the renovation work.

Discover the history of British swimming just £11.11 inc P&P today only…

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The Melton Times reports: New photo exhibition is a fascinating look back through Melton’s history.

An exhibition displaying fascinating images of the town’s past was opened to the public on Saturday and it will run through to July 7.

Many of the pictures, which have been taken from collections kept by the Thorpe End museum and the Record Office for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, have not previously been seen by the general public.

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There is also an image showing outdoor swimming in the town’s river in 1930. It shows a gala at the lido, on a loop in the river east of Burton End, known as Swans Nest. Diving boards and wooden changing huts were installed. Mixed bathing wasn’t allowed.

Discover the history of swimming places in your area: klick here.

Discover why the British separated the sexes when swimming: Klick here.

Go online at http://www.imageleicestershire.org.uk to see a bigger collection of old historic photos collected by the county council.

 

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Abbey Park Lido

Abbey Park Lido

The Leicester Mercury reports: Fancy a dip in open water in this weather? To me, the mere thought of a swim in icy cold water brings me out in goose bumps – but, there are those who take the opposite view!

There was a time when British swimmers once filled the lakes and waterways of England.

But things changed and these intrepid swimmers soon found themselves chased out of the water and “rounded up and confined to indoor swimming”.

Some years back, an article I featured concerning swimming in Abbey Park prompted reader Chris Ayriss, of Western Park, to contact me about a book he had written on the history of swimming, Hung Out to Dry.

Mr Ayriss’s book “traces the demise of a swimming empire”.

It also reveals “why the swimmer has been chased out of the water”.

There is a chapter on Leicester and it shows that the Abbey Park was, at one time, used as a venue for major swimming competitions.

The author gives many instances of large-scale gatherings, especially when connected with the Abbey Park Show and told me that “on show days, thousands would travel to Leicester to see the swimming events. They would line the bank of the river to cheer on their heroes in the long distance swims, of both a mile and half-a-mile.

“One report speaks of an afternoon of solid rain not dampening the enthusiasm of thousands of spectators watching the proceedings, which were the biggest draw of the show. One thousand six hundred seats were provided for the spectators at a cost of 6d each.”

Apparently Leicester also had a fearsome reputation in water polo and “these raucous events had a great following”.

One match, against Derby, brought a whole trainload of supporters with it and generated as much excitement as we would see at a big football match today.

The site of the old water polo matches can still be clearly identified by the steps in Tumbling Bay, adjacent to the footbridge in the centre of the park.

Mr Ayriss wrote: “Despite the fact that children were encouraged to swim elsewhere, they continued to use Abbey Park until a prohibition order chased them out of the water in 1959.

“The Medical Officer of Health reported that the river was polluted to such a degree that it was unfit for bathing.

“Since then, great improvements have been made regarding water quality and when I checked with the Environment Agency, the city waters were listed as of ‘good quality’ and are now suitable for bathing.”

Other places in England with waters of similar quality have encouraged children to swim.

They have taken simple health and safety precautions such as having a lifeguard in attendance, dredging and rodent and algae control.

Mr Ayriss suggested similar steps could be taken in Abbey Park, and asked: “Could we not reopen the gates of the footbridge so lives of children are not put at risk? Could we not take down the signs that prohibit swimming and station a lifeguard instead of a warden on the riverbank?

“At one time, Leicester led the way when it came to the encouragement of swimmers. Perhaps now is the time to do something positive to remove the dangers of swimming rather than the swimmers!”

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Having spent a fortnight touring France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland I am left with many questions about the disparity between European and British swimming culture. From my perspective as a swimmer, and as Brexit draws closer, I wonder if we were ever really part of Europe at all. Switzerland is bordered, and very much influenced by its neighbours. When it comes to swimming there is no need for an ‘Outdoor Swimming Society’ or a ‘Wild Swimming’ guide, because in every river and lake where swimming is possible, hot weather draws swimmers to the water in droves. Local authorities provide a huge number of bathing beaches, lakeside lidos, diving boards, changing rooms, BBQ facilities and even firewood with an axe to chop it up. But lifeguards are typically absent, with a swim, jump, or dive at ‘your own risk’ notice taking their place.

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In England, changing attitudes and perceived concerns have forced swimmers out of most rivers and lakes. The rules by which we live make us cautious in the extreme. Designated bathing areas at the seaside give us a sense of security. Lifeguards are seen as essential. We are constantly warned of the dangers of deep water and convinced that ‘cold water shock’ makes the risk of outdoor swimming seem to those unacquainted with its pleasures, foolhardy at best.

Basel River Swimming

Soon after landing at Basel airport my wife and I were drifting down the Rhine. The river police have earmarked specific bathing places to separate swimmers in the city from shipping. Even so, you have to navigate your way around cross-river ferries, bridge pillars and marker buoys. It’s a little like playing a slow motion game of ‘Space Invaders’, only in this version you have to avoid rather than intercept approaching targets. Swimmers and their dry bags line the riverbank; boys jump in and delight as they are swept along in the swift current. With thousands swimming every day in the cool deep fast flowing water there must be accidents surely? Surprisingly, Switzerland which encourages swimming at every opportunity, shares a similar safety record to that of the over cautious English, who feel duty bound to keep swimmers out of open water to reduce the risk of drowning and any chance of litigation. Yet if our drowning statistics are just the same as Switzerland’s, could it be that with a little education, open water swimming could be opened up in England, just as it is has always been in the rest of Europe?

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The same story unfolds wherever I travel. Take for example the Strandbad in Hard, Austria. Attracting 2,300 swimmers on a hot day, there are pontoons and springboards enticing huge numbers into the greenish waters of a huge lake. The entrance fee includes the use of lockers and changing rooms, and a beautiful chrome edged open air pool with flumes and excited children everywhere. But look for a lifeguard and you will be disappointed. In Austria the dolphin like children sport slender physiques and deep suntans in settings that echo Britain in the 1950’s. Can you imagine a paid attraction in the UK drawing such numbers with the focus on keeping the site clean and the café well staffed rather than on providing lifeguards? For Austrians the school holidays are spent by the river or lake, and swimming even for the very young is a happy and fulfilling way of life. Europe is in itself an outdoor swimming society; swimmers feel at one with the countryside, they enjoy being outdoors; cycling and swimming whenever possible. Could it be that after all these years as part of Europe we have simply not thought to look at the lessons that could be learned from those who swim, swim, swim?

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For how long will English outdoor swimmers be faced with the inevitable reaction to their activities; “They must need help, call 999”? 

Education is of cause the key, but it is not just potential swimmers that need educating, landowners and local authorities also have a lot to learn. Certainly much needs to be done if the swimming holes of the past are to be resurrected today. What I learned from my holiday is that swimming in deep cold water does not lead to certain death, but rather to a very happy life!

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image-20161208-31364-86rhncThe Conversation Reports: Our modern distaste for river swimming is a stark constrast with a history where urban rivers provided a venue for sport, recreation and entertainment – all within easy distance of shops, offices and public transport.

Pollution has changed the face of river swimming across the world. Not that pollution in itself has put people off outdoor swimming. In the UK for instance, summertime tradition sees holidaymakers keen to paddle and swim in the sea despite pollution on many beaches. Rather, the public perception that rivers and lakes are unsafe or unclean is so intrenched that it is rarely questioned. Rather like the beguiled Emperor in Hans Christian Anderson’s: The Emperor’s New Clothes, todays would be swimmers are so convinced by what they think they know that they cannot see what is obvious to little boys.

Discover just how different attitudes are in Switzerland

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