The origins of the Arlington Baths for Ladies

The Ladies Minute Book 1872-96 was one of the first items of Arlington Baths materials that I looked at the Glasgow City Archives.

The first entry in the Ladies Minute book is dated 1 May 1872 and records that Mr F W Allan has proposed to the Annual General Meeting of Arlington Baths Club that lady relatives of the members should have access to the Baths every Thursday from 11 am and 2 pm for an annual fee of £1 (recorded as 20/-).

The next entry defines relatives as “Mothers, wives, sisters, sisters-in-law, daughters, cousins and any lady resident in the house of a member of this club.”

The first meeting of those interested in forming the Club of “Arlington Baths for Ladies” took place on 30 May. Mr F W Allan took the Chair and became Honorary Secretary of the Ladies Club on its establishment. Some of the ladies present signed up immediately for membership and had their first “bath” (or swim). It was 1890 before Mr Allan stood down as Honorary Secretary and a woman, Mrs May Perry, took the chair.

Ladies had no say in the running of the Club itself and the issues which concerned them in the early years focussed around the rules and regulations relating their own members – how many people could join, reduced fees for under 15s and most importantly how often they could swim. By 1874 they had extended their use of the pool to Monday and Thursday.

The Ladies rapidly went on to demonstrate their organisational talents by organising Annual Swimming Competitions, the first of which took place in 1875. The programme can be seen in the photograph.

Photo of leaflet of Arlington Ladies Swimming Club First Competition. Thursday 4 November 1875 at 11.30am. Programme: I Plunge from Diving Board II Plain Swimming, One Length of Pond III Side stroke, One Length of Pond IV Back Swimming, One Length of Pond V Sculling, Head first, Once across Pond VI Sculling, feet first, Once across Pond To be decided for graceful performance Little importance will be attached to speed. First Prize: Gold Cross Club medal Second Prize: Silver Monogram Locket Third prize: Silver Monogram Locket Judges: Mrs R G Findlay, Mrs Rob’t Gibson, Mrs JP. Paton Members will not be restricted to Rule VII on that date but may invite their Lady Friends who will be admitted on presenting Member’s Card. Ladies, relatives of Members of the Gentleman’s Club, will also be submitted on presenting Member’s Card. F W Allan, Hon. Sec.

Note the criterion on which the various events were to be judged – Graceful Performance. Quite how one achieved a graceful performance in the swimming costumes of the day is interesting to speculate.

There was considerable interest from the local media in the early competitions as can be seen from press cuttings pasted into the minute books. The Lady Correspondent of the Glasgow Daily Mail gave a detailed description of the Baths, the audience, the contestants and indeed appearance of the swimming master Mr Wilson.

“He wore skin tights with a blue flannel vest dress, which showed off his figure to great advantage.”

At least she was less gushing (but only just) than the correspondent of the North British Daily Mail the following year who described the contestants as the Arlington Mermaids.

My reading of the first Minute Book has left me with more questions than answers.

  • Who, for example, was FW Allan?
  • Just how daring and unusual was it for the Ladies for get their chance to learn to swim?
  • Where and how would they have been able to swim before the club was created? Accounts of seaside bathing machines don’t really suggest that much swimming was happening.
  • Who were the early members? The Book records the names and addresses for all the Lady members for the years up to 1879. The record for the men for the same period is missing.

The History Group is trying to answer some of these questions and many others. Watch this space.


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