Our Club History
These notes and pictures have been reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Rick Kibby, author of Devizes Allsports (ISBN-13: 978-0954640712) – the definitive work on the history of the sports clubs in and around the Devizes area. Mr. Kibby retains the copyright on this work.
Devizes Swimming Club was formed in June 1896, meeting at the “Bathing Place” which was actually in the Kennet and Avon canal behind The Black Horse on Bath Road (near lock 24). The boundary of the pool was made of corrugated iron sheets above the water with wire netting below, allowing free flow of water and an interesting collection of native canal-life such as leeches etc.. There used to be a couple of diving boards and about a dozen changing rooms on one side. It was an amusing fact that bathers soon learned to swim very quickly – standing in the mud for any length of time allowed indigenous black water-slugs the opportunity of attaching themselves to any unsuspecting feet!
The spectators at the club’s first aquatic sports in July 1896 witnessed an attractive programme of events that included swimming under water, springboard diving (forward and backward somersaults) and diving from the stage. As a finale, Messrs Willis and Lander also gave a “display of swimming encumbered with iron weights of 24 and 38 pounds respectively”.
Between the Wars & WWII
By 1933, concerns as to the cleanliness and safety of the water were raised, which prompted moves to find an alternative swimming pool. Various ideas were considered, but it wasn’t until Lord Roundway donated a site at Rotherstone that the decision was made and the dream became a reality. It was on Saturday 18th July 1936 that the Mayor, R. P. Shepherd, welcomed Lord Roundway, who declared the pool open by cutting the tape with silver scissors. The pool measured 100 x 35 feet and was built by local contractors L. Maslen & Sons at a cost of £3,500, and at the time it was considered to be one of the best and up-to-date in the West of England.
During the war years, the pool area was utilised for many important activities, such as a gas cleansing centre, Red Cross centre, vaccination centre and first-aid post. Temporary changing rooms were also put to good use when the de-lousing regulations were brought in. This era is fondly remembered by Devizes man and staunch club member Bill Underwood, who proudly recalls swimming on the first day the pool opened to the public in 1936. Some 53 years later in September 1989 Bill completed an anniversary 53 lengths on the day the pool finally closed.
The Post War Period
Swimming became increasingly popular with the Devizes public, and by the August of 1955 all previous record attendance for the year had been exceeded with an incredible total of 38,944 visitors.
Changes in the 1960’s witnessed the removal of the diving boards in 1966, which were declared as unsafe, and in 1969 bathers enjoyed warmer waters with the introduction of heating in the pool, which prompted a dramatic increase in membership.
In September 1989 the open-air pool closed its doors for the last time. Reminiscences of lovely rose beds, old grassy banks and the prominent fountain at the pool entrance, all became distant memories when the swimming club transferred to the new, modern indoor pool at the Devizes Leisure Centre. The brand new facility opened for business in 1990 but regrettably suffered structural problems a few years later, which in turn had a drastic affect on club finances and membership, nearly causing the club to fold. Fortunately, it survived, and, since then, progress has been hard work but very rewarding. The challenges of working all-year-round with larger numbers and an extended competition diary were great but have proved fruitful in shaping the club’s future.
In 1996 the club was recognised at Wiltshire County ASA level for the best progress in teaching beginners, and was voted Club of the Year for its overall contribution to swimming in Wiltshire and its involvement in the community – all this during a year in which it also had the honour of supporting Dennis Frith as Wiltshire County President.
A new Masters section was formed in 1997 and in its first year attended two Wiltshire County Championships, coming 3rd behind the larger Swindon-based clubs.
In 2001, the club saw both the A and B squads clinch promotion from their respective Wiltshire Summer League Divisions as well as being named Wiltshire ASA Club of the Year once again.