This film is part of Free

Seaham Bathing Belles

Making a splash with the breakfast club regulars of the Seaham Harbour Amateur Swimming Club.

Amateur film 1963 4 mins Silent

From the collection of:

Logo for North East Film Archive


Early morning on the 'Costa del Coal' in East Durham. One or two fishermen head out to sea. Time for a few hardy souls from the Seaham Harbour Amateur Swimming Club to brave a freezing North Sea for a splash before sun-up. The 'bathing belles' (and one man) include the filmmaker Maurice Clyde's mother. This bracing dip possibly continues an old club tradition, the first official swim of the season known as the May morning swim.

Seaham Harbour's swimming club was founded in 1880 with a membership of 60. Women were not admitted until the 1920s. In its early decades, youngsters were encouraged to fork out the annual fee of one shilling (5 pence) for swimming lessons, which involved being coaxed off the seaweed-clad ledge of the harbour's 'Knuckle End' with a rope and belt tied around their waist. Sink or swim. As a child in the 1920s, former coal miner George Hitchin remembered having to borrow a too-big pair of pit-hoggers (shorts worn by miners underground) to swim under the watchful eye of the dock policeman. Miners' children were too poor to afford swimsuits and usually swam in the raw. The club was finally disbanded in 1982.