Forfar Amateur Swimming Club
‘Forfar & District Historical Society’
6th May 2004
Origins, Early Days, & Snippets From First 50 Years
Outdoor swimming had been a recreational activity in Scotland in the summer months for most of the nineteenth century, and in Angus was carried out at the various beaches on the coast and the many rivers, streams and lochs that abound in the area. Forfar of course had its loch.
Gradually, as the century progressed, clubs were formed (1850 - the Forth Swimming Club in Edinburgh; 1862 - the Bon- Accord Swimming Club in Aberdeen etc.). The clubs began to hold competitions, demonstrations and galas with prizes of trophies and medals usually presented by local lairds and businessmen, hence in Forfar's case The Glamis, Don, Anderson, Elder, Neish, Merchants, Shepherd, Captaincy (gifted by W. Lowson of “Thornlea,” Forfar) trophies, all of which the Forfar Club still hold and used to be displayed in a glass case in the entrance foyer at the Baths.
As clubs began to be formed and organized, competitions were arranged between clubs and open races were held. These open races were often advertised as Championship of Scotland over a particular distance and specific stroke. The result of this was that there could be several Champions all in one year for the same event. To sort all this out a meeting of all the Scottish clubs, (including Tay of Dundee) took place in Perth in 1875 to form an association - A.S.C.S.
These competitions were still of course held in rivers, piers etc.
Indoor swimming facilities followed, prompted by national encouragement for improvement in public health, formation of private clubs and more leisure time becoming available. The first indoor pools were private clubs (Arlington 1870, Western 1875, to name two in Glasgow), which contained Turkish baths, and other recreational facilities and conditions superior to the dirtier crowded public pools, which followed. (See Chadwick, Secretary of the Poor Law Board - Report of 1842.)
Dundee had the first public baths in Scotland, constructed in 1871 and had a pool 75 ft. x 35 ft., and by 1910 had two more pools, 48 slipper and spray baths, and twelve Turkish baths
The first reference discovered so far regarding swimming in Forfar, appears, of all places, in the 1887 Minutes of the Forfar Curling Club. A letter from the swimming club was read from Mr. W.Y. Esplin on behalf of the Committee of Forfar Amateur Swimming Club to enquire if the Curling Club would give them the use of the pond at the foot of Castle Street (The Bog) during the summer months. However the meeting agreed that the pond would not at present be suitable for a swimming pond but the Curling Club would be glad to consider any alterations the Swimming Club might propose. (Whether the Swimming Club was a properly constituted club or not, is yet to be discovered. The article in the Angus Herald dated February 12th 1932, which describes the above minute, may also have wrongly named the club as being F.A.S.C.
An article from a newspaper (undated) but from its content would appear to be around 1946, describes swimming club officials being anxious to find out the age of the club. This arose through the fact that the records of the club were inadvertently burned in 1929 and the official story of its birth lost for ever. The article goes on to describe a debate between founder members of the club who had forgotten when the club started.
A Mr. Burns, who came from Dundee and was a baker in Forfar, can probably claim to be the man who did most to introduce swimming to Forfar. He was a member of the Dundee Swimming Club. When he came to Forfar, the Dundee Belmont Swimming Club got in touch with him to help in organising a gala on Forfar Loch, which was held on the south side of the loch and turned out to be a tremendous success. At such galas there were sculling races, in which Lord Provost Sir William High, of Dundee, took part. Jeannie Veitch, Edinburgh, the Scottish champion ornamental swimmer, also gave a display.
Later the Dundee Swimming Club arranged with him to hold a similar gala, which took place on the north side of the loch near St. Margaret’s Inch. The bank provided a fine natural grandstand. It should be noted here that galas were held even in September when it was reported to be cold - a gross understatement! Mr. Burns was the first president of the club and winner of many swimming trophies including the championship of the club.
The Club has suffered from not having its own premises, resulting in almost total loss of all correspondence, minute books, photographs, etc. and most of what is here recorded is from local newspaper reports, hearsay, a few photographs, old club cards and an odd letter. I find it strange that so few photographs have come to light regarding the club, as at the period under discussion, photography was a new and affordable hobby. One item to survive is a book written up by Douglas Strachan, which details the conditions under which various donors donated trophies. The book also records gala results from 1930 to 1935. The survival gem, however, is the first minute book of the Forfar Amateur Swimming Club that commences on August 16th 1900 at a meeting held at the swimming pond (Laird’s) in Chapel St., and ends September 21st 1903. This item appeared a few years ago from someone in the Whitehills area of the town, and the first entry details the formation of the committee at that first meeting.
As mentioned previously, the Forfar Loch was the first venue for swimming club activities, but they later secured the use of the pond attached to the disused works in Chapel Street of Messrs. Wm. Laird & Co. (partly used as a rope works). The pond was adjacent to the west gable of St. ]ames’s Church. The pond had alterations carried out to it and it was filled to a depth of four feet, and a few stripping boxes were erected. The pond was quite private and surrounded by a high dyke. The Swimming Club Committee operated a daily rota for supervising the pond (the rota is detailed in the first minute book) but they later secured the services of a man for this job. The two men who held this post both came from Dundee and one of them (Carrie?) was an expert at trick swimming, smoking cigars while swimming and singing under water but not both at the same time! A keen swimmer at this time was Dr. John Cable's son, eventually to become Dr. J. Ewen Cable.
It is appropriate to mention that an article appeared in the Forfar Herald 25/8/1899 questioning that the pond, which is
essentially a private concern, will not give the Local Authority the idea that a proper Swimming Pond will not be required.
On Wednesday July 3rd 1901 a young man drowned in Laird’s pond. His name was David Murray, a rural postman. Although the pond was open at certain hours every day for the use of the general public at which time it was supervised, at other times it was closed to all but season ticket holders. Murray had gained access to the pool during closed time and when he sank, there was no one present who could render assistance. Those in the pond did all they could to get Murray out but failed. Mr. Burns, who happened to be passing, dived in fully clothed and with the assistance of another man named Lyall had no difficulty in getting Murray out and attempting to revive him, but with no success.
The priority of any swimming club should be the teaching of swimming, followed by that of life-saving, and in third place competitive swimming, water polo, diving, synchronized swimming etc. F.A.S.C. had an excellent record of teaching life-saving and all swimmers were encouraged to study for the relevant awards - Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross and Award of Merit. Classes were held and usually taken by the Baths’ Manager, and a qualified and appointed man tested the candidates.
The existing Baths, familiar to most of us, were gifted by Andrew Carnegie and built on ground gifted by Don.
Water temperature for Forfar swimmers has risen from 55 - 60F in the loch and slightly above that in Laird’s Pond to that of today’s temperature of 82 - 84 F. During the Second World War, when there was a fuel shortage and fuel economy drive, 65-70F was considered good. It was reckoned that the council assumed that the body heat from the bathers would raise the temperature of the water to a bearable temperature.
At one time in the 1940s you went to the Baths with a towel, costume and a penny and could stay in all day; there were no sessions and you came out looking like a prune. During the evening period there were so many people in that you could not find a space to dive; the numbers must have been totally illegal and unsafe.
As well as the swimming pool the baths had slipper baths, about six I think, and they were real baths; a six foot man could stretch out in one and totally immerse himself. The laundry upstairs catered for the drying of clothes for the public at a very modest charge, and this was much appreciated in the winter months when the drying of clothes outside was impossible. Prams, sledges, boggies could be seen heading to and from the Baths laden with washing. The boilers were fired with solid fuel that had to be shovelled forward and into the boiler, and of course all the ash removed and placed in bins. The Baths’ staff did all kinds of repairs to filters, motors, steam and water plant, and the addition of chemicals such as soda and alum. Also, the heavy chlorine gas cylinders had to be manhandled in and out of the premises. The usual hosing down of pool sides, showers, stripping boxes and all other chores associated with the running of the establishment were efficiently carried out and the pool always had a good reputation for being clean.
Staffing was not a problem as the three of them were too busy to have any problems.
The facilities of the Baths were made available to club members during training sessions in return for cleaning the scum edge round the pool, shovelling coal forward, emptying ash into bins, hosing down etc., all considered good fun - and the treat was a hot slipper bath.
For their day the swimmers were fit but had not the experience of anyone before them; they were starting from scratch and did what they thought was correct. Leisure time and facilities were nothing like that of today. Techniques of swimming, development of strokes, diet, were all in the future.
Then, all swimmers wore costumes, male and female, and the costumes weighed a ton and anyone appearing in today’s garb would have been taken to court for indecent exposure.
The early club badge probably weighed more than today’s men’s trunks.
When men’s trunks first appeared it was the in thing for those with costumes to take off the shoulder straps and tie them round your waist. You had a towel, and that was it. Your swim in the loch cost you nothing.
Now, glucose, water bottles, weights, goggles, flippers large and small, nose clips, hand paddles, lightweight caps, leg and arm float boards, coach’s repetitions schedules, time charts and weekly/ monthly/ programme to study, trainers, flip-flops, tracksuits, chamois leather wipe downs, manuals, heart monitors, stopwatches to 1000/sec, duffel bag, carrier bag, club badge, towel and perhaps a dressing-gown and of course the costumes - heavy ones for training, lesser ones for normal training and the latest club coloured for serious competition and several “Speedo” spares if you are entered for a few races. Finally of course, one must have the latest aid to being the fastest thing alive in the water, “The Zuit Suit” to make you look like a deformed seal. On top of all that lot you have the expenses, competition entry fees, coach’s fees, season ticket or entry payment to the Baths or training sessions, association fees. All of the above are the essentials for the creation of a middle class sport.
To repeat a sentence, “In the 1940s you went to the Baths with a towel, costume and a penny and could stay in all day; there were no sessions and you came out looking like a prune.”
Swimming Strokes and other competitions
Breast Stroke - basically as today. Trudgen was still in vogue. Back crawl in Old English Style. No Butterfly. Front Crawl.
In competition the swimmer had to touch the wall with his hand at turns and finish. Starting blocks were not used.
Starts were by voice or megaphone and latterly by gun, which you could hear, feel the vibration and see the smoke!
Water polo. Graceful swimming. Synchronised swimming. Diving.
Galas used to include competitions and exhibitions such as :- the long plunge, the greasy pole, the has-beens v the never wassers, tug of war, demonstrations on the rings, diving displays, graceful swimming, sculling, pillow fights, picking up tin plates, comedy events etc. - all good fun for all.
The proliferation of trophies that all clubs now compete for does not allow time for such events. Every event is for a trophy, a medal, all usually won by the same group of swimmers and most of the swimmers being losers. Some clubs have so many trophies they require more than one gala or several evenings to run off all trophies, all to the detriment of swimming.
The club never had a Scottish Champion or a Scottish record holder in these first fifty years, but Forfar did have a Scottish Champion in Murray Lowson, who was the Scottish champion in
1921 - 200 yards freestyle
1922 - 220 yards freestyle
1922 - 440 yards freestyle
Champion and Scottish Record Holder, but he was representing the Belmont Club of Dundee. He was known as a fitness fanatic and Mr. Ron Hunt of the Belmont Club (a Scottish diving champion ) informed me that Murray used to walk home to Forfar after his training in Dundee! Murray did come back from London to retire, and lived in the Littlecauseway for a time, but he returned south.
Scottish Schoolboys Team Championship
1924 Forfar Academy
1925 Forfar Academy