Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Diving into the archives

Swan members at The Eagle
I LEARNT to swim in an indoor, heated leisure centre in the 1970s. Previous generations had it a bit more al fresco. This photo shows members of the Swan Swimming Club at the Eagle Baths in the Heigham area of Norwich in - we think - 1926. The diving board was on the Anderson’s Meadow side of the river – we’re looking upstream to the Mile Cross Road bridge. Gibraltar Gardens would be on the far bank behind the trees.
Amazingly enough there were three “swimming baths” on this stretch of river.  The Dolphin Baths belonged to the pub of the same name, near Dolphin Bridge. The Eagle Baths were, I think, named after one laundry half way up Heigham Street, while the Swan Swimming Club took its name from another laundry on the site of the modern Old Laundry Court. The Swan Laundry, to be fair, did build an indoor pool, heated with their own steam.
By our standards the outdoor pools appear to have been very rudimentary.Some were concrete tanks within the river, others had a tiny bit more privacy.This picture comes courtesy of Richard and Bridget Belson who have provided me with a huge amount of info on the first swimming clubs in Norwich. Bizarre as it may seem today, the Wensum at Heigham used to be full of swimmers.
* If this picture rings any bells, email me at


  1. Any info or pics on Seamans boat hire that was next to eagle baths

  2. In a word, No.
    This is the only boat hire company I've heard about.

  3. That last reply needed this link:

  4. Karen Woodhouse13 March 2013 at 21:28

    The picture was taken in the twenties as the Norwich Swan Swimming Club was disbanded during the war years (as were many clubs and organisations). This was one of a series of photos taken in 1926 by. The others show the same ladies receiving life saving instruction from the locally famous Billy Basher. The ladies' section of the Club was separate to the men's during the twenties. Muriel Swain (later Noller, a life member of the Swan)is in the centre of the photo (behind and slightly to the left of the small child who is standing).The photo was probably taken by Swain.

  5. 'The Norwich Steam Laundry and Baths Company (Limited) in 1878 decided upon the construction of extensive laundry premises and a swimming bath in North Heigham, on a site where Norton's Bath House formerly stood, adjacent to the river, and in a neighborhood known upwards of a century ago as the Heigham Bleaching Ground. The laundry buildings are of red brick, and form an extensive range of premises, next the road. The laundry is now in full working order, and will prove, like similar institutions in other large towns, of great convenience to large families in Norwich. The swimming bath, which is estimated to cost about £1500, is now nearly completed. It is 75 feet long by 25 feet wide, with a depth of 3 feet at one end and of 6 feet at the other. The facilities which the Company have in their laundry for heating water will enable them to provide a tepid swimming bath in the colder months of the year. S. Culley, Esq., is Secretary to the Company.' [p39, Delves]

    'The Norwich Steam Laundry and Baths Company Ltd. was established and incorporated in 1878. It purchased 2a of land, a house and outbuildings known as Nortons, late Tinklers, Baths by the River Wensum and next to the Norwich Waterworks in Heigham. In 1927 the company acquired the Wymondham, Dereham and District Laundry Company Ltd. which had been operating under that name from its premises off the Norwich Road, Wymondham since 1914. The Norwich company's directors automatically became the directors of the Wymondham concern and operated it as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the former. In 1932 the baths were closed, having been uneconomical for some years previous and the name of the company was accordingly changed to the Swan Laundry (Norwich) Ltd. A year later the Wymondham company's name was changed to the Wymondham Laundry Ltd.
    In 1969 the Wymondham Laundry was wound up and its assets sold to its parent company. The economies of scale and centralisation following this enabled the Swan Laundry to trade for another decade before its closure and voluntary liquidation in 1979. E.G. Mayes, chartered accountant, joined the Swan Laundry as its secretary in 1965 a post he held until the company's liquidation.' [Norfolk Record Office]

    1) Delves, Edward; 'A brief description of the hamlet of Heighham, Norwich: its ancient and modern history, churches, chapels, population, etc (1879)'; ('Norfolk News', Norwich, 1879)

    2) 'Business records of the Swan Laundry (Norwich) Ltd. and the Wymondham Laundry Ltd. 1878-1979'; Norfolk Record Office;