The All Clothes Race - our third "Blue Ribbon event"?

Club members in dressing-up mode

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

Vanessa Marshall, 2021 race winner

Brian Thomas (assisted by Lewis) stepped in for John Sextone and Marion to present the cup. John, and partner Marion, were not able to join us this year. The club send them all our best wishes, and best big hugs

John Sextone has presented the All Clothes Race cup for almost 40 years

John Sextone has presented the All Clothes Race cup for almost 40 years

2003 winner Mark Fleet, with John and Marion. Mark was amongst the first Imperial College medics to join us in the early 2000s. Many are still with us today.

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. 

1993. John with Gordon Brodie and Bill Phipps

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

1921 All Clothes Race (including undressing in the water).  By then an event already into its seventh decade

With respect to the race itself, an All Clothes event has been part of the club's calendar going back to the 19th century, reflecting the club's Royal Humane Society origins. Not sure how newer members regard the race today, but for many, many years this historic race was considered the club's third blue ribbon event that everyone aspired to win.

Which was the one that won today?

Which was the one that won today?

Yes I know, they all look the same when huddled together for warmth.

Bearded lady in search of a circus

Bearded lady in search of a circus

Presumably they are Nile crocodiles? Also, apparently there is a creature found in the Red Sea called a "blue spotted clown nose box fish". Not sure if that is what's on the board, or just Rosemary Lewis attempting to fool Dani the handicapper?

Tony Schiemann the sea monster first to get under way

The Grim Reaper made an unexpected appearance

 The Grim Reaper made an unexpected appearance

The appearance of a black swan added a dark undertone.

Post race shower. Lewis and Wooshka not too sure

Two were wet and bedraggled; two were just bemused.

Lewis seemingly puzzled by a dripping wet Brian and Linda. (Handicapper to note the cork sole buoyancy footwear before the 2022 race handicap times are calculated)

A few of those that survived. Did the Grim Reaper claim the others?

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

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.

http://serpentineswimmingclub.com/news/51085/maggs-memorial-race-2021

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

July 1910 fixture

Second placed was Tommy Bradshaw (on the left). We swim an 880 yard (800m) race for the Bradshaw cup each June.

Press reports of the race

September 1910 fixture - the Lotinga cup, as reported in Lotinga's Weekly

September 1910 fixture -  the Lotinga cup, as reported in Lotinga's Weekly

1910, and we are already described as "the old, established" Serpentine Swimming club.

In 1910 we swam under the special protection of Police-Constable Emery. In 1997 police officer club members Gail Oxley and Chris Boyd swam the race in uniform! (see below)

"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.

Source: Soccerbilia.co.uk

The 1920s

The 1920s

1921 "undressing in the water race"

1924, "what, no socks!"

1924, on the board

The 1930s

The 1930s

1932, Whitsun bank holiday race

1932, three cheers for Edwards, the winner

1935, Handicapper Clary Reed calling the swimmers to order

1938 winner, 16 year old Tommy Thomas. Sargent Thomas, RAF, was killed in September 1941 aged 19. We swim a memorial race each April in his honour.

The 1960s

The 1960s

1960, Handicapper Arthur Goffrey weighing competitor's clothes to ensure they make the minimum 6lb. If not, extra seconds are added on to the offender's handicap.

Taffy Evans under scrutiny

1960 start

In 1964, for the club centenary the event was a "period costume race"

1965, walking to the start. Note the magnificent changing marquees. Marquees were provided for summer changing up to the early 1980s.

1965, dressed and ready

The 1970s

The 1970s

1978, Parson Dusty Rhodes doing the honours for Patrick and Patricia Thomas, with Cyril Emery as best man

Patricia Thomas was probably the first lady member to be awarded a handicap and a place in our races. Women were granted Associate membership in 1973 and Full membership in 1985. Pat was a true pioneer.

1978. Some of the finishers.

1980s

1980s

1991, and circumstances meant we were down to only four racers that year

1991, and circumstances meant we were down to only four racers that year

Dave Holliday, Brian Thomas, Bill Phipps, Justin Fahy

More competitors as the 90s progressed

More competitors as the 90s progressed

1996

1996, sartorial elegance on show

1997, the race was swum with a "police escort". Members Gail and Chris completed the race in uniform.

1998 queuing for the shower, whilst Bob Kelly holds a de-brief

1998, puppy Pickles brought good luck for Brian

2000s

2000s

2000, Maev Johnson's new arrival Emalie cheered on Mum

2001, the day after their wedding Yoko and John Reid were truly dressed for the part

Out of the water, over the freshhold?

Put 'em in some fresh water, they'll pick up

The All Clothes Race would never be complete without some memories of Tony Cuthbert. Always the best turned out.

The All Clothes Race would never be complete without some memories of Tony Cuthbert.  Always the best turned out.

2003

Tony and Saundra, swimming soulmates

The 20'teens saw some very colourful and inventive outfits

The 20'teens saw some very colourful and inventive outfits

Mary Gilbert making a glamourous entrance

The Pope and polar bear - sounds like a craft beer pub name?

In 2017 divine intervention got Gordon Brodie across the line

In 2017 divine intervention got Gordon Brodie across the line

Photo: Fiona Campbell