Sensational Swimmers and Daring Divers

From the Turkish Baths to the South Bay Pool, Scarborough has long provided visitors with places to swim, bathe and even watch aquatic acrobatics.

South Bay Bathing Pool

Above: The South Bay Pool (source)

The Scarborough Aquarium had its very own subterranean pool, and the North Bay Pool was once compared to a mediterranean paradise, before being transformed into an oasis of slides and fountains.


Above: Waterscene – later Water Splash World and Atlantis, formerly the North Bay Bathing Pool (source)

Nor must the pool at Scarborough Zoo be forgotten, although it is now acknowledged to be less than adequate in size for the dolphins that performed there.

Dolphins at Scarborough Zoo

Above: A dolphin emerges from the pool at Scarborough Marineland and Zoo (source)

Swimming and diving have never been purely recreational – indeed, the South Bay Pool was redeveloped in 1935 to accommodate growing audiences for aquatic shows, and the North Bay Pool opened only a few years later with a grand display of diving and acrobatics.

South Bay Pool

Above: Note the diving board and seating for audiences at the South Bay Pool (source)

Featured in this article are the stories of three exceptional female swimmers, all in some way connected with Scarborough, famed for their mastery of the water and noted for their athleticism.

Miss Gertie Perkin (active late 1800s, early 1900s)

Gertie, short for Gertrude, was a swimming instructor, pier diver and competitive athlete, who performed, taught and competed at the beginning of the twentieth century. She is described in the Yorkshire Evening Post as follows:

…a well-known expert and instructress in swimming and physical culture. Miss Perkins holds the Royal Humane Society’s certificate and medal for “life-saving” efficiency and will also be recollected as one of the chief competitors in the All-England Beauty Contest.

(from The Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday November 23, 1904)

Before the North Bay Pier tragically succombed to a storm in 1905, Gertie was pictured diving from the structure, into the turbulent North Sea.


Indeed, pier diving was a form of entertainment during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and saw a range of brave (or foolhardy, depending on your opinion!) men and women perform dives from ornamental piers across the country.

North Bay Pier

Above: The North Bay Pier prior to destruction (source)

Gertie competed in swimming contests and provided displays of ornamental aquatic displays for venues across Yorkshire and the North West. She also made glowing endorsements for a cream called Zam-Buk:

I have found Zam-Buk very efficacious for a chafed skin. When the ZamBuk arrived I was in despair about my face. I have an exceedingly fine skin, and the recent wins played havoc with my face. The skin all dried and I looked a pitiable object. I had tried about half a dozen creams, but had derived no benefit. I applied Zam-Buk to the affected parts, and much to my surprise, i found my skin quite smooth the following morning. So I think I have discovered a boon in Zam-Buk, as I could not find anything to produce the same good effect until I used Zam-Bu. When I have had an engagement for pier-diving at seaside places the effect of the salt water on my skin has smites been maddening. I now known that Zam-Buk will be a remedy for this. After the benefits I have derived from Zam-Buk I shall be pleased to recommend it to my physical culture and swimming pupils, as well as to my friends generally.

(Gertie Perkin, quoted in The Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday November 23, 1904)

It has been difficult to locate sources about Gertie or her life, but it’d be fascinating to know more about her pier dive at Scarborough.

Ada Webb (active late 1800s, early 1900s)

Miss Ada Webb has already been mentioned here at Stories From Scarborough, for having performed at the Scarborough Aquarium in the late 1800s. Like her sister Louie, Ada was a renowned natator (another name for a swimmer), champion diver and able to perform all kinds of feats underwater, including eating, drinking, and, supposedly, smoking.

Miss Webb attracted many grand titles, including ‘Empress of the Sea ’ (after Britannia), ‘Champion Lady High Diver of the World’ (following her impressive diving from heights of up to 56 feet) and ‘Queen of the Crystal Tank’ (after her customised performance space).

A report described how she ‘rescued’ a number of ladies who were apparently in danger of drowning at Bromley Swimming Baths. Apparently such rescue feats were commonly used as publicity by professional swimmers, divers and aquatic acrobats at the time, making it difficult separating fact from fiction.


Ada performed across the country – she opened Latchmere Road Baths in 1899 and regularly appeared at London venues.

You can see an advert for one of her performances by clicking here.

However, professional swimming and aquatic performances were a young person’s domain, and, as her own prowesses diminished,  Ada began to comandeer her own group of performing lady swimmers, and became a successful manager. Ornamental swimming of this sort peaked in popularity between the late 1800s and 1910s, although aquatic feats of endurance and acrobatics continued to draw audiences well into the twentieth century.

Eileen Fenton (1928 – present)

Eileen Fenton, a Religious Studies teacher from Dewsbury, is perhaps the most remarkable of all three ladies mentioned here, given her incredible achievement of swimming the English Channel in 1950, at the age of just 22.

On the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page, John remembers her training for the event:

Remember when Fenton was the superintendent there and his daughter Eileen trained morning and evening for a cross channel swim.

Interestingly enought, the first swimmer to make the 22 mile crossing was Captain Matthew Webb, who also famously swam for 74 hours in Scarborough Aquarium’s pool in 1880. After Webb’s successful Channel swim in 1875, only nineteen swimmers had successfully made the crossing between then and 1950, when Eileen entered a new competition, organised by the Daily Mail, to complete the feat.

At first the competition organisers were doubtful of her suitability to participate. Reportedly a slim lady of only 5ft tall, she was deemed ‘too small’ although eventually proved her ability by swimming across Scarborough Harbour in temperatures close to freezing. She later swam for up to ten hours at a time in the town’s North Sea, in order to build up her endurance and tolerence for the cold.

Of the Channel swim, Eileen made the following comments:

It was pitch black and very cold. We could see nothing but the light on the boat we needed to follow. When I got to nine hours I could see Dover harbour, but my arm stopped working and I had to do a front crawl with one hand. I was too weak to get over the tide and I was pushed back by the current. It took me over six hours.

(Quoted in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 19 August, 2010)

Only nine out of twenty four competitors finished the race, and Eileen was one of them. Not only that, but as first lady, she received a huge prize of £1000, then enought to purchase a small house!

You can watch a video interview with Eileen here, and see footage of the rapturous reception she recieved when returning home here.

She remarked that after the freezing cold waters of Scarborough’s North Sea, the Channel waters were pleasantly mild! Eileen later went on to train a number of Channel swimmers and recieved a number of awards for her winning 1950 performance.

Do you know any more about these inspiring ladies? Or do you have any stories about swimming or swimmers in Scarborough? Any comments and/or corrections welcome!


Gertie Perkins

Yorkshire Evening Post – various articles

Lancashire Daily Post – various articles

Ada Webb

British Sporting Legacies

Latchmere Road Baths reference

Louie Webb

Eileen Fenton

Huddersfield Daily Examiner

My Yorkshire

Video of Eileen Fenton

British Pathe – video

Open Water Swimming Article

King Richard III in Scarborough: Fact or Fiction?

This is the final installment of an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Issue no. 4, 2015) by Jeremy Clark. He has kindly contributed his work to be republished here.

For Part I of this article, please click here. For Part II click here, and Part III here.

Article Summary:

A comprehensive investigation of the history and characteristics of the house, as well as the popular belief that King Richard III stayed here during the summer of 1484.

After he was crowned in 1483, King Richard III made a northern tour. He arrived in Scarborough on May 22nd 1484, and visited again from June 30th to July 11th. The purpose of his visit was to assemble a fleet to defend against the expected invasion of Henry Tudor, later Henry VII. It is reputed that King Richard III stayed in the house named after him on the foreshore during the summer of 1484.

He might well have found this location – beside the harbour and providing easy access to his ships – more convenient than the castle.

Nevertheless, he did stay for a time at Scarborough Castle because writs, warrants and other documents were sealed by him on May 22nd and July 5th, reportedly ‘given at the castel of Scardeburgh’. He was the last monarch to reside at the castle. However, further royal orders issued after 5th July were ‘given at Scardeburgh’ (without further mention of the castle) so it is possible that Richard did stay in the fifteenth century Sandside house for a few days. There is, however, no conclusive evidence to confirm this.


Above: A facial reconstruction of the head of King Richard III with blond hair and blue eyes. DNA testing suggests that this would have been his colouring (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

Although not recorded in documents, the original house is thought to have belonged to Thomas Sage (c.1430-1497), one of the town’s leading burgesses and the richest ship-owner. He was a very wealthy man who had property in the area and was well-disposed towards Richard.


Above: Aerial view of the harbour at Scarborough. King Richard III house can be seen in the blue circle. To the right is the curtain wall of the castle, which extends along the whole length of the promontory overlooking the town. At the top right is the Barbican and Gatehouse to the castle (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

King Richard the III (2 October 1452 -22 August 1485) was King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field. In 1485 he granted Scarborough a new charter, making it a county rather than a borough. This was subsequently revoked after his death by Henry VII.

Richard III was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field was the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses.

After the battle Richard’s body was taken to Leicester and buried in the Church of the Grey Friars. His body was found in 2012 during an archaeological excavation and on 26th March 2015 his remains were reburied in Leicester Cathedral rather than in York Minster as many of his supporters had hoped.


Above: A plaque in remembrance of King Richard III inside Leicester Cathedral (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

When the building was taken over as a café in 1964 a few alterations were made to the interior on the ground floor. The stone fireplace was removed and replaced with a flight of stairs to a newly built kitchen at the rear. The stone-flagged floor was covered with wooden floorboards and the blocked-up doorways to the former antique shop next door were cleared to make entranceways to additional seating areas of the restaurant. The stone walls and the oak rafters which rest on a massive beam were retained in their original condition.


Above: King Richard III house as a museum in the 1950s with an antique shop next door (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

Below: King Richard III House as a café in 1986 (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)


Despite these alterations the house has retained its medieval appearance from the time of King Richard III, even though there it is uncertainty regarding whether or not he actually stayed here.

Today the restaurant is smartly decorated and has a good atmosphere. Full suits of armour are suitably placed while parts of armour decorate the stone walls.

However, the second floor, known as the King’s Bedchamber, which has the elaborately decorative plasterwork ceiling with the York Rose (the Arms of Richard III), is not open to the public. The remains of the fleur-de-lis scrollwork frieze can be seen on the ground floor of the restaurant on the east wall, above the stone doorway giving access to the additional seating area. There is also seating outside in front of the building with views of the harbour.


Right: King Richard III restaurant today, with visitors setting outside (via Yorkshire Journal, Issue 4, 2015)

To see the article in its original format, and all original references, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Issue 4, 2015). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Jeremy for sharing this article!