Next year members of Newmarket Swimming Club will be celebrating a very special milestone when it marks the 100th anniversary of its formation back in 1918.
In June of that year, with the end of World War One in sight, the club found its first permanent base in the town when it was given permission to use the military swimming baths then at The Brickfields just behind Exning cemetery for a small consideration of five shillings (25p) a week to cover the costs of cleaning and maintaining the pumping engine.
The pool had originally been built for soldiers billeted at the Newmarket Camp to use. Fresh water was pumped in daily and the club, which had set up its headquarters in The Temperance Hotel in the town’s Drapery Row, agreed to fence it in and bought an old railway carriage to act as changing rooms.
In 1935 a new open air swimming pool was opened in Newmarket High Street and three years later, with the well which supplied the water for the old pool slowly drying up, the club moved to the new facility. It was part of the Eastern Counties junior league and also began hosting its own social events.
With the start of World WarTwo in 1939, the club’s activities were disrupted and it was not until around 1949 that competitions were again being held and at the club’s annual gala, special guest British and European breastroke champion Roy Romain thrilled spectators with a display that included two lengths of butterfly, a stroke many were seeing for the first time, which he completed in 44 seconds.
By the 1970s brewer Greene King, which owned the pool outlined plans to demolish it to build a car park next to the former White Lion pub. Fund-raising began to help fund a new pool but in October 1975 the brewery said it would sell the pool to Forest Heath District Council for £40,000.
Later the town became embroiled in a bitter wrangle over an offer by multi-millionaire racehorse owner David Robinson to build the town a new pool on The Severals. The Jockey Club has set aside a plot for the new build but the council rejected the offer.
By 1977 the pool was both heated and covered and the club continued to grow but was desperately in need of a 25 metre pool and in 2000 that need had become more acute as days after the first session of the club’s annual championships in June the pool developed a major leak and had to close. The facility had to be closed for more than a month and in December was forced to close again due to problems with its electrics. It wasn’t to re-open until April 2001.
Morale was low and club membership had dropped from more than 70 to less that 30. The 60-year-old pool was feeling its age and turning into something of a money pit for the council which had by then submitted a Lottery bid for more than £3 million to fund a new community leisure centre in Exning Road which would include a new pool.
In May 2001 the Lottery gave its support in principle to the project but it was to be more than seven years before the new centre finally opened.
Despite the uncertainty, thanks to the dedication of its committee, volunteers and swimmers the club’s membership climbed to more than 50. Frankie Dettori became the club’s main sponsor and in 2007 it hosted a dinner dance at the Millennium Grandstand to mark the much anticipated and long-awaited move to its new home. That year’s club championships saw the most records broken in recent times and 20 new best times set. The following year club members took part in a sponsored run/walk event at the Rowley Mile to mark the club’s 90th anniversary.
Current club president Rob Hicks, whose son Ben was a former boys’ team captain and county champion, said: “The dedication, commitment and effort of the swimmers, and their support team, are second to none. Past and present members can be justifiably proud to have contributed to the clubs success. Friendship, competition and achievement go hand in hand.”
The club plans to begin its centenary year with a celebration dinner and dance at the Rowley Mile racecourse on January 27. Tickets are £60 (until November 30) then £65 and area available by contacting Ashley Buck on 07854626571 or Rob Hicks on 01638 666473.
“We would love to see as many club members past and present join us on what we hope will be a very special event to start our anniversary year,” said Rob.