The History of Charlbury through ... the Bathing Place
Janet Jeffs for Charlbury Museum
Swimming in the river was not always considered hazardous. In the summer of 1894 a Bathing Place was opened by Mrs Maisey on land adjoining the Mill Stream, given for the purpose by Mr G J Jones, the local baker, confectioner and caterer. In August 1896 a water polo match was played between the Town and Baughan’s firm (the ironmonger). The water was so cold that the game had to be stopped just before the end, but Baughan's won by 1 goal to nil. At a meeting in the autumn it emerged that both ladies and gentlemen had paid subscriptions, and the final balance in hand was £4 12s 11½d, part of which was to be spent on painting woodwork and the rest on erecting more "dressing boxes".
By July 1899 the original committee had greatly improved the accommodation by shoring the banks and enlarging the boundary, and creating bathing depth from 2 to 7 feet. Twice a week 30/40 of the older boys from the School went for their swimming lesson with their energetic headmaster, Mr Carley. Attempts to get the Parish Council to take over management were ineffective. However, by the time of a meeting in 1908, more improvements had been made, i.e. private dressing rooms, clearing the river, and "generally making the place convenient and comfortable". There were about sixty members. In 1910 aquatic sports were held and in 1914 the Baptist Church chose the Bathing Place as the site for a public baptism, despite the tricky access along Watery Lane.
From the 1920s and 1930s Boating and Bathing were very popular in Charlbury. Punts could be rented (except on Sundays) from John Kibble, whose garden stretched from The Firs on Pound Hill down to the river. Later this arrangement was sponsored by the Red Triangle Club and supervised by Amos George, the shoe-maker. From 1900 to the 1920s/30s the river or mill stream were still used for swimming and punting. In the 1940s and 1950s people swam in the river near the Old Oak, on the Cricket Club side of the bridge, swinging over the river on the rope tied to the tree. Canoes were built and launched by several senior Scouts. The dramatic story of the repair of the dam in 1969 and the beginnings of the Canoe Club in 1973 will have to wait for another time.