Archive for the ‘swimwear’ Category

Western Daily Press reports: “The oldest surviving open-air swimming baths in the UK, in Bath, are set to be fully restored and reopened to the public.

The Grade II listed Cleveland Pools – a 200-year-old Georgian lido – has secured funding of £4.1 million, including a development grant of £366,200, from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The restoration project, run by community group The Cleveland Pools Trust, will conserve the Georgian features and upgrade the facilities to allow for year-round swimming and other activities.

When complete, the site will include a 25-metre swimming pool, children’s splash area, pavilion and cafe. The pools will be naturally treated and heated using the latest technology.”

“The pools first opened in 1815 following the Bathwick Water Act which prohibited nude bathing in the river.

Laid out in the shape of a miniature Georgian crescent, the site includes two bathing pools, the original changing rooms and a private ladies pool.

They are one of only a small number of pre-Victorian sporting buildings to survive nationally and are thought to be the oldest swimming baths of its type in Western Europe.

The site closed to the public in 1978 and after finally closing altogether in 1984 was briefly used as a trout farm.”


Nude bathing (or skinny dipping) once common on river and lake-sides throughout the UK was responsible not only for the construction of swimming pools such as this, but also for a shift in cultural attitudes towards outdoor swimming. See Hung Out to Dry, Swimming and British Culture – Chapter 3 Sex, Sea and Swimming Trunks, and Chapter 5 Lidos Open, Rivers Close. More…


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Heddon Court Bathing Place, 1912

A rare glimpse of Heddon Court bathing place provided for wild swimmers in years gone by.

In an effort to preserve modesty, encourage cleanliness and educate swimmers, bathing places like this were built across the country. facility’s were meager; a bathing attendant, a changing hut (offering shelter to clothing in poor weather), a diving run and some steps attracted swimmers from miles arround. As you can see we don’t need much to enjoy open water. One essential sadly lacking today is the liberty to swim! Visit Europe and you will find outdoor swimming encouraged and enjoyed to the benefit of all. Why are we so prejudice against river and lake swimmers in England?

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You can’t get further from the sea in England than Leicester the place of my birth, the city in which I have lived throughout my life.

Leicester’s relationship with bathing extends over more than two thousand years. Its history is not celebrated, rarely is it mentioned, yet the history of Leicester holds the key to our understanding of why the swimmer has been hung out to dry, and to our understanding the revolution in British culture for which the swimmer is responsible. Changes experienced here reflect what has taken place all over the country; changes in thinking and attitude that now affect not just swimmers but every individual throughout the nation.

Bathing, once celebrated by the Romans, fell from grace due to deteriorating morals. Throughout the Empire, baths came in for condemnation by the Church as attempts were made to stem the tide of hedonism. They came to be viewed as ungodly, as the dwelling place of evil spirits. The Church taught that nakedness leads to sin; washing was seen as ungodly, even demonic. Swimmers also found themselves being disapproved of – for after all wasn’t it witches that floated on water? It was in Leicester that the last official ‘swimming of witches’ was recorded, in 1717. The unfortunate mother and daughter swam like empty barrels floating upon the water though they tried all they could to sink, thus their ‘guilt’ was supposedly confirmed.

The 16th century saw a moderation in Church teachings and although the records of history remain silent on the use of the river until 1741, a map of Leicester labels a field in this region as: ‘The Bath’, showing the return of swimming interest. Daniel Lambert (1770-1809 pictured left) a well-known personality in the town, taught boys to swim here in the river Soar. Lambert was an excellent swimmer and such a celebrity in the town that all of Leicester’s youngsters would look to him for instruction. Due to his tremendous size (he weighed over 52 stone when he died and measured 9׳ 4״ around his waist), he could float with ease; in fact it is said that he could swim with two men lying on his back. If some of his charges seemed a little timid, he would carry them across to the bank opposite their pile of clothes and leave them to struggle back. They would then either have to sink or swim!

Leicester’s first indoor pool was built in the 1840s on New Walk. Warm water fed the sizable pool from the owner’s factory. It was some forty feet long by twenty-one feet wide and was originally available only for private swimming. Things changed, however, when in 1847 the Corporation agreed to pay Mr J P Clarke one hundred pounds towards his expenses and Clarke’s baths were opened to the public. This was in response to the government’s 1846 directive to provide public baths and wash-houses. Leicester then could boast a swimming bath in response to the ruling well before a London pool opened in 1849! Bathers (men only) were charged ‘per penny, per person, per swim,’ and were given a clean towel into the price (costumes were unheard of).

Matthew Webb Swims the Channel

Then an explosion of swimming interest hit the nation, with the successful crossing of the Channel by Captain Matthew Webb in August 1875. Throngs of naked boys plied the waterways in response and it all became too much to bear. This same year a new bye-law for the park and St Margaret’s pasture was enacted reading: “No person shall bathe in any water in the park or recreation ground except in such place or places specially set apart by the Corporation and may be identified by notice ‘Subject to compliance with regulation.’ ” Thus nude bathing came under the control of the Corporation, who now prescribed its limitations. No doubt this came as a blessed relief to those who felt it essential to contain the masses of young adventurers. The imitation of Webb saw swimmers spanning great distances up and down river; however the Order would now ensure that youngsters were contained within much smaller stretches of river, out of public view. This would go a long way towards bringing to an end the annoyance and embarrassment experienced by respectable ladies. But it changed forever the thrill of distance swimming; boys and young men had to contend themselves with counting lengths rather than the real achievement of swimming for miles. From this point on, swimmers were in a sense confined by authority and so they paced backwards and forwards like caged animals. In the minds of the prudish Victorians that’s exactly what they were. The first victory had been achieved; shameless children were hidden away so that ladies, young and old, could stroll along the riverbank in peace.

Swimming History

A little later, as Tuke was painting the innocence of boyhood in Cornwall and the ASA were making sure that boys wore swimwear for competitions, concern over the sexuality of children was reaching fever pitch so unruly roughs were being rounded up and drawn into the swimming pool, where their conduct could be superintended. More swimming baths were erected one after another with brand new indoor facilities built: Vestry Street baths in 1891, known by locals as the ‘bug bath’ due to the prevalence of cock roaches; Cossington Street 1897 (fed by a spring), then in 1901 Spence Street  was constructed, followed by Aylestone in 1910 ( see picture above). Leicester truly became ‘swim city’! So it’s no wonder, with all this encouragement for swimmers, that the first long distance river swim through London saw a Leicester man Mr J A Jarvis take first place. He raced in the Seine in the 1900 Paris Olympics, becoming the first ever triple gold medal winner. John Jarvis called himself ‘Amateur Swimming Champion of the World,’ and he earned 108 international swimming championships to prove it! It is also no surprise that at the first Olympic Games to include female swimmers, Jennie Fletcher of Leicester won bronze for the 100m freestyle. Then at the same games in Stockholm (1912) she formed part of a relay team that went on to win gold. In all, she won over 20 major trophies and titles, becoming champion of England six times as well as setting 11 world records. Her achievements were recognised in 1971 when she was praised as the ‘world’s first great woman swimmer’, being included in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Although she died in 1968 her achievements were not recognised by the City until 2005 when a plaque commemorating her achievements appeared at Cossington Street Sports Centre. These swimmers put Leicester on the map and indeed the city’s connection with swimming is truly remarkable.

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Stamford Meadows Bathing Place

Up and down the country, bathing places like this proved very popular, but you may wonder: why were they built and why have they closed?

British culture is full of interesting eccentricity’s and there is no simple answer. In Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture I attempt to explain some of the major influences that led us to the heyday of river, lake and sea bathing and then on to the prejudice shown towards outdoor bathers today. I have included an exert below:

The Swimming of Witches

It was asserted by many ecclesiastics and scientists that witches and wizards, through their communion with the Devil, became like him, lighter than air and would therefore not sink if thrown into water.[1] In the light of this knowledge, we can well imagine the scene as a child falls into a river and disappears beneath the surface. Anguish and grief on the part of the parents might well turn into despair should the child struggle to remain afloat, for such would be evidence of her previously undetected association with witchcraft! King James I’s ruling in the early 17th century recommended that the ‘ordeal’ (the swimming of witches) should continue to be used in certain circumstances, on the grounds that water would reject witches, because such creatures had ‘shaken off the sacred water of baptism’ So we can see that even at this late date, swimming was still seen by many as an unwholesome exercise.[2]

The skill of swimming, or even remaining afloat in the rivers of England at some periods in history was certainly nothing to be proud of. If you bathed you were seen as a degenerate, with filthy morals, and if you swam you became like the Devil himself! For many years, paintings that depicted the baby Jesus enjoying his first bath were quite popular. In the mid 1500s however, a meeting of priests resulted in such pictures being banned. The reasoning being that Jesus was perceived as so pure that bathing would be quite unnecessary. These ideas lasted a long time. Prior to the First World War, very little accommodation was made in London’s hotels for bathing; in fact Park Lane was the first hotel to provide a bathroom for every bedchamber[3] In the USA, the White House had its first bathroom installed in 1851. It seems then that the adage: ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ was far from the minds of those directing the faith of Christians here in England and elsewhere throughout most of its history.[4]

As bathing came back into fashion bathing places and bath houses sprang up for all  to enjoy.

Stamford Baths

Also in Stamford built in 1823 opposite the meadows, the Bath House which probably had a plunge pool a changing room and accommodation for the baths attendant remained open until the 60’s I am told.

River and Lake bathing fell from popularity through a combination of three factors.

1) The mass construction of Lido’s.

2) The promotion of sunbathing for health.

3) Low priced continental travel. (See  Chapter 5: Lido’s Open Rivers Close)

It is Ironic that a nation once so obsessed with river, lake and sea bathing now struggles with the concept of allowing the general public the privilege of a refreshing dip in natural waters on a sunny day. What is going on at Rutland Water just a few miles outside Stamford perfectly illustrates the dilemma facing us in this 21st century.

Swim with care!

[1] Suffolk produced a high proportion of witches in comparison to the rest of the country. Locally grown rye grass became diseased, infected by the fungus ergot (Claviceps Purpurea). When made into bread and ingested in sufficient quantity it caused ergotism, resulting in hallucinations similar to those induced by LSD, along with many other physical effects including tremors and a sensation of prickling as though ants were crawling on the skin. It was assumed that sufferers had been bewitched and many innocent women were condemned as a result of ignorance regarding the true cause.

[2] Daemonologie 1597 (the last woman was burned to death as a witch in 1722).

[3] News of the World: July 17th 1938.

[4] During the 18th and 19th Centuries, the unhygienic conditions in Europe and the United States caused missionaries to begin preaching a ‘doctrine of cleanliness.’ Filth was equated with sin, whereas cleanliness brought one closer to God. The Salvation Army went onto preach: ‘Soap, Soup and Salvation.’

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Brighton Men's Bathing Beach 1895

This 1895 photograph of men and boys swimming at low tide adjacent to Palace Pier Brighton, reveals a stark contrast to the attitude of swimmers today.

Firstly there are a large number of swimmers. They wear no wetsuits, in fact no costumes at all. Additionally cold water was the main attraction for outdoor swimmers back then, how different to swimmers today. A major concern on the part of the Environment Agency is that “waters can be very cold no matter how warm the weather – leading to cramp and breathing difficulties.” Now although this is true, it’s interesting to note that year round cold water swimming was and still is a healthy option for many.

Discover more about cold water swimming…




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Malcolm Tozer Reviews: Hung Out to Dry: Swimming and British Culture, in the Spring Edition of Physical Education Matters.


It was by chance that your reviewer came across this privately published social history of swimming and the evident enthusiasm of its author – devotee of outdoor bathing and self-taught historian – prompted the request for a copy. Chris Ayriss’s idiosyncratic approach is as refreshing as the waters he loves and the ebb and flow of his story matches that of meandering stream; you never know what is round the next bend.

The Blue Lagoon Bristol 1937

The book spans ancient and modern, from the Roman occupation of Britain right up to the health-and-safety madness of present times. On the journey we meet bathing to satisfy superstitious, ritualistic, religious, medical, sensual, sexual, naturist, hygienic and escapist needs – amongst others – sometimes with the active approval of society, sometimes not. It would seem that skinny-dipping just for fun was never as simple as that.

Henleaze Lake Bristol 1932

Bathing’s real boom began in the mid-Victorian period when Thomas Cook introduced cheap rail excursions to seaside resorts; week-long factory closures saw whole towns decamp to Skeggie or Clacton; Billy Butlin’s promise of a week’s holiday for a week’s wage led to the popularity of holiday camps; major resorts competed for the biggest lidos and the highest diving boards; and inland cities provided their own riverside beaches and swimming lakes. Some marvellous photographs show packed crowds on Blackpool beach in 1949, with no room to swing a spade; sand-castle building in the shadow of London’s Tower Bridge in 1939; a sardine-jammed lido in Bristol in 1937; and fantastic multiple diving platforms at Henleaze and Weston-super-Mare.

London-on-Sea 1939

The demise from the 1960s was sudden: it came with the introduction of cheap flights to Mediterranean beaches; the delights of sun and sangria; the building of corporation indoor swimming complexes; riverside landowners denying right of access; health concerns about polluted rivers, canals and lakes; and safety worries over unsupervised bathing. Recent evidence from my outlook in Cornwall suggests that a partial recovery is underway – helped by the economic recession, the popularity of ‘staycations’, and the ready availability of wetsuits. Is the bucket-and-spade holiday back in fashion?

Wild Swimming

All this is told in a jaunty style. A bevy of blurred boys’ bare bottoms may see the book banned from school libraries, but there is much here to inform and entertain all who have ever delighted in a midnight skinny-dip – outdoors, of course.

Hung Out to Dry: Swimming and British Culture, by Chris Ayriss, Lulu.com, 2012, £14.50, ISBN 978-0-557-12428-2

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A 2011 Star investigation found pool operators racking up health and safety violations without public knowledge.

A proposed bylaw could make them post their inspection results. The same problem exists here in the UK but something could be done about that.

What if swimming pools had to post the results of regular water quality tests and safety inspections in a similar way to the Food hygiene Scheme with which we are all now acquainted?

Why should we be concerned? Please read the following exert from Hung Out to Dry:

“Despite the apparent ease with which many moralise over the prospect of river bathing, a deaf ear is often turned to the fact that the water quality at well-run and maintained swimming pools is still far from clean. Many are indeed oblivious to the fact that in Britain, swimming pool water is often over-chlorinated because we British still view the swimming pool as a giant bath. We are not at all comfortable with nakedness and so we do not wash thoroughly before entering the pool, rather we enter with dirty bodies and pollute the water. Chlorine is then added to the mix of pollutants as a body-wash disinfectant. Research by Dr Alfred Barnard[1] into the effects of chlorination on young swimmers (primary school children who swim once every one or two weeks), has led to some disturbing findings. Despite the fact that many authorities hail the indoor pool as the only safe place to swim, it is found that when chlorine reacts with organic matter[2] several by-products are produced including nitrogen trichloride,[3] a powerful irritant linked to the destruction of the cell barriers that protect the deep lungs. The damage may be comparable to the effects of tobacco on the lungs of regular smokers. Could it be that this accounts at least in part for the upsurge in the incidence of childhood asthma?”

“Even with the water heavily chlorinated, health hazards still present themselves. For example, Cryptosporidium causes a severe form of diarrhoea, which infected persons can pass on through the swimming pool. During the year 1999, one hundred and forty cases were reported, which were contracted at swimming baths, not to mention the countless numbers that went unreported. An article in The Mirror of November 16th 2000 highlighted the sorry state of our pools. When it is realised that such venues continue to treat users to verrucas, sore eyes, skin rashes, tooth erosion and ear infections, the un-chlorinated water of our rivers proves an appealing alternative. Chlorine may also have a temporary effect on male fertility. The skin absorbs water and it is found that prolonged and repeated exposure in chlorinated swimming baths may lower one’s sperm count, a fact worth remembering if fertility becomes an issue!” More…

Perhaps a hygiene certificate would be a good idea at all swimming pools.


[1] Leading research at the Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels.

[2] Such as urine and sweat.

[3] Tear Gas.


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