clevedon long swim

A special thanks to Laurie Eager and Clevedon Civic Society. Laurie wrote much of the material, which appeared in a Clevedon Civic Society paper-back from 2002, called Clubs, Cakes, Quarries & Cash. The book was the last of the series of five paper-backed editions chronicling the history of Clevedon.

The header photo above is from the 1997 Long Swim presentation showing (L-R): Ken Barcham, Len Hurley, John Merritt, Don Brookman, Jan Evans, Bob Wilyman, Commodore of Clevedon Sailing Club, who presented the trophies outside the clubhouse.

If you have any old photographs or stories of the Clevedon Long Swim, please get in touch.


With the development of the sea front in the 1820s, Clevedon visitors and residents were able to take part in the new-found pastime of bathing off the local beaches, when the tide allowed. In addition, Mr. Samuel Taylor built the Marine baths in 1828/29, on the site now occupied by the bungalow next to the Royal Pier Hotel. The terracing of these old baths can be seen looking inland from the Pier

The National Library of Scotland Digital Resources page has uploaded various old maps of the UK for people to access. It is a fabulous resource and well worth exploring. We like the side-by-side viewer option, which allows you to examine a map in a split screen viewer. The image opposite shows today versus a map from 1873-1899 and shows the location of the old marine swimming baths which were located beside the The Pier Hotel in its hey day.


In 1876, the Marine Baths were replaced by Mr. John Vickery, on the same site.  In addition to these facilities, visitors could use the new Hydropathic Hotel, which stood on the site the Edgarley Court Flats in Wellington Terrace.

At the Local Board of Health meeting on 6th September 1876 a letter was read from Mr. Thomas Lilly complaining that bathers from the new baths were daily climbing over the wall and bathing in the open sea, causing a great loss to him by takings from his bathing machines falling off in consequence. It was also stated that persons using these baths often indecently exposed themselves to the view and annoyance of people using the pier. The Clerk wrote to the owner (Mr. Vickery) to remedy this by erecting screens.

1914 Clevedon Aquatic Sports 

Swimming activities became very popular and sometime before the 1914-18, led to the formation of a club called Clevedon Aquatic Sports. They ran regattas mainly off the Pier beach, where rafts were moored to use as starting points for 100yd and 70yd races, plank and shovel races, and a raft for boxing matches where if one boxer was getting the worst of a bout, he could dive off! Local boatmen towed a plank with a surf riding competitor sat astride, and “walking the pole” also featured, with the pole tethered off the rocks adjacent to the pier.

1928 Silver Trophies

Two silver trophies were donated to the Clevedon Aquatic Club to present to the winners. This marked the start of today’s Long Swim. Keeping with tradition, these trophies are only presented to “skins” swimmers i.e. non-wetsuit

  • The Oakhill Brewery via Mr. Joe Rich donated a trophy for men winner
  • Mrs. B V Coles, owner of the Royal Pier Hotel donated a Rose Bowl trophy for first women winner

1929 Clevedon Amateur Swimming Club 

On January 15th 1929 a meeting was held at the Royal Pier Hotel of interested parties, and Clevedon Amateur Swimming Club (CASC) was officially formed. Their brief was to promote swimming, organise galas and take over the long swim from Clevedon Aquatic Sports.

The facilities in place at the lake allowed CASC to apply for affiliation to the Amateur Swimming Association, (ASA), Somerset ASA (SASA) and the Western Counties ASA (WCASA). These affiliations meant that many West of England Championships were held in the Marine Lake and with prestigious officers such as Sir Charles Miles Bart. and Col. Sidney Keen D.S.O. the Club started off on a firm footing.

1960’s Long Swim course changes

The Long Swim course was originally from Ladye Bay under the pier and finish on the beach. Around the end of the 60’s, the course was changed to try and attract more spectators. The new course was across the bay on the incoming tide, starting about 2 hours before HW. Men and boys started level with St Andrew’s Church, ladies and girls started beside the lake pumphouse. The race finished at the pier, the winner being the first under. On spring tides, swimmers would be well up towards Ladye Bay before they were safely gathered in a rowing boat So, on a really big tide, the faster flow it is reputed some swimmers were finally recovered as far up the channel as the Pilot school. The fastest recorded time was just 9 minutes. The course reverted to Ladye Bay trip when the Portishead Marina opened in 2001 and all the large boats moved from the Clevedon Pill.

Swimmers were rowed out on one of two boats: The Elizabeth or The Nancy Lee, which were used on alternate years to take the swimmers to the start at Wains Hill. The Elizabeth owned by Mr Fry, who was usually assisted by Roy Lovelock, did pleasure trips along the near coast from the slipway. The Nancy Lee was owned by Derek Bird, who had a garage and a small night club behind what is now the Moon and Sixpence. There was a plaque on the boat regarding its assistance at Dunkirk. Unfortunately it was wrecked in the storm which also demolished the Club’s changing rooms at the Lake and other boats kept at the Pill.