'Downstream' - A History of Swimming In The Thames

A Chiswick Pier event

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Downstream, a talk on the history of swimming in the River Thames will be given by author Caitlin Davies on Tuesday April 21st at 7.30pm at the Chiswick Pier.

The River Thames has been a favourite bathing spot for centuries and drawn many to its waters, from kings and famous poets, to Victorian endurance swimmers and modern day triathletes. Caitlin Davies will look at swimmers’ relationships with the Thames, drawing on original research from her new book, "Downstream: a history of swimming the Thames", published by Aurum this month.

Image courtesy of Aurum publishers

The Victorian era saw the birth of organised river racing and soon official pools, islands, pontoons and lidos were created all along the river. People swam at official bathing pools and islands at Oxford, Reading and Henley, dived off pontoons at Kingston, played at temporary lidos in Richmond and by the 1930s Thames beaches had become family seaside resorts.

The long distance amateur championship of Great Britain attracted competitors from all over the world, while thousands gathered on wharves and barges to watch teenage champions like Agnes Beckwith and Emily Parker.

The book covers the stories of legendary swimmers like Annette Kellerman, who came to swimming as a cure for rickets and went on to swim some of the great rivers of Europe, and Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to successfully swim the Channel unaided, who used the Thames as his training ground.

In 1957 the river was declared biologically dead, and organised racing was largely over, and by the 1970s swimming in the Thames was seen as unusual and dangerous. But in the past decade the huge resurgence in ‘wild swimming’, along with the formation of new open water clubs, means over 10,000 people now take part in organised Thames swimming events every year.
Caitlin’s book includes interviews with every major long distance Thames swimmer since the 1980s, with Channel champions, internationally known athletes, charity fundraisers and TV celebrities.

Come and hear their stories at Chiswick Pier.
Doors open at 7pm and the talk will start at 7.30pm. Tickets are £3, or free to members of the Chiswick Pier Trust. Refreshments will be available.

For further information on the Pier and how to get there, contact the Chiswick Pier Trust 020 8742 2713, follow us on Twitter @ChiswickPier or visit www.chiswickpier.org.uk .

April 18, 2015

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