Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Fancy swimming

Synchronised swimming may come in for a bit of gentle mockery, but displays of aquatic feats and ability are nothing new.  “How to swim” by Harry Austin [1914.6.780] is so much more than just a guide to doing the breast stroke.  Austin was the superintendent of Beckenham Swimming Baths for some years after its opening in 1901 and took an active role on the committee, teaching swimming and coaching the water polo team, as well as orchestrating displays of ornamental swimming.   His wife, incidentally, became the first lady president of the Amateur Swimming Association in 1952.

Apparatus for supporting pupils in use at Beckenham swimming baths

Austin’s book does begin with a general introduction to swimming and its history; going on to describe how to learn to swim and how to execute the different strokes, diving, life-saving and floating, but what caught my attention were the sections on various tricks and displays that could be performed.  Some of these were requirements for attaining the Royal Life-Saving Society’s certificates and no doubt served to promote agility and proficiency in the water, but I can’t see too much of a practical purpose for  learning how to smoke underwater.

However, there are, apparently, two way of doing it.  One can sit on the bottom in shallow water with a clay pipe, well alight, and keeping the bowl of the pipe above water, blow bubbles and smoke at short intervals.  Alternatively, put the lighted end of a cigar in your mouth (being careful not to burn your tongue, I assume) and blow gently through it whilst swimming just below the surface.  One finishes by flourishing the cigar to show that it is still alight.  I feel the proprietors of swimming baths nowadays would take a dim view of anyone attempting this trick.

Spinning, or, The washing tub

Probably they wouldn’t like you eating underwater either: a small orange or banana is most suitable, apparently. “Pull some of the skin off the fruit and let it float up, break off pieces to be eaten and push them through the lips until all are consumed, then come up slowly and without a gasp.”

Perhaps some team swimming then?  Two or three swimmers can combine to emulate a steam tug, or a crocodile and then race against each other.  Or attach a swimmer to a land-based “fisherman” with a line and the one can attempt to draw the other to the side of the pool.  Mounted wrestling?  This requires two men standing in the water, each with another man on his shoulders and the two riders attempt to unseat each other.

For a trick that “never fails to provoke laughter when neatly done” you could get together with some friends and demonstrate the Monkey-on-a-stick.  Essentially this involves crouching under water and then periodically leaping straight up with your arms by your side.  I suspect this is harder than it sounds, especially when it comes to remembering to time your breathing while you are clear of the water.

Writing underwater

Finally, if you really want to make yourself look silly, how about Swimming like a duck?  “Balance on the breast, cross the ankles and bend the knees so that the feet come out of the water behind, to imitate the duck’s tail.  Propel by sculling with the hands under the hips.”

On the positive side, I suspect this last feat is the only one of the above that wouldn’t get you peremptorily thrown out…

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Whilst going about my cataloguing duties recently I have noticed more and more books about football cropping up, so I decided to have a root around the Tower collection to find out a bit more about the game as played by the Victorians/Edwardians. It is said that modern football began in 1863 when the Football Association first met and the Code of Rules it introduced became unchallenged and replaced the various and local rules in use at public schools around the country at that time. “What was ten or fifteen years ago the recreation of a few … has now become the pursuit of thousands – an athletic exercise, carried on under a strict system … almost magnified into a profession.” (Football: the association game, 1907.6.631)

The above image is from the twelve part series The book of football (1907.13.28). The picture features Stephen Bloomer ‘England’s greatest international’. Apart from the football shirt and cap he looks more like a Romantic poet than a professional sportsman!

Apparently it was the simplicity of the game that led to its ever increasing popularity, attracting large crowds of spectators of all classes to games and contributing “not the least element towards its success, the enjoyment with which it is witnessed by ladies, who weary over sports of a more complicated nature.” (Football: a popular handbook of the game, 1888.7.177). Could these ladies have been the nineteenth century’s equivalent to ‘Wags’, turning up to games and trying to bag themselves a footballer? One imagines that the lifestyle associated with professional footballers today was not at quite the same level of luxury at the turn of the century.

‘The biggest crowd ever seen at a football match’ from ‘The book of football’ 1907.13.28.


 The above photograph was taken at the Cup Final of 1900-1 at Crystal Palace where a record crowd of 110,000 people gathered to watch Tottenham Hotspur play Sheffield United. Considering the attendance at the FA Cup Final at Wembley in 2010 was 88,335, the Victorians were clearly very keen on their football, more so it seems than today’s fans!

As I mentioned earlier, the new Code of Rules for association football was introduced in 1863, however it wasn’t until almost ten years later that the Football Association Challenge Cup, now commonly known as the FA Cup was first held in the season of 1871-2 and was that year won by Wanderers F.C. (A handy fact for a pub quiz, maybe?). At this time football was very much a local game played by local players, as “professionals are not allowed to compete in cup matches unless they are qualified by birth or residence for two years within six miles of the ground or headquarters of the club for which they play.” (Football: a popular handbook of the game, 1888.7.177). Interestingly, the penalty kick wasn’t introduced to the game until the season of 1891-2 and so up until that season, in FA Cup games “the match has to be continued, on another day if necessary, until victory inclines to one or the other, the duration of each match being the ordinary hour and a half, in addition to any time the referee may consider to have been wasted.” (1888.7.177). So there would have been none of the thrill and excitement of a penalty shoot-out decider if it was a draw at full-time – a blessing in disguise for the England international side, perhaps?

The photograph above is of Blackburn Rovers, FA Cup winners 1884-5, 1885-6 (The Football Association Cup winners from 1883 to 1905, 1906.8.307)

It takes a lot of energy to run around a football pitch for ninety minutes, and as we all know today’s professional footballers are in peak physical condition and training and practice is a full-time job. Therefore, it amused me when I saw this picture of West Bromwich Albion players out for a training walk in smart suits with not a football boot or kit in sight. Maybe they weren’t being paid enough to break a sweat (unlike today’s footballers), or perhaps they were just taking a more philosophical approach to the game and discussing tactics during a nice stroll.                

Photograph from The book of football, 1907.13.28

And finally, what better way to unwind after a gruelling match than with a hot bath? Having said that, this player doesn’t look at all relaxed, perhaps the photographers presence has unnerved him a little. It doesn’t look as if there’s any water in the bath, either!


From The book of football, 1907.13.28

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