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.


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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Take a trip back in time! Discover just how many official ASA recommended outdoor swimming facility's were available to a nation keen to take the plunge back in 1912...

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