SUSIE PARR: The Story Of Swimming


A social history of bathing in Britain


In recent years, ‘wild swimming’ – a movement that has inspired people to plunge into river, lake and sea in search of natural or challenging swimming experiences – has become extremely popular in Britain. But this phenomenon is only the latest episode in a long, fascinating and hitherto untold story.

Passionate outdoor swimmer Susie Parr sets out to trace the social history of British swimming, from the earliest references in Roman and Anglo Saxon literature to the decline of British seaside resorts and traditional bathing clubs in the late 20th century. The Story of Swimming reveals discoveries in medieval and Elizabethan literature and tells how medicinal sea-bathing flourished in the 18th century, leading to the rise of elegant watering places such as Scarborough. The book examines the role of bathing in the Romantic Movement and in the works of a line of literary swimmers from Wordsworth to Iris Murdoch. It explores the political aspects of swimming too: when the masses descended on Victorian seaside resorts, class-based conflicts – centred on bathing – were played out on the beaches of Britain. Over the centuries, swimming has even reflected changing perceptions of the role of women.

Each phase of this extraordinary story is captured in different swimming experiences across the British Isles, from Orkney to Tenby. Comprehensive and lavishly illustrated with woodcuts, engravings, cartoons, paintings and photographs (some by acclaimed photographer, Martin Parr), The Story of Swimming is a must for everyone who enjoys bathing out of doors.

Hardback, 192 pages
180 illustrations: photographs, paintings, woodcuts, cartoons & postcards
280mm x 240mm
ISBN: 978-1-905928-07-1