Paddington Swimming Baths - July 9th 1909
Women only Swimming Entertainment! 8.30-10.30pm
"For it will be decided, as in trial by combat, whether
militant methods can beat constitutional ones,
whether art is more useful than literature or the stage,
and, most vital of all,
whether Suffrage will triumph over Anti-Suffrage."
[The Common Cause, July 15th 1909, p174]
The NUWSS fund-raiser held at the Paddington Baths on July 9th 1909 has delighted and intrigued me ever since I first read about it in the NUWSS newspaper The Common Cause. It seems to have been a gleeful, silly and very fun occasion!
"The Hon. Mrs. Bertrand Russell,
in a crimson bathing dress, opened the proceedings by a speech from the diving board, and instilled the lesson of perseverance by telling the story of two frogs who fell into a pan of cream; one gave up at once and was drowned,
the other went on swimming round and round until suddenly he found himself sitting on a pat of butter;
she hoped the swimming suffragists would be rewarded by a good lump of money. She then declared the competition open, and leapt into the water."
Races in the entertainment included:
National Union v. Social and Political Union v. Women's Freedom League,
Artists v. Authors v. Actresses,
Suffrage v. Anti-Suffrage,
and a special Handicap costume race:
Suffragettes v. Policemen,
which featured Suffragettes with a petition (and carrying umbrellas) trying to reach a dummy figure of a man whilst being pursued by police (wearing helmets and brandishing truncheons)
After the races had finished "Miss R. Costelloe, wearing a helmet and brandishing an umbrella, spoke from the diving board," encouraging supporters to throw money into the water for the Cause.
In total about £7 was thrown in and the suffragist swimmers dived into the water again and again to retrieve it, to the great delight of the audience. Miss Bertha Mason, one of the Hon. Secretaries of the NUWSS and the Hon. Treasurer of the Million Shilling Fund, then handed out the race prizes - sadly, there is no description of what they were!
The Paddington Public Baths was mentioned in Dickens's Dictionary of London, An Unconventional Handbook by Charles Dickens, 1879
PADDINGTON PUBLIC BATHS AND WASHHOUSES,
Queen’s-road Bayswater, close to the Queen’s-road and Royal Oak Stations.
Swimming, 1st class, 8d., or 10 for 5s.; 2nd, 4d., 3rd., 2d.; Hot, 1st class, 6d.; 2nd, 2d.; Cold, 1st class, 3d.; 2nd, 1d.; Shower, hot, 1st class, 6d.; 2nd, 2d.; cold, 1st class, 3d.; 2nd, 1d.
There is, besides, a 1st class swimming-bath for ladies, 8d. or 10 for 5s.; and private baths the same as for men. There is also a private laundry, where persons may have the use of tubs, hot and cold water, steam-wringers, drying chambers, irons, and mangles, at a charge of 1 ½ d. per hour.
Charles Whyte, a champion five-mile swimmer who sat on the first committee of the Professional Swimming Association was the swimming master at Paddington Public Baths, and organised annual swimming entertainments. Whyte's daughter, Mrs Crocker and a Miss Humphrey were both swimming mistresses at the Baths. [Day, Dave. London Swimming Professors: Victorian Craftsment and Aquatic Entrepreneurs in Sport in History, Vol 30, issue 1, 2010]
It's tempting to hope that Mrs Crocker and Miss Humphrey were supporters of the National Union and that perhaps that was why the event was held there... certainly some female swimmers did use their skills to draw attention to issues around women's equality.
In August 1905, aged 18, Annette Kellerman was the first woman to attempt to swim the English Channel. Already famous in her native Australia as a competitive swimmer,
she had turned to exhibiting her talents theatrically,
performing variously as a mermaid act, swimming in a
fish tank and performing high dives on stage at Melbourne Theatre Royal in 1903.
In 1904 she had attracted the attention of Londoners by completing a 17 mile demonstration swim along the Thames and in the winter of 1907 was appearing in her own aquatic show at the London Hippodrome which featured her high diving, stunt swimming and underwater dancing. Kellerman appeared on Broadway and in numerous films including The Mermaid (1911), Neptune's Daughter (1914) and A Daughter of the Gods (1916).
She also became famous for her fitted one piece bathing suit - and was arrested for indecency in 1907 whilst wearing it on Revere Beach in Boston, USA. Whilst touring, she gave lectures on the benefits of swimming for women and defended her swimming costume:
"Not only in matters of swimming but in all forms of activity woman's natural development is seriously restricted and impaired... The girl child long before she is conscious of her sex, is continually reminded that she is a girl and therefore must forego many childhood activities. As womanhood approaches these restrictions become more even more severe and the young woman is corseted and gowned and thoroughly imbued with the idea that it is most unlady-like to be possessed of legs or to know how to use them."
[How to Swim, 1918]
Described by Glenn Stout [Young Woman and the Sea, 2009] as "part sex symbol and part suffragette",
Annette Kellerman popularised not only her revolutionary and practical bathing suit but also the idea of women's physical potential, agility, strength and competitiveness in the water.
Sadly I've not found any images of the original Paddington Baths or of the swimming suffragists - but I do hope that they were wearing one piece "Annette Kellerman" bathing suits in the NUWSS colours of red, green and white!
Thoughts, reflections, bits of research