HUNG OUT TO DRY Swimming and British Culture


Hung Out to Dry: reviews. Wild swimming and British Culture. Wild Swimming history: river - lake - lido - sea - history






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. Malcolm Tozer

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



Open Water Source

"Chris Ayriss is one of those gifted, passionate writers with a unique talent for composing prose that is inherently meaningful to swimmers. He researched swimming over the course of a decade and subsequently penned Hung Out To Dry, the story of British swimming that delves deeply in its history and social implications. Hung Out To Dry is a great book for swimmers and those who enjoy viewing society from a specific perspective....from the water's edge." November 9 2012

The Swimming Times

"A persuasive book... intriguing from the outset, a fascinating chronology of British swimming which goes much deeper than one might expect. The author's passion for open water swimming is evident throughout and [is] undeniably admirable. Well researched and interestingly written... the historical ebb and flow of swimming popularity is quite remarkable." Open Water Supplement November 2012 Tom Edwards

Gone Swimming

"This is a really interesting romp through many varied aspects of open water swimming through British history by Chris Ayriss. Here is a short introductory video...

Originally a Leicestershire lad myself, I have swam in many of the places that Chris refers to in his book. I had hoped to meet him when I collected the book from his house, but he was out - and I met his son instead.

I have no doubt that he is a fascinating man - certainly the varied nature of the book, gives an insight into the breadth of his knowledge and research. It is a genuinely fascinating delve into the murky backwaters of British swimming, and British culture.

In a number of places, I have to admit to being slightly perplexed - particularly with the chapter that referred to the descending sexual morals and problems of paedophilia - this is a factual book, but there are areas where Chris's own opinions and beliefs shine through. I don't see this as a negative - indeed, it makes it all the more interesting.

Chris has a very readable style, and I ploughed through the book relatively quickly - it is entertaining, interesting, and educational.

All in all, a fascinating book - that is well worth buying." 03 May 2012 Dan Graham

Hung out to Dry - available here

H2Open Magazine

Recommended: "Ayriss clearly loves open water swimming and his despair at the restrictions imposed on swimmers shines through... informed, entertaining and factual... The book is supported by an excellent collection of illustrations and historic photographs." Simon Griffiths, June 2011

Soar Magazine

"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." Dan Graham

Leicestershire Historian 

"This book examines the social history of swimming, demonstrating the important role it has played in everyday British Culture. ...religious and moral attitudes regarding swimming, seaside swimming and swimwear, and the rise and fall of sunbathing. Chapter 6 uses Leicester as a case study to explain how 'the British' swimmer came to be 'hung out to dry'. ...most convincingly researched... there is a lot of fascinating and detailed material in this book" No 46 (2010) Lucy Faire

This England

"It is now as rare to see children swimming in canals and rivers and lakes as it is to find salmon in the Thames - yet once the country's open waters teemed with young people splashing about, especially during the school holidays. The passing of those carefree days is much mourned by Chris Ayriss in Hung Out to Dry: Swimming and British Culture. He puts most of the blame on prudery, but the swamping health and safety culture and the obsession of authority to dictate and control also have a lot to do with it" Winter 2010 p73

Countryside La Vie 

"Local author Chris Ayriss nostalgic account of the earlier days of swimming and our British Culture. British swimmers once filled the lakes and waterways of England. How did these sportsmen, the pride of the nation, find themselves chased out of the water, rounded up and confined to indoor swimming pools? Discover how pride turned to prejudice as swimmers sparked the development of the unique British culture of prudery." Full page feature No76 p168 July 2010

Cornwall Today

"This captivating book exposes for the first time the dramatic impact swimmers had on British morals and culture. There are mentions of Cornish towns such as Fowey, Hale, Penzance, Polruan, Portreath and St Ives, and the book also includes Henry Scott Tuke's trademark work of painting bathers in Falmouth...  July 2010 p175

Leicester Mercury

"...a fascinating book by local author Chris Ayriss. ...very readable, informative and entertaining... many excellent illustrations." May 2010 Read more...

Bristol Evening Post

"...the whole story makes for a fascinating social history." Read the article

Daniel Start

"Superb" (Author of: Wild Swimming & Wild Swimming Coast)

The Farley Book List

"...a smashing book... it deserves to do well" 

The Outdoor Swimming Society

"...a thought-provoking and stimulating book, written in an accessible, direct and conversational style. It should be of interest to every outdoor swimmer." Brandon High

Readers Reviews

Michael Morris

"An excellent book so many memories" 

Bryn Dymott

"Very readable and a must for advocates of outdoor swimming. The photos were very interesting particularly the crowded lidos, Henleaze and the polo game. It clearly took a lot of research and your enthusiasm for open air swimming and fun swimming/diving/jumping in particular came accross very strongly. I hope the book is a success for you." 

Ben Bennett

"Love your book - Hung out to dry! Got it as a birthday present yesterday and I'm nearly through it already. Will be recommending to my many swimming friends."

Roger Hutchinson:

"I distantly remember a beach, a grey sea, a chilly wind and my mother holding up a flapping towel so I could change into my new swimming trunks. I achieved it proudly and with praise, without a single soul being able to glimpse my willy or bottom. There was great relief as the towel was removed but my mum realized that I had them on back to front so I had to go through the whole prudish act again, but now with the additional ingredient of sand within! 

At many points in the narrative of Chris Ayriss's new and illuminating book my memory was triggered of picnics by the paddling pool in our sunny park, being horribly sick in the over chlorinated and frightening swimming baths and communally skinny dipping in a rural river on a blissfully hot sunny day. Good memories and bad - I'm sure we all have them - undisturbed until now.

I was interested when I first heard of Chris's ten year labor of love to write a book on the history of swimming as it covered a bit of the same water as my last book about the River Soar.  So I leapt in and thoroughly enjoyed reading the book in a matter of hours as Chris has an easy style that doesn't get in the way of the endless facts, stories and legends.  And what facts they are! The Romans equated the skill of swimming with that of reading because they could conquer the world with the skill and how comparatively recently it was considered very unlucky to save someone from accidental drowning! Why the Victorians squeezed the grip on the behavior of naked boys enjoying the river waters and the contemporary obsession in removing anything that might get a local authority sued, like diving boards and paddling pools.

Bathing and swimming have gone in and out of fashion regularly since the Romans astonished the conquered Brits, with their heated bath complexes. These pleasure palaces of their empire eventually became dens of iniquity and vice over the long centuries and so baths became strictly controlled towards the end.

Nearly 2000 years later Chris was seeking photos and illustrations for his book and constantly came up against archives having been recently censored with photos of children swimming being removed and unavailable. With those he did secure for publishing, he angst over as the unaccountable shadow of paedophilia hangs over us all, but in the interests of clarity he published them and be damned.

Chris is a Leicester lad and so his model of how attitudes and local authorities changed throughout the country in their provision of swimming, was Leicester itself. And it is an edifying read about the antics of huge Daniel Lambert floating like a whale with men on his back in the River Soar, through a time when the British Empire ruled the world of swimming and Leicester provided a couple of great sporting heroes who set the pace, the first heated swimming pool since the Romans and on into the chlorinated and dreadful penny pinching of the council today where not a single outdoor paddling pool or lido can be experienced in the city.

Hung Out To Dry is a serious work of dogged research, personal experience and an insightful indictment of our times where to have water fun is now so regulated that it will cease to be fun at all! Read this book and wake up to what has happen to the English." 

Hung Out to Dry