British Swimming History
Swimming today is more about health and safety than about cleanliness, exercise and fun. But for a moment, think back to the days when men and boys were being chased out of rivers and lakes and drawn into newly built indoor pools. How could people - especially the poor - be tempted to pay to swim and to bathe indoors when they could have just as much fun outside for free? Warm water, diving boards, rings and trapezes drew in big crowds. Boys would gather outside the baths begging passers-by for entry money, once inside, a circus of fun awaited them in the swimming pool.
It was much cheaper to bathe in the swimming pool than in a private bathtub. Boys were usually separated into their own bath so that grownups could swim separate from the mayhem of the boys bath. The swimming pool was the cheapest way to get clean. Watch this video below and get some idea of what lay in store for those early indoor bathers.
Dark and Lonely Water
'Things have certainly changed over the last century. Whereas people used to enjoy a nearby river or lake as a bathing place, local authorities came to provide 'improved' conditions for swimmers, with both outdoor and indoor pools. Lidos provided a respectable place for sunbathing, and so swimmers left the river to take advantage of these new swimming holes, only to find that when the lidos closed down, their access to the river had been barred. In effect these man-made baths imprisoned wild swimmers, separating them from the joys of nature. As for the resistant few, those that still swim near to cities, they have been treated with prejudice and branded as criminals so that others do not copy their example. Dark and Lonely Water (featured below) a TV safety film released in 1973, alerted the nation to the near certainty of drowning should a child venture too close to a pond or lake. Parents were terrified and their children had nightmares as the Grim Reaper was shown lurking ready to claim the lives of 'the fool', 'the show off' and those ignoring 'no swimming' signs. Rumors about the dangers of wild swimming in rivers and lakes ensure that the majority now swim indoors.' Hung Out to Dry page 139.
Loughborough: The Parish Church of ALL SAINTS
This sad tale reveals the devastating impact on the community that results from death by drowning. These deaths occurred at a time when swimming and bathing had only just returned to acceptance. Likely the boys were bathing when they got into difficulties and none knew how to swim.
in the same grave
the Bodies of
THOMAS BOMBROFFE Aged 46
WILLIAM PECK Aged 20
WILLIAM SMITH Aged 18
all of the Parish
who were unfortunately drowned together
in the River Soar on the ninth day of July 1767
It is presumed that T. Bombroffe lost his Life by endeavoring
to save his two companions for he only was found in his Clothes
Some of the principal Inhabitants of this Parish
tenderly concerned for the sudden Fate of these their
Fellow Christians and for a perpetual Warning to all others
cause this Stone to be erected by voluntary Subscription
be thou constantly prepared for Death
to which thou art exposed every Hour
THE WREAKE AND EYE HUMANE SOCIETY
The Society was established at a meeting held in the White Swann Inn, Melton Mowbray, on Tuesday the 30th of June 1795.
It being the intention of the Gentlemen residing on the Banks of the River Wreak to form as Association on the Plan of the Royal Humane Society for the recovery of persons apparently drowned.
The Right Hon: The Earl Ferrers President.
His Grace the Duke of Rutland
The Right hon the Earl of Newberry (Vice Presidents)
That ...a Drag...be hung up in every Church of Chapel, within the Limits of the said Society, and that the Instructions for the Recovery of the apparently Dead, presented by the Royal Humane Society, be printed upon large Paper, and Framed and hung up with each Drag.
The 'drag' was presumably a rope with hooks, to be used in the search for the rescue of bodies.
Directions for the recovery of persons apparently dead.
"What - then doest - do quickly"
Instantly dispatch one Person and Medical Assistance. Another to the nearest house.
Where a fire, warm water, and a bed, with other necessary they be immediately obtained.
1. Bodies are never to be held up by the Heels
2. Not to be rolled on Casks or other rough usage.
3. Avoid the use of salt in all cases of apparent death.
1. Convey carefully the body, with the head raised to the nearest convenient house.
2. Strip and dry the body; clean the mouth and nostrils
3. Put young children between two persons in a warm bed
4. An Adult: Lay the body on a blanket or bed in a warm chamber in winter.
5. The body to be gently rubbed with flannel sprinkled with Spirit, a heated warming pan covered, lightly moved over the back and spine.
6. To restore breathing, - Introduce the pipe of a pair of bellow (when no apparatus) into one nostril: the other with the mouth closed inflate the lungs, till the breast be a little raised, the mouth and nostrils must then be let free: repeat this process till life appears.
7. Tobacco-Smoke is to be thrown gently into the fundament, with a proper instrument - or the bowl of a pipe covered, so as to defend the mouth of the assistant.
8. The Breast to be fermented with hot spirits if no sign of life appears - the warm bath; - or hot bricks are covered; applied to the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
9. Electricity early employed by a Medical Assistant...Humane persons are ardently requested to truth in god's mercy and not to despair, until the methods recommended have been employed for three or four hours. The Lives of Thousands have been providentially restored since the establishment of humane institutions.
A Reward of Five Guineas is offered to such Persons as shall be principally active in recovering any person from the Water; to be distributed in the following manner. Via Five shillings to the person who shall procure from the Church, the Drag. Half a Guinea to the Person who shall procure the frist medical Assistance and provide such things as may be necessary in the process of Recovery, and are set down in the Directions: and the remainder to be divided amongst such other Persons not exceeding six, as may be otherwise active in carrying the Patient from the water side, and giving further necessary assistance, to be distributed in such manner and proportion as the Minster of the Parish, where the accident was, shall think proper.
By 1840 there was no longer a society to reward the brave or to organise life saving arrangements. The Wreake and Eye Humane Society remains a novel, perhaps unique, example, a worthy forerunner of so many of the great public and charitable institutions which the mark the Victorian era.