A Brief History of the Club
There was a time when the more intrepid members of Braintree Swimming Club plunged into the icy waters of the River Blackwater for a Christmas morning dip. One can think of better ways of getting an appetite for their Christmas dinner. Obviously, not too many members of the present club dove into the Blackwater this year.
Braintree and Bocking Swimming Club members now enjoy the comparative luxuries of the Braintree Swimming Centre, and differs from those early days when it was very much a gatehring for the exclusive gentlemen of the town. The club came into existence in 1902 and was for 'gentlemen only'.
Club championships were confined to members living within a five mile radius of the Braintree Corn Exchange and amongst the prizes on offer at the 1912 club gala was a walking stick valued at four shillings (20 pence) for the life saving race, with the person being ‘saved’ getting a one shilling (5 pence) knife. It was in that year that the club moved form the Blackwater at Bocking to the public baths, with the proviso that the club change its name to Braintree and Bocking District SC, to embrace all the adjoining parishes.
In 1913 the ladies made their first attempt to break down the ‘gentlemen only’ rule. A letter had been received from 18 ladies asking for a ladies section to be formed. It was decided that a deputation of no more than eight ladies meet the committee, (the men did not wish to be outnumbered) until the ladies had got their feet in the pool. Mixed bathing was not allowed until 1914.
The club continued in existence, although little is known of its activities, except for the record of cash in hand from the 1934 club being some £15.00 plus interest.
The gap in the records last until June 7, 1954 when the book re-opens headed Braintree and Bocking Swimming Club. Some 30 members were in evidence on June 16, and by June 23 this number had increased to 101 paid-up members. Gala events that year included swimming, diving, obstacle races and even a pillow fight!
There is no other break until August 11, 1960 when there was a meeting at Rose Hill Swimming Baths to discuss the possibility of reforming the club. Mr John Sherry was in the chair and Mr D Bowtell, secretary of the former club and Mr Poulter, chairman of the Parks Committee were among those present. Lord Braintree became president and the club was guaranteed exclusive use of the baths on Wednesday evenings form 7:30 to 9 pm at the start of the season and 7 to 8:30 pm at the end of the season; membership reached 216.
In 1962 the club membership was down to 100, 13 seniors and 87 juniors and the income for the year was £54.00. Whilst we are not sure when in the 60s the Braintree and Bocking Swimming Club had another of its lapses, the last recorded meeting was in March 1964, and we do know that the present club began in 1977.
The present club owes its experience to John Kenny, now living in Wolverhampton who went to Pat Corney, then Braintree Council’s community services officer, and asked permission to form a competitive swimming club at the Riverside pool. His suggestion that a swimming club be started found favour among several council officers, and the club was reformed. Since then it has gone from strength to strength.
Below are two examples of BBSC medals from the 1900s, both won by Alfred James Bentall. The one on the left is inscibed: B.S.C., 50 YDS, 1906, 1st; the one on the right is inscribed: B. & B. S. C., 220 Yards, FIRST, 1907 (photo by Chris Bentall).
The club’s history as of the early 1950s.
The club was started in about 1950 or 51 with Johnny Leach as secretary, who also took part in many of the events that the club performed. We would regularly swim against clubs from Clacton, Maldon, Chelmsford, Saffron Walden and even against the army barracks at Colchester, who would in turn come to Braintree to swim against us in an inter-club meet. We would have obstacle races, greasy pole fights and the usual 100 yard and one length swims. The one length swim was 40 yards and I think I held the record for ages; my time was 20 seconds for that dash. In those days freestyle was called crawl and most were quite good at it. We also played water polo quite a bit and were quite good at that too. At one time the business people of the town were asked to sponsor a team of swimmers from our club to cross the English Channel, but there weren’t very many people interested, just a bunch of boys.
The names of the most senior swimmers would have been Johnny Leach, Johnny Richardson, Michael (Joe) Muench, Dennis (Jake) Carder, Alex Booty, Frank Harvey and Robert (Gobert) Gushlow. Those were the blokes; then came the girls, Trixie, May Franklin, June Reed, Edna Spinks, Betty Booty (sister of Alex Booty), Keith Lewis, Mickey Marriot and a lovely lady called Janet Newman. We had a guy who swum breaststroke like nobody else. We called him Shakespeare.Boy could he swim.
I went into the forces in 1955, swum in the regimental team in Germany, and won two silver medals and three bronze. So all the swimming I did at the baths held me in good stead. If that 100 yards cup is still about, as I think it is, and if it goes back to the 50s, my name should be on it (account by Johnny Richardson, Australia).