Welcome to the Farleigh & District Swimming Club, founded in 1933. We believe the Club is the oldest and only (non-naturist) river swimming club in the country. We are a proper club with an AGM (next one is on 7th November, 2019 at the New Inn, Westwood) and elected officers accountable to the membership.
In the 1930s there used to be river swimming clubs all over the country. The Farleigh & District Swimming Club is now the only one left. All other clubs have either closed down or gone soft with the enticement of heated indoor pools. At the club we are proud to remain wild and untamed.
The Greenhill brothers
The club was founded when the Greenhill brothers, Les, Art and Cecil – the owners of the south bank – invited some casual swimmers from the opposite (current) side of the river to start a club on the Greenhills’ land. This admirable show of generosity got the club off to a very good start. Changing huts were built and diving boards erected.
At the end of the season there was a party with a huge bonfire. These customs have fallen and there are no longer any events at the club, which is now more of an amenity. Despite this, membership has soared to over 5,000 members and could be considered the home of wild swimming.
The Greenhills sold up in 1970 and a fence was erected, enclosing a small area around the changing huts within which members were asked to keep to. This severely limited the space available to sunbathe, previously encouraged by the Greenhills.
Rob Fryer remembers swimming from the south bank in the late 60s…
“There were few members then. A notice asked swimmers to pay their membership subs, about 1/10d, at the shop. This charming little shop by the bridge (Bridge House) was a feature of club life for many years, until August 1996 when it closed. Many thousands of swimmers have bought ice creams and cold drinks at the shop.
Apart from the ‘Wall’s Ice Cream’ A-frame notice in the lay-by, there was only the rather small ‘OPEN’ sign in the window to hint at any commercial activity within. There was no shop front or shop window. New visitors to the club often had difficulty locating the shop for this reason, and they often hesitated to open the door. Once inside, however, visitors were charmed by the unpretentiousness of Sue’s little shop, which was only 6 x 8 ft. An area of her front room had been partitioned off to create the shop. What fun it was to visit!”
The club during WWII
In WWII there were many service members. Even those who were in the services were not allowed to visit the seaside, unless on duty. Nearby service bases negotiated a group membership. Several of these members were killed, so after the war the club erected a memorial spring diving board. Sadly this diving board, along with the three-tier board, was dismantled in 1999 for health and safety reasons, by which time the commemorative plaque had disappeared. Later, the plaque was found at the bottom of the river. Today it is displayed in a niche of an ancient stone barn at the Stowford Farm campsite.
Phil and Cath Bryant
In 1991 the club was asked to leave the site on the south bank, threatening the club’s existence. But the club was now to receive a second welcome, this time from the other side of the river. Phil and Cath Bryant invited the club to set up on the north bank. Despite village opposition, the club moved in 1992. Planning permission was only granted on appeal.
It proved to be an excellent move. Phil and Cath live at Stowford Farm, half a mile upstream, where you can enjoy a delicious cream tea, made with cream from the farm’s very own Jersey cows, amidst old-world charm. The stone built farm, mill and adjacent buildings have been kept just as they always were: time has ceased. No UPVC windows here! Adjoining is the Farleigh & District Swimming Club War Memorial and a delightful campsite.
Stowford Farm and amenities can be reached on 01225 752253.
An example of hardiness
Geoff Dunstone swam at the Farleigh & District Swimming Club everyday for six and a half years. On days when the river was in flood, he would swim in the field.
Due to these strong traditions and the number of members, local authorities look kindly on the club. The presence of two indoor pools within three miles does not seem to have reduced the club’s popularity.
In 1998 the club received a survey of the weir, but were unable to raise the funds to do the repairs. The future of the club was threatened by the possible breaching and eventual collapse of the weir. Water tumbling over the weir has a scouring effect on its foundations, which were found to be undermined. Emergency repairs were carried out and now, 20 years later, the renovation is complete. Without the work the weir would have collapsed; the Environmental Agency does not allow collapsed weirs to be rebuilt, so the vital repairs have saved the club for the future.
In the village of Farleigh Hungerford there is a castle ruin, where medieval events are frequently staged.
Come and visit – let’s continue the club’s history
You are sure to meet interesting people from far and wide at the Farleigh & District Swimming Club. Today the wild swimmer is often regarded as eccentric; he will wonder when he he will be turfed off by a water bailiff or landowner.
This is not the case at Farleigh, where the situation is reversed: the club’s stretch of river is reserved for swimming, and fishermen have to make way for swimmers. However, fishing is permitted if no swimmers are about.
One of the delights of Farleigh is the smell of the weir. Near to the water, you can smell the exhilarating freshness of the river – especially on a hot day. Furthermore, damselflies often swim alongside club members like vivid blue, aerobatic angels.