Club Timeline

Dates in the history of the Serpentine and Serpentine Swimming Club

1086 Domesday Book - The ‘Manor of Hyde’ is referred to

Middle Ages - The Manor of Hyde was the property of  Westminster Abbey

1536 - Henry VIII acquires land from the Abbey to form his own hunting ground 

1637 Charles I opens park to the general public

1637 The Conduit, near Bayswater, in the parish of Paddington, stands in a meadow, opposite the north side of Kensington Garden between Paddington church and the road to Uxbridge. It was erected, and is kept up, by the corporation of London, to preserve a large spring of pure water, which rises at the place, and was formerly conveyed by leaden pipes into Cheapside and Cornhill. This water appears to have been granted to the citizens by Gilbert Sandford [21 Hen. 3] anno. 1236. 

1642 Start of English Civil War, and fortifications are built along the east side of the park - the side where Marble Arch, Mount St and Hyde Park Corner are located.

1649 Charles I beheaded

1652 An exception to the Act of Parliament for the sale of Crown lands after the execution of Charles I, led to Hyde Park being sold for ready money for £17,000. The park contained 621 acres, and the purchasers of three lots were Richard Wilson, John Lacey, and Anthony Deane.

1660 Restoration of the Monarchy, and Charles II reclaimed ownership, and walled in the park.

1726 First planned landscaping works undertaken for King George I

1727 Death of King George 

1728 Caroline, Queen Consort of King George II, continues the work of her father in law in approving the landscaping of Hyde Park

 The major work was to sub-divide Hyde Park to create Kensington Gardens.

 Formation of the Serpentine by damming the Westbourne river. 

1733 All works completed – 

[From Breaking the Ice, Alan Lacey suggests that works went on until 1736, and that it was only allowed if Queen Caroline used her own money. In the end, £20,000 of funds from the treasury was required.]

1743 First Swimming pool in England (Pearless Pool, North London) built

1774 Formation of the Royal Humane Society 

1794 The principal receiving house of the Royal Humane Society erected on the north bank of the Serpentine on a piece of ground presented to the institution by George III, and subsequently extended by William IV, the patron. 

1797 Tollgate and lights at Hyde Park corner

1814 ‘Great Fair’ including a re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar on the Serpentine. 

1821 King George IV coronation celebrated with a fair in the park, including firework displays

1826 17 January, Henry Hunt wins a bet of 100 guineas when he rides his four-in-hand carriage over the frozen ice onto the broadest part of the Serpentine. Hunt drove his father’s blacking van to win the wager with a “Noble Lord of sporting celebrity” and win “in the grandest style without the smallest accident”. 

1826 The George Rennie bridge is built over the Serpentine, thus dividing ‘The Long Water’. 

1834 the Commissioner of Sewers constructed a weir, and a tunnel drain across the Bayswater stream, so as to divert the soil drainage from the Serpentine 

1837 Race in the Serpentine organised by the National Swimming Society

1838 Swimming ‘match’ in the Serpentine to determine the ‘Champion of London’

1840 Due to deficiency of water supply resulting from the weir construction in 1834, the Chelsea Water Company provided a new feeder of water at the rate of £600 per year. This water was delivered into the basin Kensington gardens and was conveyed by pipes into the Serpentine; but there, becoming mixed with sewage water, it conveyed the filth into the lakes in Buckingham Palace Gardens and St James Park.

1842 Royal Humane Society estimates over 8,000 people using the Serpentine for bathing on some days in summer

1844 Royal Humane Society computed that more than 270,000 bathers used the Serpentine in June and July of that year

1844 Royal Humane Society record that “during a frost, twenty-five individuals were submerged by the breaking of the ice; but, by the exertions of the men (who are required to be good swimmers) employed by the Society at such seasons, and the proximity of the receiving house, no life was lost. 

1846 Baths and Wash Houses Act passed

1846 Serpentine Bathing Club founded on 10 August 1846 

1848 Commissioners of Woods instructed Sir John Rennie to investigate the waters, where he found a deposit in Kensington Gardens of “one to four feet of offensive matter,” and he found two to six feet of similar matter in the Hyde Park section of the Serpentine. 

1851 Great Exhibition, construction of Crystal Palace at Hyde Park 

1854 Following being dismantled, Crystal Palace opens at Sydenham

1857 skating on the Serpentine

1857 collecting ice at the Serpentine, for subsequent sale 

1857 July First Victoria Cross investiture when Queen Victoria decorated 62 men in the presence of Prince Albert

1857 “the very offensive and unwholesome state of the Serpentine water is a metropolitan grievance of long standing.”  

1859 Punch magazine parodies the stench of “The London bathing season”

1860 Captain Fowkes successfully experiments building a Pontoon bridge on the Serpentine 

1861 Handbook of London Swimming clubs identifies four swimming clubs in London at that time

1861 Frozen Serpentine 

1864 Serpentine Swimming Club founded. First Christmas Day race recorded.

1865 “The extraordinary swimming match” at the Serpentine 

1866 First All-Clothes Race managed by SSC recorded.

1869-70 Draining of the Serpentine. “The mud is very foul, and its exposure produces a malaria which, in warm weather, must threaten the neighbouring households with fever” 

1870 March 30, First General Meeting of the club under the Elm Tree

1871 January frozen Serpentine

1876 Trialling of a miniature model steam ferry on the Serpentine

1879 magazines publish aesthetic sketches of enjoyment of the clean waters of the Serpentine 

1881 January “about 30,000 skaters and sliders on the Serpentine” 

1886 March Skating on the frozen Serpentine

1895 SSC joins Amateur Swimming association

1929 Dr. Saleeby of The Sunlight League (founded 1924) visits George Lansbury, they First Commissioner of the Office of Works, to request the establishment of a lido at the Serpentine

Said Lansbury: “My own attitude is quite sympathetic. There are not nearly enough places in London for bathing.”

1903 Origins of the Christmas Day Handicap race for the Peter Pan trophy

On 27 March 1903, the Committee met at "The Goat" pub (opposite western gate to Kensington Gardens) where it was agreed that "this Club in general meeting gives hearty thanks to J.M. Barrie for his gift of a prize to be swum for two years, and that it be made the first prize for the Christmas Handicap”. 

The Christmas Day handicap race for the Peter Pan Cup has been swum to this day.

1930 Hyde Park Lido opened

Serpentine Swans Ladies Swimming Association conceived in May 1930, but closed at the end of 1931 due to a lack of members

1930 16 June, Kathleen Murphy becomes the first woman to legally swim in the Serpentine waters 

1957 22 August,  Serpentine SC Club member Commander Gerald Forsberg, OBE, RN, swam the English Channel. he was the first member of the Serpentine club to swim the channel. Forsberg succeeded in 13 hours and 33 minutes.

1961 19 July, Rosemary George (Serpentine SC member) successfully swam the English Channel. 

1973  Associate member status granted to women.

1982 Save our Serps campaign 

1985 Full member status granted to women.

1995 Singular changing room in use 

1999 Men and Women competing together in races for the cups

2020 Serpentine closed to swimmers on 23 March due to Covid-19 Coronavirus lockdown, and reopened Wednesday 8 July 2020. The Serpentine briefly reopened between 16 and 27 May. 

[Timeline drafted by Mike Olizar, Alex Foster and John Tierney]