Vanessa the Penguin was victorious in the 100m (110 yard) race for the John Sextone's All Clothes Race cup. Closely followed by Heather Miller and Tony Schiemann.
Memories of a sunny morning's race. It was watched-on by early arriving, bemused spectators on the other side of the lake expecting the seriousness of the Swim Serpentine event. Instead, they witnessed the Serpentine Swimming Club at its gloriously frivolous, excentric best.
Also lots of memories from the last decade and the one before that; and the last century and the one before that. A club event with a lineage stretching back to the Royal Humane Society origins of swimming in the Serpentine.
Vanessa Marshall, 2021 race winner
John Sextone has presented the All Clothes Race cup for almost 40 years
John has sponsored the All Clothes race since 1982, the race previously being sponsored for many decades by Arthur Goffrey. John was a founder member of the Serpentine Running Club and has completed many marathons (17?). John has never won the Christmas Day race but is a Bridge to Bridge record holder. He is the only member on record to have completed a hat-trick of wins: 1987, 1990 and 1993.
John Sextone joined the club in 1980, along with colleagues from South London Swimming Club such as Cyril and Yvonne Wood whilst Tooting Bec was being refurbished. John's name appears on many of our cups, including that for the Bridge to Bridge which he has won three times - a club record.
Born in 1935, John is one of a diminishing breed in the SSC. Only he and Haydn Turner are left who were called up for National Service. He served with the Royal Army Pay Corps, spending much time in Devizes. He did however see some serious action in Germany, playing for the Pay Corp against other Regimental soccer teams.
1921 All Clothes Race (including undressing in the water). By then an event already into its seventh decade
Which was the one that won today?
Bearded lady in search of a circus
The Grim Reaper made an unexpected appearance
The All Clothes Race goes right back to the foundation of the club and to the commencement of swimming as a sport in the Serpentine
When formed in 1864, one of the objects of the Club was to save life from drowning and lifesaving figured prominently in the club's activities. In 1866 the committee, ever anxious to promote the noble art of swimming in every possible way, introduced the “All Clothes Races” and undressing in deep water contest. The clothes worn were jacket, trousers, waistcoat, shirt and leather boots, at the minimum weight of 8lbs. Swimmers would race across the Serpentine, starting from the north shore opposite the “Old Elm Tree” (roughly where the pavilion is now) to the diving boards. On their way across they would divest themselves of their clothing by treading water and undressing in the middle of the lake. After putting their clothes into a rowing boat manned by John Green, the Royal Humane Society's boatman, Bert to his friends, they would then continue across the lake to the opposite bank. No mean feat considering it would be 100 yards to swim in waterlogged clothes to the boat, and 200 yards in all. The race taxed the agility and stamina of the swimmers to the utmost. A report in the Daily Telegraph enthused at the value of such races, even when one of the competitors, one of the fastest swimmers in the country, got into difficulty and became exhausted by the weight of his wet clothes.
Today the race has become more relaxed and a light-hearted view is taken of the proceedings. Members turn up jocularly clad as tramps, police officers, jockeys, friars, popes and sheikhs. The weight today is stipulated at 2.7kg (6lbs), a measure in place since the early 20th century. However, the handicapper no longer brings a spring balance to ensure no competitor is underweight. In fact, given the lightness of modern fabrics, a swimmer would have to try very hard to meet the minimum weight. Today’s plethora of fancy dress outfits would be but a small fraction of the “official” minimum weight.
In its early days the Club became affiliated to the Royal Life Saving Society. Lifesaving drill and the practice of swimming in one's clothes played a necessary part in the Club's programme. An example of its usefulness is that of a member called Mr. Dumbrell who was reported as saving three people from drowning in the River Thames in just one week in 1880.
Bill Maggs, a 1926 winner. Bill was recognised by the Royal Humane Society in 1913 for saving the life of a drowning man
Another of the club’s members to benefit from the training and experience offered by the “All Clothes” races was Bill Maggs. In 1913 he was honoured by the Royal Humane Society for saving the life of a drowning man. The Rushden Echo, 31 October 1913 reported "without waiting to remove any clothing, the rescuer Mr W F Maggs immediately jumped into the river and swam to the assistance of the helpless man, brought him to the bank and using the Schafer's method of resuscitation, was able, in about 80 seconds, to bring the rescued man back to consciousness. The man, Mr Lanesbury of Wilby, soon made a complete recovery."
The Royal Humane Society presented Mr Maggs with a certificate, which read "who did his duty nobly and like an Englishman". He was also awarded a solid silver pen, suitable inscribed. Bill Maggs, who was employed as Butler to the Hon. Sir.E.Chandos-Leigh. said 'he had only done his duty and what any other similarly placed person would have done."
Bill Maggs is still remembered on our fixture calendar each March in the “Maggs Memorial” race.
From the club's foundation through to WW2 there would be three or four "All Clothes" races during the season, plus "undressing in the water and livesaving competitions
July 1910 fixture
September 1910 fixture - the Lotinga cup, as reported in Lotinga's Weekly
"Lotinga's Weekly: An illustrated Journal of Sport". Lotinga's Weekly was published from March 1910 until July 1915, when it was killed off by the horse racing restrictions imposed during the early years of the war. Lotinga had been the tipster "Larry Lynx" in "John Bull" magazine. Priced at one penny it came out on Saturdays. Whilst mostly covering horse racing, it also reported on football and other sports such as swimming and our own Serpentine races.