From Pride to Prejudice

Preview of Chapter 1

Dusting off the Past

Bath Time

Getting Our Feet Wet

Doctor Knows Best

Moral Dangers

The Seaside Fashion

Swimming Captivates the Nation

The French Connection

Snatched from Death

'Dob Dob Dob'

Like a Duck to Water

The Plug Is Pulled

From Pride to Prejudice Dusting off the Past  A newborn baby is held by the midwife, and gently lowered feet first onto the bed. Without hesitation, this tiny infant begins to move her legs in a reflex action that makes it look as though she is walking. It will of course be several months before she can actually support her own weight. Surprisingly though, when submerged, a similar reflex causes a baby to close her mouth and move her tiny arms and legs in such a way that they propel the delighted swimmer along. As with walking, swimming still has to be learnt, so it comes as no surprise that one of the first historic references to swimming is an early Egyptian text, wherein a father mentions his children's swimming lessons. Water was very important to the Egyptians. Their ancient priests purified themselves each morning by bathing in the sacred waters of the Nile and it was whilst she was river-bathing that Pharaoh's daughter discovered Moses in a floating basket. The Egyptians viewed their river as a god, feeling the greatest tribute one could render to it was to be drowned in its flow, in fact the Egyptian word for drowned originally meant praise.  'An ignorant man neither knows how to read nor to swim.' This ancient proverb reveals just how the Romans esteemed swimming. Just as we frown on illiteracy today, they looked down on non-swimmers as incompetent. For the Romans the skill was essential. At a time when bridges were few, it often pro-vided the only means for river crossing; an army that could swim was seen as unstoppable! We might see the leisure pool as a modern invention, but it's the Romans we have to thank for the luxury of heated swimming baths.  Written records of swimming in Britain start with the Romans and we find that Julius Caesar was himself an acclaimed swimmer; he famously escaped from the Egyptians at Alexandria by swimming to the safety of a nearby ship. The Romans bathed for both health and pleasure yet most of the baths they built were small, designed to pamper to the flesh, with facilities for sweating, washing and, of course, bathing. Swimming pools were rarely included with such accommodations as the river was seen as the swimmers' preferred habitat.

However, there were exceptions. The Empire furnished Britain with a number of swimming pools with the largest using the warm waters of Bath.  They can hardly be said to have set a trend though, as no more pools were built until the Industrial Revolution. Today we read to our infants, aware of their tremendous potential to learn, likewise the Romans were quick to introduce their young to the water as the following excerpt shows: 'Strong from the cradle, of a sturdy brood, We bear our newborn infants to the flood; There bathed amid the stream our boys we hold, with winter hardened and inured to cold.'   Children's lives were at stake; parents could not afford to be casual about such education. Rush floats were used to assist early learners and river swimming was very much encour-aged; the cold waters of the Tiber were especially popular despite there being eight hundred and fifty public baths in Rome.Assyrian fugitives escape by swimming on inflated animal skins. They were evidently caught by surprise as they are fully dressed. The swimmer at the top has been shot by an arrow, yet he swims unaided against the current and appears to be using the front crawl. 

Assyrians soldiers depicted crossing a river in traditional swimming apparel - au naturel. Excavations revealed just how extensive such facilities were. Picture a building similar in size to the Houses of Parliament,  imagine gymnasia lecture halls and hot rooms all circling a gigantic swimming pool; this is Caracalla. The baths opened at eight in winter, with relaxation and pleasure being the key ele-ments of the visit. Most patrons did not arrive until around noon, after which they spent the rest of the day pampering their flesh. Exclusivity is a requirement for many of today's health clubs, but not so in Rome. All could afford to enjoy this inexpensive pleasure and so the baths came to be something of a national obsession. History shows that bathing has always been a social affair; people prefer to bathe with companions and thus bathing places became established social centres. The same holds true on the riverbank with swimmers congregating at well-established swimming holes. In the early days men and women bathed separately, but as time passed mixed bathing became popular indoors and this led to a rise in the number of scandals related to the baths. 

Wild Swim

















Soar Magazine April 5, 2011 "Outdoor swimming used to be one of the most popular leisure activities in Britain, but as more and more indoor pools have been built and concerns about health and safety have increased, it seems that the outdoor swimmer has been hung out to dry. ...the book covers the changes to British swimming habits over hundreds of years. 'Hung Out to Dry' is an extremely interesting and informative book, which is a useful reference tool and an entertaining read."



From Pride to Prejudice

Cleanliness Versus Godliness

Sex, Sea and Swimming Trunks

Sunny Days, Dark Shadows

Lidos Open, Rivers Close

Leicester, Swim City

The Last Stand