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Your Community - Local History Swimming Galas - By Jean Illingworth


Following on from the excerpts from Jean Illingworth’s book ‘Growing up in Sowerby...and More,” every other month we’re continuing to feature Jean’s memories. This month Jean writes about local Sowerby Bridge swimming galas.


The former Sowerby New Road Girls’ Secondary School held their annual swimming Gala in mid June when the baths were situated on Hollins Mill Lane. During the winter months a wooden floor was laid over the swimming pool so that dances and social events could be held there. The school Speech Day was held there in March and various exhibitions of pupils work were displayed in the Windsor Hall within the Prince’s Hall as the building was known. The wooden floor was stored during the summer in council premises across the main road at Nicholl’s Yard.


Competition was fierce among the schools’ houses called Charlotte Bronte, Edith Cavell, Florence Nightingale and Mary Slessor to win heats of races and earn points towards the swimming shield! The atmosphere described in the “Octagon” school magazine of 1956 by pupil Linda Rawcliffe of form 1A as the races commenced were of “a great deal of shouting and the roof of the baths almost blown off by the cheers and applause of the girls”. Spectators were seated around the narrow balcony and on the bench that surrounded the pool. It was usual to get a splashing here as the competitors jumped or dived into the water. Other girls awaiting their races were seated on the steps at the deep end behind the diving steps/board. A notice displayed here warned, “No Smoking Allowed, Diving from the Balcony Prohibited” No doubt some daring show offs had given this a try at public swimming sessions.


race involving swimming with a lighted candle on a plate! Another involved the swimmer placing a teaspoon in her mouth with a light ball on top, if dropped the girl had to re-start the race! New ideas were thought up each year. Marjorie Linford in the 1957 Octagon writes, “The most exciting race was the relay, junior and senior. The obstacle also was quite thrilling. The seniors had to blow up a beach ball, and push it with their nose. When they reached the 4 foot depth they had to take 2 bands from a girl, put them on, swim to the 3 foot and light a candle. The junior obstacle entrants had to eat a cream cracker, put on a T-shirt, swim and then take it off before touching the finishing line”.


Shirley is presented with her prize in early 1950’s


The swimming champion that year was Sheila Spence (now Robinson) her sister Shirley (now Womersley) is featured in the photograph dated c1954 being presented with a prize by an unknown lady. Both sisters excelled at swimming. To the right Olga Goulden strikes a fashion note with her fashionable 2 piece!


Pupils competed in Junior and Senior events for the neatest breast stroke, there was an obstacle


A few more memories about the baths include entering through a turnstile and paying Mr Riley the Caretaker for your ticket, the strong smell of chlorine up the nostrils as you walked down to the changing area. On the wall there was fixed a chrome dispenser for the lads to get a couple of pennyworths of Brylcreem to slick their D.A. back into place after having a swim! The white linen curtains in the ladies changing rooms were rather short of material and who could forget Mrs Bogg who taught hundreds of children to swim over the years although I was never brave enough to dive in and retrieve “the brick” for her. Happy days!


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