Other Sport / Swimming

Henleaze Swimming Club turns 100

By kate hutchison, Thursday Jun 27, 2019

In July, Henleaze Swimming Club will celebrate its 100th birthday with long swims, camp-outs and a silent disco.

Predominately members-only, the club plays host to the swimmers of Henleaze Lake, a former quarry-turned idyllic urban retreat in BS10.

The club was formed as somewhat of a compromise between perturbed local swimmers and early concerns for health and safety. Following a stint of drownings in the years prior, the lake was closed by its lessee, Major Badock (after whose family nearby Badock’s Wood is named).

Restoring the informal swimming venue back to its former glory, Albert Wain and others founded Henleaze Swimming Club in May 1919.

An early member of Henleaze Swimming Club – photographer unknown

“Sunday bathing should cease at 10.30am. I do not want church-going people to feel that we are offering alternatives during service hours,” states a strongly-worded letter from Major Badock.

“Isn’t that brilliant?” says a delighted Susie Parr, reading from her new book, The Lake.

Susie has been a member of the club for 32 years, and for the past eight, has worked unpaid to produce the book, which provides a decade-by-decade account of the club’s rich social history, from its post-war beginnings to the present day.

Susie Parr has written a book about the centenary of Henleaze Swimming Club

Drawing on her own experiences alongside archive collections and the club’s many, handwritten minute books; the book also features the photography of Susie’s husband, world-renowned documentary photographer, Martin Parr.

“Martin can’t swim,” Susie divulges. “He really doesn’t like getting anywhere near the water.”

But if not for a love of the water, Susie expands on why Martin took part in the project: “He’s naturally drawn to these kinds of institutions. He’s fascinated by people who do this kind of thing.”

Once an entirely volunteer-led arrangement, the 2009-turned charity organisation now has some paid staff members; some of who are captured in Martin’s contributions.

Another Parr image captures Susie’s beloved “winter dipping”, a popular opportunity for members of the club.

An ice hole in the lake – photo by Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

Usually open May through to September, the club now opens sporadically during the winter months for seasonal weekend dipping; something that Susie describes as a “very focused experience”.

“I don’t enjoy the anticipation of it, but I do enjoy it when I get in,” Susie explains. “I think it takes you into the moment – you have to concentrate. You’re not worrying about other stuff. When you get out, you get this incredible rush of wellbeing. It’s a fantastic thing to do.”

Today, the club is thriving; and it’s difficult to become a member due to long waiting lists. But when Susie joined, after scouring ordinance survey maps in search of somewhere to swim open-air, things were a little easier.

In the 1980s, the club faced serious threats of closure due to declines in membership, vandalism and break-ins leaving it “desperate for members”. Completely enamoured with the lake, Susie joined immediately.

Women swimmers at Henleaze Swimming Club in the late 1920s – photo by Herbert Tarring / copyright Geoff Tarring.

Despite competitive battles for membership, Susie explains how the lake is “gradually opening up” to the local community with off-peak swimming times; something which she is “very glad” about: “It’s one way it’s going to survive.”

Besides sporadic events, competitions and July’s trendy centenary celebrations; at its heart, Henleaze Swimming Club remains a place of peaceful retreat – something that underpinned its very establishment.

A diver at Henleaze Swimming Club, c. 1920 – photographer unknown

In The Lake, Susie understands the club’s formation in its post-World War One context; with initial members desiring health and relaxation following the horrors of the war.

Today, this theme continues, according to Susie: “If you’re stressed or boiling hot, or worried about something, or in a bad mood; you get into the water and immediately, and all those troubles evaporate. Everyone says that.”

The Lake is published on July 7 and available to buy at www.martinparrfoundation.org/product/the-lake

Main photo by Martin Parr: the last swim of the 2018 season

Read More: 6 places to take the whole family swimming

Related articles