Competitive Swimming - Water Polo - Learn to Swim
The Chester Amateur Swimming Club began in 1894 in a Floating Bath on the River Dee transferring to the newly built City Baths when it opened in September 1901. A Gala on the day of the opening was held and members of the Chester Swimming Club performed an exhibition of ornamental swimming. In the early days the swimming standards improved and the water polo team became a major attraction to the City, bringing large crowds of spectators to the league matches. The Club’s first major honour came when Wilf Edwards was selected to swim in the 1908 Olympic Games. Even though the Club remained a male domain, an increasing number of ladies were taking an interest in the sport. The most notable Chester Lady of the day was Miss Ada Moody, who was Chester and Cheshire County Swimming Champion from 1920 to 1930. Throughout the 1950’s the Water Polo teams were coached by former player, Ted Dodd. Although attendances were not as large as in previous decades, the league matches still attracted a considerable number ofspectators. Frank Weinholt and John Law, were two Chester stars of the day and were regularly selected to play for the County and Liverpool and District, they were joined in 1959 by Trevor Neve, who made his debut in goal for the County. From 1960 onwards a remarkable transformation in the approach to water sports by swimming clubs took place, the decline in the popularity of water polo being a major factor. By 1965 competitive swimming had become the Club’s premier pursuit. The introduction of age group swimming into gala programmes attracted many more children and consequently their parents to the sport. Gaining two extra hours of training time and the introduction of mixed [male and female] sessions plus two coaches – Bill Parry and Jack Nix brought about an improvement and the Club was able to enter an age group team of reasonable strength into local competitions. Julie Nix became the first Chester lady to swim under a minute for 100yds freestyle and the first to win a Liverpool and District age group title,she was also the first to be selected to train with the National Squad. In the late 1960’s the club started its first regular learn to swim classes, the instructors were Neville Darlington, Trevor Neve and Fred Morris.
From 1972 – 1976 the club made a brief but successful incursion into the world of synchronised swimming. Mrs Margaret Allmark coached the girls who made remarkable progress and won the Liverpool and District Championship and Northern Counties Junior team Championship, plus various individual championships over the five year period. Unfortunately when Mrs Allmark retired and no replacement could be found, the group had to be disbanded. During the next few years, due to the hard work of polo coach Ken Rowlands and Richard Wright, the fortunes of the Water Polo Team began to improve and in 1974 Chester regained its first division status.
In May 1974 the Northgate Arena Leisure Pool was under construction and the Executive members quickly realised that the design of the new pool rendered it unsuitable for competitive swimming and water polo. A series of meetings were held which culminated in agreement being reached with the Cheshire Dolphins and the Swimming Club to campaign to keep the City Baths open. Early in 1975 the Local Authority announced that the City Baths would have to close. The two clubs formed an action committee and this eventually led to the formation the Chester Swimming Association which took over the management of the Baths in April 1977.
Although much of the time had been occupied with the Northgate Arena saga and City Baths attempted closure, the club had continued to improve. Janet Dodds became National Age Group Champion and in 1978 the Dee Mile races, both the ladies and men’s records were broken the ladies by Janet Dodds and the men’s by Carl Anjos. Throughout 1978 it became apparent that the Chester Amateur Swimming Club and Cheshire Dolphins should join forces and in 1979 the City of Chester Swimming Club as it is known today began.
In 1981 the Water Polo team entered the National League for the first time, they finished a very commendable fifth place. In November 1982 the Masters swimming had taken off and the club held its first Masters Gala. In 1983 the club held its first Open Meet and the Polo team became National League Division three champions.
Fred Kirby was appointed as the new Chief Coach and the club’s rapid growth in both ability and size gave need to appoint an assistant professional coach. Ken Jones was appointed in 1984, who in his latter years with the club earned the affectionate title from his swimmers as Daddy K. In November 1984 Bobby Charlton visited the City Baths to open the new gymnasium which had been converted from the old laundry room at the rear of the building. During Fred Kirby’s reign as Chief Coach the Club became firmly established in the top flight, producing a number of international swimmers, National champions at Senior, Junior and Age Group levels and numerous District and County champions. Shona Smart was selected to compete for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games; Shona also became a Great Britain squad member at youth and senior level. In 1988 the club had one of its most successful years, the girls swimming team became National Age Group Champions. Twelve club members were selected to represent their countries at international level. Chester won the County Championship and Age Group Aggregate Trophies, the first club to win both in one year. Brenda and Tom Walker competed successfully in the World Masters Championship in Australia and not to be outdone by the swimmers, the Water polo team won the Liverpool and District League Championship for the first time since the Second World War. In 1989 mother and son, Chris and Mark Wolfenden won the Dee Mile races and in 1990 Helen Mansfield and Debbie Jones swam for Wales in the Commonwealth Games. Tom Walker won a Gold Medal and broke the world record for the 200m breaststroke event at the World Masters Championships. The Water Polo team completed a hat-trick of Liverpool and District league titles with the second and third teams also winning Division Two and Three Leagues.
In 1991 long serving swimming instructor and coach, Bill Parry announced his retirement, as President of the Club, Bill still holds an interest in swimming and the Club’s activities.
In 1993 with Chief Coach Neil Longridge and his Assistant, Ken Jones, the Club swimming team won the Speedo North West Swimming League for the first time. There was much celebration and a training week scheduled in France for the build-up to the National Speedo League Final in Coventry. By finishing in fourth place behind such strong teams as Leeds and Portsmouth the Chester swimmers proved that they truly merited a place in the competition that brings together the top clubs in England.
During Neil’s time with the Club many swimmers achieved international and national recognition, amongst them Sarah Hopkins and Mark Wolfenden.
The Club has established the City Baths as a recognised ASA Teaching Centre, running ASA courses for teaching qualifications. Much of the credit for this should be given to David Burgham who has trained the majority of the teaching staff within the Club. The Club has two other ASA Tutors – Irene Sheppard and Chris Wolfenden.
Today the Club has a strong Learn to Swim Scheme from which to recruit its future potential. We continue to strive to produce swimmers and Water Polo players who are given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Thanks to Fred Morris for his excellent history produced in a booklet at the time the Club celebrated its centenary 1984 –1994.