1. OFF THE BLOCKS
FOR A TOWN of its size, and with its historic centre almost surrounded by water, Poole was a surprisingly late starter in the race to bring competitive swimming and diving to the local community. In 1931, when Poole Swimming Club was founded, there were already established clubs in most other Dorset towns, including Bridport and Bland ford, while across what was then the Hampshire border, Bournemouth Swimming Club had got off to a flyer way back in 1889. What Poole lost on the blocks, however, was soon to be recovered as swimming, diving and water polo rapidly gathered momentum in the pre-war years.
Poole Swimming Club was actually born on Monday June 1, 1931. That was the date of a well-attended public meeting held at the Guildhall and chaired by Councillor W. J. Stickland, who was to become club president the following year and Mayor of Poole in 1938. The club's first president was Dr E. S. Bowes, while William Leeming and W. J. Morgan were elected jointly as secretaries and acting treasurers and Messrs E. L. Bennett, W. Hoiden, C. D. Neale, Harrison and Edwards as committee members. It was also decided to form a ladies' section at an early date.
The inaugural meeting was addressed by Mr H. E. K. Sawtell, President of the Dorset Swimming Association and an English champion diver, who stressed the value of affiliation to the county association and, through that, to the national association, without which Dorset swimming had in the past languished in the wilderness. Affiliation had given Dorset clubs a standing, he said, and allowed other clubs to help them by taking part in their galas and polo matches.
The one slight shadow over the meeting was the apparent reluctance of Poole Council to grant the club exclusive pool time at the new Corporation Baths in Park Lake Road (since filled in). Mr Sawtell said the facilities were the best in Dorset but would be "a greater asset to the council if the club was allowed privileged use of them". One of the local newspapers went further. "Now that Poole has the finest swimming bath for miles around, a club should prove a great success," it said. "But to achieve that it must have the co-operation of a sympathetic local authority. At the moment the Borough Council does not appear to see its way clear to grant the exclusive use of the bath on occasions and perhaps the council will change its mind."
2. THE FIRST LENGTH
THE CLUB WAS subsequently able to obtain regular use of the baths for club nights and for their first gala, which included scratch and handicap races over distances ranging from 110 feet to 100 yards. There were also plunging and diving competitions, a display of "fancy diving" and a water polo match in which a combined Poole and Bournemouth team beat Bournemouth Swimming Club 1-0 with a late goal. The men's 100 yards open handicap race was won by H. Owen of Poole in 1 min 21.8 and the equivalent ladies race by Miss Cooper of Bournemouth (1 -34.2).
The club competed in eight other galas in Dorset and Hampshire during a successful first year, winning six first prizes, five seconds and six thirds. Members also took first and second places in the Dorset county diving championship, won the county team race and beat Wareham at water polo but lost 1-0 to Bournemouth.
At the first AGM, secretary William Leeming reported that the club's membership stood at 49 seniors and 13 juniors, which compared well with the long-established Bournemouth club's 54 seniors and 27 juniors. On the financial side the club had a balance in hand of £6 8s (£6.40). Subscriptions were 2s 6d (1 2.5p) for seniors and 1 s (5p) for juniors. There was also talk of acquiring the services of a top-class coach from London once a month and of affiliating to the Amateur Diving Association and the Royal Life-Saving Society as well as the ASA.
In the spring of 1932 the club persuaded Poole Council to open the unheated outdoor baths from the beginning of May instead of June, several hardy members braving the cold weather which greeted their first training sessions of the season. The club also secured space in the Poole and Dorset Herald for regular reports on their activities, contributed by "Plunger".
In one early report, Plunger wrote: "Last Friday members of the club spent an interesting evening at the baths, the first tests of the season being the chief attraction. The fastest time for the single length [33.3 yards] was recorded by R. C. Griffen and A. R. Bryant, who swam the distance in 34 seconds. This time is certainly not up to the usual standard, the times last
year for the length being on an average about 25 seconds. The inactivity during the winter, and the fact that the men are changing over from the old trudgen or side stroke to the crawl, account for this drop in speed. In time they will pick up their old speed again and, 1 hope, knock off a few more seconds."
Other developments included the adoption of Poole Ladies Swimming Club as a section of Poole SC and the allocation of free memberships to one boy from each of 12 local elementary schools. There was also a visit on June 21, 1932, by the "Swimming Times tourists", who were touring the south coast to discover clubs and help them raise their standards. After inspecting the bathing stations at Sandbanks, Branksome and Branksome Dene Chines, the visitors went away "convinced that Poole is an ideal holiday resort for swimmers from all parts of the country" and agreeing that the town's open air pool was "too small and that provision of an indoor swimming pool for a town of 60,000 inhabitants is a necessity".
Events during 1932 included a plunging competition, won by K. G. Clinchen with a plunge of 43 feet 8 inches, and an individual medley, which in the pre-butterfly days was called a "100 yards three style race" and consisted of one length breaststroke, a second length on backstroke and a third length on freestyle. The winner was J. Smith in what today would be a modest time of 1 min 42 secs. But Poole's secret weapon had yet to emerge. His name was K. G. Evans and apparently he was a serviceman who had been able to train in warmer waters abroad. When he arrived at a gala at Lyme Regis in August 1932, his reputation got there before him.
"The county had heard quite a lot about Poole's new swimmer but were rather doubtful about some of the stories they had heard about him," reported the Poole Herald. "However, when Evans won the 100 yards with a net time of 63 seconds in open water, with R. C. Griffen of Poole and the rest of the pack 30 yards behind, they sat up and took more than a little notice. When the 300 yards came on there was great speculation as to whether Evans would prove to be a distance swimmer as well as a 100 yards man. They were not left in doubt long. He took the lead in the first few yards and gradually increased it up to the finishing mark."
Among the competitors in the open ladies events in the early Poole galas were Bournemouth Swimming Club's Yvonne Glover and Olive Joynes (now Wadham), who later formed part of the Bournemouth team which became ASA national medley relay champions in 1936 and 1937. Olive also became national 100 yards champion and an Olympic semi-finalist in Berlin in 1936. Yvonne became an international backstroker and a member of Poole SC after her family moved to Blair Avenue. A report of the first gala of 1932 gives Yvonne as the winner of the 100 yards open freestyle in a time of 1 min 24 with Olive second.
3. THE LEEMING TRAGEDY
A DRIVING FORCE of Poole Swimming Club in its first 18 months was a dynamic teenager called Bill Leeming. Born in Burnley, Lancashire, in 1915, he came to Poole with his family in 1923 and lived in Alverton Avenue. He was a talented artist and also a keen swimmer and diver, interests encouraged by his father, John T. Leeming, a former captain of a competitive swimming club in Burnley. Bill was just 16 when in 1931 he became the founding secretary of Poole Swimming Club.
"I remember the confidence and aplomb with which he made a personal appearance at this young age at the Magistrates' Court to make application for a licence to hold the first evening dance and social function to raise funds for the club," recalls his brother John. "He was very enthusiastic in organising functions without which the club could not have survived. 1 remember too the enthusiasm with which he designed and arranged the manufacture of the club badge."
Bill also took part in many competitions himself and in 1932 came second in the Dorset diving championship. Then fate took a tragic turn. In December 1932, after returning from a visit to his prospective employer in Bath, he complained of feeling ill. A doctor was called, then a specialist, and within 48 hours acute anterior poliomyelitis had been diagnosed. His condition deteriorated rapidly and in the early hours of December 14, despite an all night battle by doctors and the St John Ambulance to maintain respiration, Bill Leeming died. He was just 17 years and six months old.
Bill's death was a tragic blow to his family and friends and also to Poole Swimming Club, for which he had done so much in so little time. But his efforts were not in vain for the club continued to thrive, despite having no indoor pool, a problem which drove members to Bournemouth for winter training from 1936. In that year the first harbour swim was held, at that stage a strictly male event with a course which extended from the Haven or harbour entrance to Hamworthy Bridge. In those days clubs were expected to make bids (in Poole's case £3 to £5) for the privilege of staging county championship events. Among those awarded to Poole was the county 100 yards championship of 1936 for which public admission charges of ls (5p) including tax and 6d (2.5p) (children half price) were fixed. Another custom then was to supply hot Bovril to competitors after the outdoor cold water events.
The Leeming family maintained their involvement with the club for many years, with Bill's father serving as president from 1933-36 and 1939-46, his brother John as president in 1958-59 and John's daughter Lesley Shand (now a Corfe Mullen funeral director and runner-up in the 1990 Businesswoman of the Year contest) also becoming a keen member.
4. THE POST-WAR YEARS
POOLE SWIMMING CLUB'S progress, like so many other things, came to an abrupt halt following the outbreak of war in 1939. The club was re-formed at a meeting in the Guildhall on May 17, 1946, when those present were asked to stand in memory of members who, as the minutes sensitively put it,
Prime movers in the club's post-war re-formation were Joe Glover (president 1947 and 1956, vice-president 1948, county president 1952) and Clir Tom Sherrin (chairman 1936, president 1948, county president 1947), later a borough alderman and Mayor of Poole. The Commander of the Parkstone Yacht Club, E. Phillipson, who was related to Aid Sherrin by marriage, was also a great supporter of the club.
In 1948 Mr Glover introduced proficiency certificates for juniors (two lengths in good style) and seniors (four lengths). The certificates entitled members to wear the club badge and there was also a premier standard certificate. Monday evening was now the club's main training night with an hour's water polo every Friday.
In 1949 the club was joined by one of the best-known figures in local swimming, John Allin, whose work in banking had brought him to Poole from Lyme Regis. Himself a former swimmer, Mr Allin was a founder member of the Dorset County ASA (1 931), county treasurer for its first 34 years and the second county president (1934). He was Poole SC chairman from 1953-62, president in 1952 and 1963, a patron from 1967 and Western Counties president in 1961. He died in 1989.
By 1950, competitive swimming had begun to take precedence over water polo. By 1951 Poole had established itself as Dorset's top club, winning seven county championship events - the 100 and 220 yards ladies' freestyle, 100 yards girls' freestyle, 100 yards girls' breaststroke, ladies' team race and men's and boy's diving. The winner of the first two of these events was a former county junior champion Jean Bartiett, better known today as the club's longest serving member and former club, county and Western Counties president Jean Holland. Jean won county titles every year for 2'u years (1949-68). She also represented Poole in the Western Counties championships and Dorset in the first-ever inter-county swimming match at Hemel Hempstead in 1954. The following year Jean broke the Dorset 100 yards freestyle record while Terry Welch claimed a new men's county backstroke record. Another familiar name appears in the records around 1950 - that of the club's 1991 president Fred Loxton, winner of the 1951 harbour swim in a new record time of 63 minutes 33 seconds.
In the early post-war years it was still common to hold events - including county championship races - in rivers or the sea. Money was short to the extent that in 1953 the club could not afford to buy badges and had to settle for stripes instead. But membership continued to grow and in 1956 - the club's silver jubilee year - stood at 222. The 1950s also saw the emergence of a ladies’ water polo team and the first Western Counties ASA courses for swimmers, teachers and coaches.
5. BEYOND HALFWAY
IN 1960 FORMER county champion Sylvia Shariand was awarded a testimonial on parchment for rescuing a competitor suffering from exposure in the harbour swim. A new open harbour swim was added to the club's annual programme in addition to the club swim in 1962. Harbour swims continued until the early 1980s when the increasing water traffic forced their abandonment. Club membership was still growing rapidly in 1966 when girls ladies captain Patricia Phillips introduced the colour group teaching system which survives to this day as the star group system. The club held its first fund-raising sponsored swim in 1968. Jean Holland was a regular timekeeper at ASA national championships during the '60s and in 1970 was invited to officiate for England at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
By 1971 the club had secured the use of three heated pools - at Rockley Sands holiday site, Henry Harbin School and the training centre for the handicapped at Darby's Corner. It was not until 1974, 42 years after the club first called for it, that Poole opened its first public indoor heated pool, the Dolphin.
Other landmarks included the first club biathlon in 1971, synchronised swimming classes at county level in 1972 and the appointment of the club's first professional coach in 1979. In the same year the club was accepted into Division Two of the Western League, the B team joined the South Coast Minor League and an open age group meet was staged at the Dolphin. Promotion to Division 1 of the Western League followed in 1980 and was maintained until 1987. Ian Pritchard joined Poole as chief coach in 1988; in that and the following year the club missed promotion back to the First Division by a single place but all came good in 1990 when third place in a closely contested Second Division final at Keynsham made it third time lucky.
Events held to celebrate the club's golden jubilee in 1981 included a thanksgiving service at St James's Church, a return visit by swimmers from Brake, Germany, whom Poole swimmers had visited the previous year, an open age group meet and a family swim on June 1 attended by many founder members, past presidents and donors of trophies. A jubilee dinner dance was held at the Arts Centre, where a birthday cake-cutting was performed by former vice-president Mrs Gladys Hallett, a founder member who was present at the inaugural meeting in 1931. The club badge was depicted in a floral display in Poole Park in 1981.
The 1980s saw a dramatic increase in the popularity of masters swimming for competitors aged 25 and over. Poole was in the forefront of this movement from the early days and the club's masters squad remains among the strongest in the Western Counties. The squad was formed in 1984, initially to compete in that year's national masters championships at Weymouth. The squad has come a long way since those early days, when standards meant training was reduced to widths only! Of the original eight Poole masters swimmers, only Jean Holland, Wendy Hooper and John Maddocks survive as members of the present squad. Masters events were added to the club championships in 1987. The 1991 president Fred Loxton heads the club's first family of active swimmers spanning three generations Fred himself, wife Dot, daughter Debbie Wheatley and grand-daughter Charlotte Wheatley.
Several other families can claim a three-generation involvement. They include E. Skerman (early committee member), sons Geoffrey and Noel, daughter Joyce Wilcox (president 1965) and grandchildren Keith, Nigel and Linda Skerman and Georgina Wilcox (president 1980); Charlie Peart (president 1967), Betty Peart (president 1985), daughters Maralyn Lewis (president 1987), Denise, Patricia and Gillian and grandchildren Annette and Martin Lewis; W. J. Stickland (president 1932), son John and grandsons Johnny and Robert; Pauline Willis, daughters Avril Palmer and Karen Huish and grandchildren Rachel and Vincent Palmer. Current life members are Avis Niven, former club and now county secretary, Tony Mullins, whose efforts put the club on a sound financial footing, and Jean Holland and Gordon Smart, whose services to the club have been many and varied.
In 1988 Poole swimmers were involved in a record-breaking synchronised swim at the Dolphin in aid of Children in Need. Roy Castle was present and the record - for the most synchro swimmers in the water at one time - made the Guiness Book of Records.
6. CHAMPIONS ALL
POOLE SWIMMING CLUB has produced a great many champions in its 60 years, including three champs of the Channel. The first of this illustrious trio was Sam Rockett, a former club captain and water polo captain who was the first Briton home in the Daily Mail International Cross Channel Race in 1950. He later became training supervisor to 20 competitors in the second international race and coach to individual swimmers for six years. He also wrote a book on his experiences (it's Cold in the Channel, published by Hutchinson in 1966) and was the guest speaker at the club's golden jubilee dinner. He died in 1989.
In 1983 Poole swimmer Samantha Druce earned a place in the Guiness Book of Records as the youngest person to swim the Channel. She completed the crossing in 15 hours 26 minutes at the age of 12 years 118 days. She remains the youngest girl to complete the crossing.
A companion swimmer to Samantha in 1983 was Poole team mate Marc Newman, who subsequently decided to take up the ultimate swimming challenge himself. He completed his first Channel crossing in 1985 and would almost certainly have beaten the all time record of seven hours 40 minutes had not the French Coastguard forced him to tread water for two and-a-half hours on the grounds that he was a hazard to shipping. Marc has since completed four more crossings but has so far failed to achieve his ambition to beat the longstanding record. He has, however, twice won both the World Cup long distance championship - in Lake Windermere and Lake Geneva - and the Lac St Jean lake swim in Canada.
England 100 meter backstroke champion Yvonne Glover was the first Poole swimmer to compete at national level or above and Sam Rockett was a trialist for the British Olympic water polo team in 1948. In 1960 Norma Thomas came 6th in the springboard diving championships at the Rome Olympics. Norma tragically died of cancer in 1984, aged 43, but she is remembered through an ASA memorial trophy for the junior diver of the year to which the club contributed.
Sylvia Shariand became the first post-war Poole member to qualify for the ASA national championships in 1961. She also became the club's first Western Counties champion with a win in the 400 meters freestyle.
Rob Cure was probably the most accomplished swimmer that Dorset has seen. He joined Poole Swimming Club at an early age and rose through the colour group system to achieve his greatest successes between 1975 and 1983. In those eight years he won 72 club, 82 county championship and 10 county age group titles. At one stage he was county champion and record holder in every men's event and some of his records survive today. He also won four Western Counties senior titles, two of them in record time, two south-western triathion titles and, after joining Bournemouth Dolphins, one Hampshire title in which he beat the county 200 breaststroke record. At national level, Rob finished 14th in the ASA short course 200 breaststroke championship in 1981, 1 lth in the long course 200 in 1983 and 4th in the national biathion championship in 1980.
Lynda Racster's first national title came in 1987, when she followed up her victories at county and Western Counties level by winning the national 1314 years age group 100m backstroke title. In 1989, as a first claim member of Portsmouth and Northsea SC, Lynda shot into the British top ten backstroke rankings after a 66.5-second 100 backstroke swim at an international meet in Sweden. She also won both the 100 and 200 backstroke 15-16 years national age group titles in 1989 and the junior backstroke title at the ASA senior long course championships. This was followed by a 17-18 years national age group win at 200 backstroke in August 1990, a few weeks before Poole regained Lynda's services as a first claim swimmer. Lynda was a member of the England youth squad in 1988 and the England intermediate squad in 1989 and 1990.
Other Poole SC qualifiers for the national championships or age group competitions have included Paula Cure, Rhona Newton, Sybil Anderson, Beverley Scott, Peter Goody, Simon Frend, Neil Mullins, Paul Mason, Sean Blackmore, Julia Hansford, Julie Cooke, the girls' medley team of Colleen Rogers, Alison Smart, Paula Arnold and Paula Hartwell and, in diving, Josephine Glover, daughter of Joe and niece of Yvonne. Lynda Racster, Karen Fletcher and Stephen Druce are among those who have competed at national schools swimming championships while Carol Hobson and Lynda have both won medals with the successful Corfe Hills School relay teams in 1988-90.
Winners of masters medals at national level include Jean Holland, Wendy Hooper and Hilary Johnson. Jean's medals include a 100 butterfly gold from the 1985 national masters while in 1989 Wendy briefly became the British 45-49 years 50 butterfly record holder before seeing her time beaten in a later heat. National masters silver medals (freestyle and medley) were won by the Poole relay squads of Avril Palmer, Gail Nuttall, Felicity Douch, Wendy Hooper and Jean Holland (1984) and Dot Loxton, Chris Harris, Bronwen Storah, Wendy Hooper and Jean Holland (1 989).
In 1990 Alison Smart won several events at the Post Office national swimming championships in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Robert Cornish won the British Army Cadet Force and combined cadet forces national backstroke titles. In the same year Poole lifeguards Mark Shackles and Simon Ball - both former members - competed in the world lifeguard championships.
In paraplegic swimming, former swimmer Anthony Stickland returned to the sport after losing a leg in a motor cycle accident and won many medals in the Paraplegic Olympics. He was also in disabled relay teams which swam the Channel in 1981 (one-way) and 1982 (two-way).
Poole members who made their mark in other sports include Jonathon Bartiett and Alison Brown (international pentathletes, 1980s), Justin Whiting (national triathlon champion, 1983), Clare Seager (world sailboard champion 1985), Rosemary Purkiss (mixed competition winner and 3rd overall, 300 miles Arctic canoe race), Frances Couldridge (national u/ 14 and u/ 16 tennis squad), Jane Hunter (Olympic sailing team, 1950s), Kelvin Rawlings (British Americas Cup team, 1987), Oliver Nuttall (national cadet sailing team, 1980s), Jill Sheppard, Adrian Charters, Simon Ball, Jason Sullivan (national lifeguard awards).
7. GOING ON SIXTY-ONE
An anniversary message from the President of Poole Swimming Club, Fred Loxton, and the Chairman, John Maddocks
SO ... AFTER SIXTY years the club has grown from that modest beginning to a membership of 500. The facilities enjoyed today were not oven dreamed of back in 1931 but, had they known that pool hire alone would cost £20,500 from an annual budget of £33,000, they would probably not have started! Many a club member of the past would blanch at the mileage and dedication required from the swimmers today but remember that water time in those days was limited as much by temperature as availability. The club has much to live up to. Let us hope that when 2031 comes along, Poole Swimming Club is still providing opportunity and encouragement to those who enjoy swimming as a challenge, sport and ideal exercise.
OUR SINCERE THANKS are due to Roger Guttridge, who wrote this history; to Jean Holland for much of the research; and to Chris Cusack, who designed our jubilee logo.