Monday, 2 September 2013

Swimming benches - a tribute

This is the Lady of the Lake at Alster Lake near Hamburg. 

She weighs two tons so she needs a fairly large swimming bench. 

A swimming bench is a very fine thing. It's the place where you leave your stuff to keep it safe and dry while you go for a swim.

Here's Mungo and I coming out of the sea on a cool autumn evening:

Wouldn't we be disappointed if we didn't have a nice swimming bench to keep our Bench dot hoodies warm and dry?

It would be an understatement to say I am a keen swimmer. On days when the English Channel is calm, I often set out for France. Or swim a few metres off Paradise Island at least. 

The Swimmer 1912, Felix Etie Bonnet

And I take every opportunity to swim whenever we're abroad. For example, Mungo and I enjoyed a leisurely swim along the Singel Canal in Amsterdam this summer.

Here on Paradise Island I get out every day, rain or shine.

I have my very own swimming bench at The Plunge. And My Swimming Bench has its very own post on this blog, and its very own poem. 

I have a long history of swimming. In fact, I go back to the days when swimming benches weren't needed because you had a bathing machine in which you changed your clothes and then the bathing hut was pulled down into the water with you inside it.

A bit cumbersome, yes, but it solved the problem of where to put your stuff. And no one could see you. 

You wouldn't have caught Queen Victoria with her knickers in the Channel.

Still, even with the privacy of bathing machines, some people are po-faced about swimming.

I don't see why. These wooden bathing suits are both modest and great for keeping afloat.

Like many swimmers, I like to look my best in the water. Please excuse me while I put on a bit of lippy before plunging in. 

Flapper in a Bathing Suit Putting on Lipstick 1931 by Rafael de Penagos

Some so-called Bathers are content to sit on the sand looking good. 

The Bathers 1909, Johan Krouthen

I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds this annoying. 

Two Figures Kneeling 1966, Wayne Thieubaud

Anyone can swim. To enjoy swimming you can be an amateur.

What if you don't know how to swim and don't own a bathing costume? No worries. Professor Harry Parker at Ilfracombe can impart instructions to you. And you can hire a bathing costume or have one made to order.

Apparently some people need reminding to wear a swimsuit.

And some officers enjoy enforcing the law.

Italian police issuing fine for wearing a bikini, 1957

Just recently I saw evidence of a skinnydipper on Fribble beach.

Gucci handbag? Jimmy Choos?  

I suspected Lady Brassica but Miggy warned me not to jump to conclusions. Besides, Lady B was in her pool today keeping the sun off her face.

Sunscreen mask 1928

Whatever you wear, make sure that the water's fine. These women in Missouri have worn their best shoes and stockings. They are assured of fine water.  

Moving back in time a bit, this is me at an unheated small town swimming pool in the 1960s. This is the pool where I learned to swim. 

And, quite by chance, in Googling swim and bench, I was thrilled to find this photo of the same Small Town Pool on Flickr.

Looks like my very first swimming bench is still there, and so is the chainlink fence.

So you see, a swimming bench is a lifetime event. And beyond. 

Here's a bench for Kitty Patient, who swam for 70 years from this very spot. What better way to commemorate a swimming career than to put up a bench for those who are going to rest ye awhile before or after their swim.

I'm not keen on swimming pools anymore though. Not since I went a pool in Florida where there was harpooning going on.

Jonathan Blair,  National Geographic Archives, 1973

 I digress.

There are a few basic rules about swimming benches which are worth keeping in mind:

  • Locate your swimming bench before you take off your shoes and socks

She's trying to convince him it doesn't matter, but, quite rightly, he looks worried.

  • Don't choose a bench that's too crowded

These men have made themselves miserable by piling too many of them onto the one swimming bench.

  • Find out if you have to pay. Some very posh places have swimming benches that cost a fortune

  • If you're going to sit on the swimming bench, make sure it's comfortable. However good you look in your swimsuit, a bench like this is going to be a nightmare after a couple of minutes.

  • If you're going to swim in formal dress, be sure that your swimming bench is colour-coordinated and that you do a selfie before you get wet. This man looks very dapper on his bright yellow bench.

Siting your swimming bench in the right place can also be tricky. You'll be stepping out of the water soaking wet so:

  • Keep away from electricity, especially at night.

  • Avoid contact with alligators.

  • Unless you're prepared to jump, check that your bench isn't too high

  • Finally, it may seem obvious but if you want to keep your stuff dry, it's important that the swimming bench is sited away from the water's edge. Something went a bit wrong in the placement here.

This swimming bench is all about convenience: it's a swimming bench in the pool, but a compromise has been made on the water.

Call me fussy, but I like to have water in the pool when I swim. If there's no water, I'd like to be warned before I dive in. 

On the other hand, no one wants to come upon a sign like this on a bench in Coney Island.

Having got to the beach, people want to swim. In fact, it's positively dangerous not to swim.

Because swimming is a Good Thing. And swimming benches are a Good Thing too. 

For example, sitting on a swimming bench together is a way to make friends.

If you're it's also a great way to attract attention.

A word to the wise: avoid taking part in swimsuit competitons.

Men's Beauty Contest early 1900s

Fine figures though these men are in their knitted trunks, people will be critical. They'll be watching from the moment you peel off your shirt. 

                                        Bather 1931, Gosta Adrian-Nilsson 

Golly, this man looks too thin to me. He's going to freeze in that water. 

After your swim it's nice to have a warm place to sit. In the case of this sportshall in Sweden, after doing your laps in the pool, you are invited to sit on the laps of famous people.

photo by Lynne Woodward

There are, however, a couple of situations in which you might not need a swimming bench.

For example, if you are swimming through grass.

A big danger with grass swimming is that you swallow a lot of grass. This could be one reason it isn't popular.

Also, if you are swimming around inside your house, you can probably just swim through the door of one room into another without a swimming bench.

This woman has an indoor swimming bench but sadly, no pool.

Indoor swimmers in photographs tend to be dry and they have nice hair and they might even be wearing jewelry and makeup. 

Here's Australian swimming champion Beatrice Kerr in 1905. Does this look like someone who has been breast-stroking through seaweed?

Here she is the following year, still on a bench, but looking a lot less glamorous. I think maybe the dry conditions of indoor swimming were getting her down by then.

Let's face it, most of us are no Venus when we step out of the water. 

Venus Anadyomene 1922, Georges Hanna Sabbagh

The important thing is to enjoy your swim and then get yourself warm and dry.

The Bath, Summer Eve, Felix Vallotton 1892

And keep safe in the water, of course. 

Sometimes there are underwater obstacles and strong currents. Such is the case with the little river here in Fribble-under-Par. Inviting though it seems, I cannot dive or swim in the Par. 

On a serious note, swimming is always a risk.

On September 2, 2013 a 64 year old swimmer, Diana Nyad, swam 110 miles across the Florida Straits from Havana to Key West. She was the first person to do so without a shark cage and it took her 53 hours. It was her fifth attempt as previous attempts were thwarted by jellyfish stings, lightening storms, and threats of hypothermia.

The Sandycove Island Swimming Club swimmers are well used to cold, difficult, risky swims. Based in Cork in Ireland, members have done long distance swims in all kinds of places like Catalina, Lake Zurich, and even Manhattan Island in New York.

Cold water clearly doesn't put keen swimmers off: in Ireland this year there are 100,000 open water swims of 800 metres or more. Here's one of their swimming places, complete with benches, in Cuskinny in Ireland.

In July 2012 a Sandycove member, Paraic Casey, set out to swim the English Channel from Dover to France. As well as the benches above, his blog shows one of the benches looking out across the Channel.

Throughout the spring of 2012 Paraic trained hard for the swim and his Sleep Swim blog documented the many hours of swimming he put in in a variety of cold and lonely locations. Sleep Swim was a sort of motto for him since that's mostly what he did in those months leading up to the swim. 

Wearing a wetsuit, he set out from Dover at 9.13 am on July 21, 2012. By 1.30 am on July 22nd he was just one kilometre off the French coast. There he suffered a heart attack and died, leaving his wife Riana and many sad friends and family members, including the Sandycove Swimming Club. 

In November Paraic's fellow swimmers put up a memorial bench in his memory at Varne Ridge Holiday Park in Folkstone, where swimmers gather for cross-Channel swims. In April 2013 they also erected this picnic bench in his memory. It's at Sandycove and is said to have one of the best views of any picnic table in Ireland.

This post about swimming benches is a tribute to everyone who swims, and especially to Paraic Casey and the Sandycove Island Swimming Club.


The Lady of the Lake is a photograph by Manny Juan, inspired by Die Badende (The Bather) by German sculpture Oliver Voss. The Lady was at Lake Alster near Hamburg for ten days in 2011. She rises 13 feet above the water, stretches 67 feet long and weighs more than 2 tons. She wasn't just there looking lovely though; she was there to promote the 'art' of bathing in order to advertise beauty products for the British company Soap & Glory. Manny's photostream shows more about The Lady and is full of other surprising images. It's at

The first swimming bench is at Crystal Lake in Newton, Massachusetts. Although it looks like a nice place to swim, the Newton Village 14 blog in 2007 reported quite a lot of conflict between swimmers and other people using the benches. This photograph was taken as evidence of unruly swimmers selfishly leaving their stuff on benches while they swim. Hmmm. Sounds like they might need more benches around Crystal Lake. The blog about the swimming benches, together with both pro and negative comments, is at

My Swimming Bench is well documented on the post in this blog called, not surprisingly, My Swimming Bench. You've seen the bench, you've heard the story, now read the poem. It's at

The beautiful serene swimmer is unfortunately not me. She's French, La Nageuse, painted in 1912 by the French artist Tobeen, also known as Felix Etie Bonnet (1880-1938). 

Bathing machines were used in Victorian times as a way of making swimming acceptable. Queen Victoria loved to swim off her private beach at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The photograph is from Hartlepool Museum, made available at   The heavily clothed people are at Seaton Carew beach in the late 19th century. This photograph is also from Hartlepool Museum at

The wooden barrel swimsuits were apparently worn in Hoquiam in Washington State in 1929. I can't for the life of me think why. I saw the photo on the Netherlands national archive at

Don't I look great in that flapper bathing suit? Sadly, it's not me. Flapper in a Bathing Suit Putting on Lipstick was painted in 1931 by Spanish illustrator and painter Rafael de Penagos (1889-1954). Penagos is credited for creating a new modern 1930s woman who is slender, sporty, exotic, has bobbed hair, painted nails, lipstick, wears makeup, and, importantly, smokes cigarettes. Penagos was a fan of art deco style and appealed to trendy Madrilenians, who are something like hipster Londoners, only in Madrid. 

The Bathers are very attractive sitting on the sand. This Realist painting was done in 1909 by the Swedish artist Johan Krouthen (1858-1932). Krouthen painted with the Skagen artists for a short while. He believed the artist must always paint nature at its best so, in addition to being Realist in their style, the subjects of his work, whether landscapes or people, are idealised. 

The Two Kneeling Figures side by side look pretty formidable to me. I wouldn't mess with them. They were painted in 1966 by Wayne Thiebaud, an American who was born in 1920 and is known for his well-defined and colourful works of commonplace objects. He has painted a lot of pastries, ice cream, and cake, which makes him a favourite in my book.  

The memorial bench for Dr McConaghey and his amateur swimming club was photographed in Dartmouth in Devon. There's a lot of great swimming around in the sea and the River Dart but I have to say, the harbour in Dartmouth is not for amateurs. 

Professor Harry Parker was Champion Swimmer of England from 1870-1872. He attended the Tunnels Baths in Ilfracombe in Devon where he imparted instructions in Diving and Fancy Swimming in the 1870s and beyond. The cost for a single lesson was two shillings and the greatest care (is) taken with delicate persons and young children. The Tunnels are still there and I have had the pleasure of visiting the tidal pools. I had no problems with Gentlemen Intruders as I went about my Feats of Natation in the Ladies' Pool. Many thanks to the TunnelsBeaches Ilfracombe for permission to use their souvenir booklet 2004. 

The law requires full swimsuits sign was photographed by GW Romer in Miami in July 1934. It's another photograph from the wonderful Flordia archives at

The three women in shoes and stockings were sitting on a log in Noel, Missouri in 1930, where the water was apparently fine. The photograph is from the Vanishing Missouri Collection of photos at 

My childhood swimming pool is in the small town of Pomeroy in the state of Washington. It's a hot, dry place where I spent every summer on my grandparent's wheat farm. The Pomeroy pool dates back to the early days of the town; my grandma swam there with her sisters in the 1920s. I was astounded to stumble across the photograph Small Town Pool by Carey Rose, who put the picture on Flickr in 2012.  Many thanks to Carey for permission to use this very special picture. Carey's photostream has brilliant photos of festivals, weddings, portraits and landscapes from my childhood holidays in Eastern Washington state.

The Kitty Patient memorial bench was photographed by Brian Longman at Canvey Island in the UK. His photostream has a variety of interesting photographs of festivals, people and places from the UK and elsewhere.

 In a photo from 1973, women are enjoying a heated whirpool, oblivious to the marbled guy who seems to be trying to harpoon them. The photo was taken in Saint Petersburg, Florida by Jonathan Blair for National Geographic; it is a favourite in their archives. 

The couple in their swimsuits with shoes and socks is a vintage photograph called Not Quite Ready. It's from Becki Harvey Myers from Anchorage, Alaska. Becki has a huge number of interesting vintage photos in her shop at

The men on a swimming bench are thought to be US soldiers in Germany. The picture comes from Lukas Murphy in Richmond, Kentucky. He collects vintage photos and his shop is at

The posh bench by the beautiful swimming pool and palm trees is in an unidentified location in Florida. I saw it at  

The woman sitting on the stump is modelling a two piece swimsuit in 1946 in Tampa, Flordia. The photograph comes from the State Archives of Florida, available at

The well-dressed man on the yellow bench by the pool is a stunning self-portrait from Ralph, who lives in a beautiful meadow in the Black Forest in Germany. He is not getting ready to swim in formal clothes; he is going to sing with a choir called Crescendo (Bollschweil). Ralph's 'Selfie' was taken at The Ladie's Swimming Bath inside the Lorettobad in Freiburg. Ralph explains that
usually there are no separate Ladie's Baths in Germany but the Lorettobad is 170 years old so men are allowed into the Ladie's Bath on very few occasions each year, when there are concerts inside the Bath. And that explains the formal clothes on the yellow bench beside the Ladies pool! Many thanks to Ralph for this photo and story. His interesting and varied photostream is at

The swimming bench at night suggests sparks to me and the photographer thought so too as it was part of a Light collection. The photograph was taken by Stav, formerly of Cyprus and now of the UK. Stav is well travelled and has a lot of fabulous photos in his photostream at

There are many No Swimming signs to do with alligators, mostly in Florida. Some of them suggest that survivors will be fined. This bench is in Tomoka State Park, Ormond Beach, Florida, taken by Island Amiga, who travels (camping!) all over the world and takes gorgeous photographs. I love her colourful pictures of island life in places like Siciliy and Puerto Rico. Her photo sets suggest patient waits to get just the right light.

The beach chairs in the water are at Scheveningen in Holland, a beach I know well. The North Sea is not a particularly appealing place to swim as it's grey and cold but hey, if you're camping in the sand dunes along the coast, it'll do. The photographer is Willen van de Poll and the photograph is made available through Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives, at

The bench in the drained swimming pool is a photograph by Roberto Zito, who photographed the pool in Modugno, Puglia in Italy in 2011. Roberto lives in Italy and has a gallery of extremely varied photos covering different parts of the world. I love his black and white photos and the way he captures the character of cities.

The girl sitting on the diving board is thought to be champion swimmer Carolyn Perrest at the Tarboro "Cool Pool" in North Carolina. The photo was taken by Baker in May 1939 and comes from the Travel and Tourism photo files in the State Archives of North Carolina.   

The Tarboro Cool Pool is famous for being the first and perhaps only refrigerated swimming pool in the US. Can you image that: a refrigerated Olympic-sized swimming pool? If they filled a pool with sea water from Paradise Island there would be no need to cool it. Trust me. I'm a Paradise Island swimmer. I'm freezing most of the time.

The No Swimming sign was at Coney Island in New York, photographed in February 2012 by 12th St David. (I don't know if that's Twelfth Street David or Twelfth Saint David. An interesting question but irrelevant to this post). David lives in Brooklyn and takes stunning photographs of New York for his photostream at He tells me that Coney Island and the Steeplechase Pier, on which this bench sat, was heavily damaged in Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. This link shows the devastation immediately following the storm.

I'm a great fan of Sign Fail, an etsy shop at . These are funny sign replicas inspired by real-life hilarity, the best of Chinglish & Engrish on handmade funny signs, cards & magnets. The signs are handmade to order in Melbourne, Australia by Michael Bancroft and I've picked out several which are just right for Benchsite. Many thanks, Michael. 

The eight girls on the bench are a typography art deco colour photo from the 1920s. What fun they had in the 1920s! Everything is in living colour on beaches in Florida and California and everyone is beautiful. The photograph and other vintage beach decor prints are available from  

Yes, there was apparently a Men's Beauty Contest in the early 1900s, and it included a swimsuit show, just like Miss World competitions. Are these men beauties? I'll leave you to judge for yourself. But one thing is sure, those knitted trunks would have soaked up a lot of water.

The male Bather was painted in 1931 by Swedish artist Gosta Adrian-Nilsson (1884-1965). With its strong angles and flat colour, it's a good example of Swedish Modernism.  

The girl showing off under the umbrella by the pool is a photograph taken by Charles Barron in Miami in January 1953. The photo is from the State Library and Archives of Florida at

Lynne Woodward from Kiruna in Sweden photographed the swimming benches of famous people in front of Västertorp's sports hall in Stockholm. The bench is called Efter Badet (After the Swim), made by Pye  Engström in 1976. The people, all from the '70s, are:  Mao Tse-Tung; Elise Ottosen-Jensen (discussed issues of sexuality); Paolo Freire (campaigner in Brazil to remove poverty); Sara Lidman (Swedish author); Angela Davis (American rights campaigner); Gerog Borgström (environmentalist); Pablo Neruda (Poet, Nobel prizewinner).
Lynne and Rolf run the 68 Degrees bed and breakfast hotel and they are excellent guides to all there is to see and do in Lapland.   Lynne writes a fascinating blog about life in the arctic: elk noses, sled dogs, cold swims, warm socks, extreme picnicking and yes, Northern Lights.

The Swimmer appeared in London parks in May 2011 as part of an advertising campaign for the London Reality Show's London Ink. The Swimmer is 46 feet long and 10 feet high. He was photographed in Greenwich Park by Chris and Karen, who have loads of swimmers in their photostream at I am fascinated by The Swimmer's realistic feet though concerned that he has his mouth open a little and is swallowing too much grass.

The indoor breastroke swimmer silhouette is a vinyl decal which looks striking against this green wall. It's from Darla in Holland, Michigan, who makes witty and clever vinyl art for walls, laptops, etc. She has a whole range of cool designs through her shop at

The Vasa Trainer Pro machine is used by Olympic gold medalists, professionals, and champion swimmers for their dry-land workouts. Developed in 1990, it provides 200 functional exercise choices which help people get fit for swimming and other physical activities. The Vasa Trainer costs $899 and is available  Based in Vermont, the company's products include training machines, accessories, upgrade kits, replacement parts, apparel and training materials. 

Beatrice Kerr was 16 when she won the Australian Amateur swimming championship in 1905. She is wearing the gold bangle which was her prize. These photographs are part of an archive relating to her career as a champion swimmer, diver and vaudeville entertainer in Australia and the United Kingdom. Beatrice was an exemplar of the fit modern woman in the early 1900s at a time when the physical culture movement, especially swimming, was growing. Kerr had a fastest swimming time of 1 minute 21.4 seconds for the 100 yards (91.4 m) and 27.5 minutes for the mile (1.6 km). Although Kerr did not hold world records or swim at the Olympics, she was highly regarded as a swimmer and entertainer and inspired many young women to take to the water. The second photo of Beatrice is in 1906. Both are from the Australian National Maritime Museum through Flickr at and      The information here is quoted  from the same archives.

I am no Venus but I've grown to like the painting of the woman in the black swimsuit. She's no poseur, she has clearly been swimming lengths. The painting is called Venus Anadyomene and it dates from 1922. The artist is Georges Hanna Sabbagh(1887-1951). 

The Bath Summer Eve was painted in 1892 by Post-Impressionist French artist Felix Vallotton (1865-1925). There are a lot of female bathers there in various stages of dress and undress. Having been swimming along grassy riverbanks, this strikes me as an affectionate and realistic scene. 

The Swim at Your Own Risk sign was photographed by Camera Girl in Central Ontario in 2009. Camera Girl has a lovely blog and great pictures of Ontario at

In searching for swimming bench pictures for this post I came upon the Sandycove Island Swimming Club's activities in Ireland and elsewhere. 
Through this I followed up the blog of Paraic Casey and his story of training for his English Channel swim in July 2012. I found the picture of the Cuskinny benches in Ireland where Paraic trained from and then, eventually, the sad story of his Channel swim, the memorial bench put up for him at Varne Ridge Caravan Park on the cliff near Dover, and the picnic table in Sandycove in Ireland. As a swimmer myself I am much moved by his story. 


  1. WoW! This was a huge project and it looks like you had a lot of fun putting it together.

  2. Thanks, CameraGirl. Yes, it does take a long time to put the stories together but I was very inspired after finding my childhood swimming pool on Flickr.

    Is anyone swimming in Ontario these days? My swimming days here on Paradise Island are numbered now, though I'll try to push through to the end of October. Many thanks for your great picture for the story.

    Best wishes,