Our swimming trophy inspired by a Roman emperor

We have a large collection of cups and trophies at the Arlington from the days when there were annual galas and even monthly competitive races.

The oldest trophy of the collection is the Challenge Cup for Graceful Swimming, dating from 1873. It has the most elaborate decoration of our trophies, with silver detailing attached to a silver gilt cup, and is very heavy.

The Arlington Swimming Club Challenge Cup. Image credit: © Vicky Lee-Middleton of I Love Ruby photos

This newspaper article describes how it was won in 1874.

Text reads: Arlington Swimming Club. There was large attendance of members of this club and friends at he bash on Saturday afternoon on occasion of the annual competition among the members for the Challenge Cup for graceful swimming. The competition was decided on general excellence over a programme including seven different ties, viz, longest plunge, breast stroke, side stroke, overhand stroke, swimming on back, sculling on back head first, and sculling on back feet first. Previous to the commencement of the completion, R Dalglish, jun., Esq., president of the club, who presided over the proceedings, in a few well chosen words, presented a meal each to Mr J K Young and Mr Harry Feldtmann, in town of appreciation of the humanity and gallantry shown by the former in rescuing a man from Dorking in the Gareloch, and the latter in similarly saving the life of a man who was sinking in the middle of he river Earn, at Crieff - both events having taken place in August last under circumstances recorded the newspapers. Having received the medals, the gentlemen were further rewarded by a very hearty round of applause from their fellows and the rest present. Messrs Young and Feldtmann, we may mention had both been members of Mr Wilson's (club master) "Rescue" class, the utility of which it was their fortune to practically demonstrate. The proceedings on the programme were the entered upon,. Messrs Dalglish, Alex Sloan, and Archibald Colville officiating as judges, and Mr William Wilson, club master, as starter. Five members came forward to compete for the cup, which, it may be mentioned, must be won for two successive years before becoming the property of the winner. A second prize of a gold medal second successful competitor. At the ? Mr Dalglish announced the decision of the judges, that Mr Robert Brownlie, jnr, was first, with 138, and Mr James H Roberts, with 126 "points". Had this order been reversed the cup would have gone into Mr Roberts's possession for good, he having been the holder of it since last years's competition.The next event, not on the programme, was a display by Mr Feldtmann and Mr Al? Of the best method of reducing a drowning person, each in turn acting the part of subject and operator and the whole being an entertaining and at the same time useful exhibition. Finally , Mr Williams Wilson, the all-accomplished club master, entered the water by himself and gave a display in which were shown the fastest method of swimming on the back - and fast it undoubtedly is - how to regulate the breathing and swim in a rough sea, sculling, rolling, spinning, with tech feet tied, and other varieties of fancy swimming. It is ? necessary to say that in the course of he performance, Mr Wilson proved over again that he is a master in the art of natation. It might be putting too fine a point upon it to say that the water would seem to be his native element, but all had the ocular proof that it had no appearance of being a ?? to him - North British Daily Mail
Bell’s Life in London, 19 December 1874

“There was large attendance of members of this club and friends at the bash on Saturday afternoon on occasion of the annual competition among the members for the Challenge Cup for graceful swimming. The competition was decided on general excellence over a programme including seven different ties, viz, longest plunge, breast stroke, side stroke, overhand stroke, swimming on back, sculling on back head first, and sculling on back feet first.”

Bell’s Life in London, 19 December 1874

The contest was preceded by the presentation by Mr Robert Dalglish Jnr, the president of the Club, of medals to Mr J K Young and Mr Harry Feldtmann for having each saved a man from drowning, in the Gareloch and the River Earn at Criefff, respectively, during the summer.

“Messrs Dalglish, Alex Sloan, and Archibald Colville officiating as judges, and Mr William Wilson, club master, as starter. Five members came forward to compete for the cup, which, it may be mentioned, must be won for two successive years before becoming the property of the winner. A second prize of a gold medal goes to the second successful competitor.

“At the close Mr Dalglish announced the decision of the judges, that Mr Robert Brownlie, jnr, was first, with 138, and Mr James H Roberts, with 126 “points”. Had this order been reversed the cup would have gone into Mr Roberts’s possession for good, he having been the holder of it since last years’s competition.”

Bell’s Life in London, 19 December 1874

Following the competition, there. was also a demonstration of life-saving techniques, and swimming styles.

The Warwick Vase

The Warwick Vase in The Burrell Collection in Glasgow. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Challenge Cup is actually a small-scale replica of the Warwick Vase, an ancient Roman marble vase unearthed near the villa of the Emperor Hadrian at Tivoli in 1771. It caused a sensation when first seen and for many years was owned for many years by the aristocratic Warwick family who displayed it in a purpose-built Gothic-style greenhouse!

In 1978 the Warwick Vase was sold and purchased by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, but was declared a UK object of national importance and so an export license was delayed.

The necessary funds were raised and it then found a new home at the Burrell Collection here in Glasgow.

Copies of the Warwick Vase

The Vase was so admired that it was widely copied in many sizes and materials. A scale copy in bronze was made for King George IV and is still in the Royal Collection.

There were also there are several reproductions in silver and silver-gilt, most noticeable the reductions in silver and silver-gilt by the silversmith Paul Storr. One of these – a wine cooler – sold at auction in December 2019 for £28,000.

An Australian tennis trophy – the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup – is also a copy. This video shows the making of a replica cup which is given to the winner to keep.

The Arlington’s replica vase

So for the Arlington Swimming Club, this was evidently an item intended to be displayed and to impress people. The elaborate decoration and the origin of design for the Challenge Cup suggests that the Club purchased the cup to make the statement that swimming is a serious pursuit worthy of significant recognition.

They wanted to make an association between their unique enterprise of establishing the first private swimming pool in the UK and the classical era, suggesting that they were emulating the ancients in the pursuit of a healthy body and a healthy mind.

Because the Warwick Vase was the possession of an aristocratic family, it seems likely that they also wished to evoke an association between the Club members – who were largely middle class families involved in business and the professions – and the lifestyle and values of the British upper class.

Little did those early swimmers know that the original vase would eventually find a home in Glasgow.

We no longer have the graceful swimming competition at the Baths but we do like to bring out the Challenge Cup – our Warwick Vase – on special occasions and display it for visitors!

Researchers: Will Jess and Lucy Janes

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