SWIMMING THROUGH HISTORY IN LEICESTER
The sport that defined Britain
Sport in Leicester
The King Power Stadium; the Tigers Ground; it's hard to imagine that a time might arrive when these symbols of sporting excellence could slip from Leicester's memory. Yet this is just what has happened to Leicester's great swimming tradition. The Roman Baths lay in ruins, our swimming stadiums: Abby Park, The Bede House, Kenwood Lido, the Humberstone Lido and even St Margaret's Baths are now nothing but a memory.
The lives of Thomas Cook, Daniel Lambert, Jenny Fletcher and John Jarvis, have all been lived in our city and their legacy laid to rest - until now. discover why our Roman Baths closed, why swimmers were chased out of Abbey Park, and how bathers in Leicester helped reshape not just British culture but to varying degrees that of the world. Hung Out to Dry Swimming and British Culture, puts flesh on the bones of British history, exposing for the first time the dramatic impact that swimmers have had on culture and morals.
Chris Ayriss writes: Growing up in the baby boom generation, my friends and I enjoyed a freedom that most of today's youngsters are denied. The streets and parks swarmed with children and our love of the outdoors enriched our lives. Such freedoms seem impossible today as child protection has cleared the streets, but in those days children wandered about everywhere and I discovered a great deal while enjoying my freedom.
The Bede House Bathing Station
Every now and then I would cycle past Leicester's old bathing station and read the large painted letters: 'For swimming only, water 8 feet deep.' On one side of the canal swimming was obviously encouraged, but then on the other side stood a stood a warning: 'DO NOT BATHE!' Why had the Corporation built a swimming pool into the canal if the water was unfit for bathing?
If the water was unfit, why were those who still swam in it so healthy? No one seemed to have any answers and so began my quest to unravel the puzzle for myself and a journey that has taken me all over the country.
Looking back, swimmers recall how they use to enjoy the Bede House. A one armed man, Mr Armstrong, use to supervise the bathing station. Many can remember how he would shout at the boys entering the turnstile, demanding: 'CAN YOU SWIM?' If they couldn't, they were told in no uncertain terms to stay behind the rope marking the shallow area. His stern look warned the boys to behave or else! Mr Armstrong added real character to the place, ultimately being awarded for saving over twenty lives! The water was eight foot deep on the far bank and the painted sign can still be read today. It cost a penny to get in, but paperboys got in for free by showing their newspaper bag. The temptation to throw the bag over the wall for others to use led to many illicit swims.
Children from the nearby Narborough Road School would escape to the water at lunchtime and then lie out on the grass to dry in the sun. Parents were often oblivious to these lunchtime adventures, as the boys were careful not to ask to take a towel to school. Children especially enjoyed the thrill of diving from the footbridge and hundreds would appear in the summer. The place was alive with boys enjoying the river and sunbathing on the grass; it was always packed, especially on a Sunday.
Leicester Corporation encouraged swimming lessons and those school children that passed the 'swimming test' were given vouchers that allowed them to swim for free at the Bede House. Fathers would bring their sons on the weekend, even in the winter when the station was officially closed, and on Christmas day there would always be half a dozen that would want to swim the length of the Bede House.
Hung Out to Dry: Leicester's Swimming History
'Hung Out to Dry' examines the changes in British culture that have led to the dereliction of swimming holes such as this, country wide. Through this book you will come to see just how dramatically the culture of our nation has changed, and how we have subtly influenced the customs of other peoples. It exposes the reason for the prejudice we show towards swimming in the great outdoors and in the first chapter you will see how the attitudes of our nation have transformed beyond recognition in the last hundred years. The revelations contained herein will show how and why the British people, once proud of their swimming heritage, developed their prejudice towards outdoor swimmers.
Today in Abbey Park Leicester the whole waterfront is peppered with signs denying people the right to bathe. Wild swimmers are discriminated against as prickly bushes have been planted on the lawns next to the bridge where the bathers used to lie out drying in the sun. Leicester is a multicultural city, keen to remove any trace of racial prejudice from its population. Yet prejudice towards swimmers is institutionalised and is rarely questioned, that is until now! Get your copy