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.

Waterscene

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.

pier

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.

misswebb

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!

Sources

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

Swimming in Scarborough: Battle of the Bathing Pools

Swimmers have always been welcome in Scarborough. Over the years the town has featured numerous pools – outdoor and indoor included. The North Bay Bathing Pool (which later became Waterscene, Water Splash World, and then Atlantis) has already been mentioned here.

Above: The early days of the North Bay Bathing Pool (source)

Following its creation in 1938, the North Bay Bathing Pool played second fiddle to the better known and older South Bay Pool – a large seawater pool located near the Spa.

Above: The South Bay Pool (source)

Built in 1915, this pool was once a glamorous hotspot complete with diving boards, swimming exhibitions and competitions.

Above: The pool featured on a 1920s rail poster (source)

The pool was also designed to function as a wave barrier, and was subject to the tempestuous moods of the sea. It opened in July 1915 not long after WWI began, and less than a year after Scarborough was attacked by German forces on December 16th, 1914.

Above: The attack on Scarborough was later used to encourage men to enlist (source)

Below: The new pool (source)

Designed by borough engineer Harry W. Smith, the pool measured 330ft by 165ft in size and featured a 32ft high diving board – it was once the largest outdoor pool in Europe. Audiences were treated to a variety of shows, exhibitions and events featuring swimming, diving and aquatic displays.

southbay

Above: South Bay Pool in 1922 (from the author’s personal collection)

In 1935 audience seating capacity was increased, diving boards and changing rooms were added and fountains were created for children. However, only three years later the pool had a new rival, albeit a smaller one. The North Bay Bathing Pool, which opened in 1938 measured 250ft by 60ft, was located not far from the quieter North Sands.

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Above: North Bay Bathing Pool (source)

This second, smaller pool played a key role in enticing visitors to visit Scarborough’s North Bay, which was rapidly establishing a formidable array of new attractions. Both pools were, at various points, used by Scarborough Swimming Club.

However, in the 1980s, the North Bay Bathing Pool was given a dramatic makeover that would see it take the edge in the competition of the outdoor pools. It reopened in 1984 as Waterscene, boasting the longest water chute in the world. Subsequent re-developments modernised the pool, and the new slides and themed areas were a success in attracting tourists, especially children.

1990s2

Above: An aerial view of the newly developed North Bay Pool, photographed by Michael Jaconelli (image sourced from here)

The South Bay Pool, after a heyday particularly notable in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, remained popular with visitors, but for numerous reasons (viability, local politics and problems with upkeep are all cited to varying degrees) closed in 1988. The structure stood for fifteen more years, becoming flooded and derelict until the area was finally demolished in 2003. After being filled in, the pool is now the site of a star map.

You can see a picture of the site today by clicking here. Tiny lights show star positions at night, and there is an information board also.

Whilst the North Bay Bathing Pool appears to have emerged victorious in the bathing pool battle (in terms of longevity at least), its days too were numbered. Following two rebrandings (first to Water Splash World, then to Atlantis), the pool eventually suffered the fate of many outdoor UK pools – it closed in 2007, and was subsequently demolished. It is now the site of the Military Adventure Park.

Above: The Military Adventure Park (source)

Holidaymakers can now easily visit affordable resorts abroad that boast not only extensive water parks, but also guarantees of hot sunny weather to complement the experience. Years ago visitors had fewer options, and towns such as Scarborough reaped the benefits.

nbbp2

Above: North Bay Bathing Pool postcard (from the author’s personal collection)

Scarborough still has an indoor pool, and many still swim in the sea. However, it is easy to forget that swimming events and exhibitions once took place across the town, from the underground pool at Gala Land, to Peasholme Park Lake and the boating lake near the Open Air Theatre. There was also Bland’s Cliff Swimming baths (now Coney Island Amusements).

Although most of the aforementioned pools are long gone, swimmers (and paddlers!) will always be drawn to the oldest pool of all – the sea itself.

Do you remember any of the swimming pools mentioned? Or perhaps you know of others? Please contribute comments, corrections, or any information below.

Sources

Scarborough Swimming Club History Page

Summarised History Page

Flickr account

David’s account

Lizz Tuckerman’s Page