Somerset ASA

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The Early Years 1903 to 1914 – The Great War

The preservation of Minute Books referred to earlier has made it possible to read though all of these documents to select items for this History, which it is hoped will be of interest to readers.

Annual General Meetings feature throughout and the January 1903 meeting records the appointment of the Bishop of Bath and Wells as a Vice-President probably to bring his good offices to an Association seeking a good reputation from the start.

The Championship progamme was limited in the early days. The privilege to stage a County race was auctioned each year to Clubs who then recouped their costs through spectator entry fees. The events were usually staged at one of their club galas. This procedure continued right through to the 1950’s as will be seen later. Tbe bids by Clubs, often in guineas were taken by the Hon. Auctioneer and sold to the highest bidder. In 1903 the bids ranged between 10 shillings (50p) and 3 guineas (£3.15).

In October 1903 the County Executive Committee had to hold a special meeting to deal with an issue of ‘who’ controlled public swimming races. It seems that the Clevedon Regatta Commitee had advertised an Open Swimming event without the permisson of the ASA. This must have seemed a petty matter to those outside swimming but subsequent events have shown the wisdom of a sports governing body having control of issues such as amateur / professionalism and application of laws of swimming strokes and the like and has assisted the future development of the sport. Unfortunately three Weston Swimming Club members, who should have known better and who had been members of the Regatta Committee, were suspended from swimming activity for two years which seems a harsh penalty.

The same meeting also had to deal with an ‘appeal’ from Mr J W Pear – the Headmaster of the Central Board School in Weston super Mare against the Weston super Mare Club for the disqualification of his pupil who had finished first in the local school boys championship which had been run by the Club.

Quoting from the minutes…”after much discussion…the matter having been thoroughly thrashed out that allowing for the youthfulness of the delinquents and being alive to the fact that any other decision might cause ill feeling and under Law (2) ASA Handbook Clause (a) – to encourage in every way possible the teaching of swimming amongst school children, the race would be swum again.” – phew!

ln 1904 the minutes record the discussion surrounding a claim for compensation by Devon ASA for the failure of the Somerset County team to turn up for an Inter County water polo game. It seems the reason for the team being absent was the game was to be played in the harbour – cold sea water – no less, but the Committee offered 4 guineas to settle the dispute.

In 1905 the Bath Dolphin Club wrote to the Committee asking that one or their members be reinstated as an amateur. It seems that Mr A G Angel took part in a swimming event in a tank on the stage of the Lyric Theatre. The Committee agreed to this after a further 6 months but unfortunately no detail of the exhibition by Mr Angel was recorded.

In 1906 the AGM papers were printed for the first time and inclued, a report of achievements of members. Mr S W Crisp of Bath Dolphin received special mention as the County 100 yds Champion who went on to  win the WCASA 400 yds championship. Bath United SC (a squad?) won the Western Counties Team Championship. There was glory for the Weston super Mare Water Polo Team who had travelled all the way to Newcastle to be runners up in the National Club Water Polo Championship.

The Accounts for 1906 showed that the affiliation fees from the 10 clubs raised £8.40 and £1.00 was raised by the issue of 4 permits for swimming events (so when did the District become controllers of this income?). The total income for the year was £30.60. The balance remaining after accounting for the expenditure was £0.50.

In 1907 the Executive Comminee busied itself with attempts to increase the number of swimming clubs in the County. Whilst growth was restricted by the small number of indoor pools, outdoor swimming in the sea, lakes and rivers was common. Posters were published and offers made for members of the Executive to visit meetings of Town Councils to promote swimming clubs. Some success was achieved with applications for affiliation from clubs in Watchet, Minehead, Glastonbury , Highbridge and St Ivel (cheese?) in Yeovil, around this time.

The affiliated Clubs listed in the 1908 AGM Report as paying subscriptions were: Bath Dolphin, Weston super Mare with a separate Ladies Club, Bridgwater, Bath YMCA, Yeovil, Yeovil Petters United, St Ivel, Taunton, Langport, Radstock, Frome and Burnham – a grand total of £11.55.

A Mr C Britten of Highbridge was given a County Certificate for Bravery in 1908 for saving the lives of two persons in danger of drowning.

The name of Paul Radmilovic appears in the 1908 report because he represented GB in the Olympic Games in the 100, 400, and 1500m swimming events and at water polo. He had won the County 100 yds championship in 62.3 seconds. A Mr J H Thould also represented GB in the Olympic water polo event.

The first individual member’s protest was recorded in the minutes of the Octoter meeting. Mr Thould (mentioned above) claimed that P Radmilovic, who was placed first in the 100yds breaststroke, had used an overhead stroke at the turn and finish.  A five shilling fee had been paid in support of the protest.  After much discussion and not a lot of evidence the result was upheld and the fee was returned.  Witnesses had not been allowed to speak.

The introduction of membership returns allowed the County to claim that it had 1515 members in 1909.

The highlights from 1910 included a report of the Inter County Water Polo competition in which the County team beat  Gloucester and Middlesex but then lost to Lancashire in the final. The Hon. Secretary was moved to say that it was a pity that the whole team came from the Weston super Mare club even though it was probably the best team. A 50 yds championship for ladies was introduced.

The following year the minutes revealed a problem of a clash of dates between two national competitions. On 14th September the national 500 yds swimming competition and the Water Polo championships were held – presumably the issue was that P Radmilovic could not be in two places at the same time and the County had George Hearn, a past ASA Hon. Secretary and President, to plead its cause and to make sure it did not happen again – the need for a Calendar of events was evident all those years ago.

By the AGM of 1912 the membership of the County had reached 1785 compared with current membership of over 5,000. Up to the time of this meeting the business of the County was carried out by a small elected Executive Committee. At this meeting it was agreed by a majority of only four that each Club would have a seat on the Executive but subsequent meetings showed that the problems of travelling in those days restricted attendance significantly, what a good excuse! Sadly it was also decided that the County could not afford to enter a team in the national Inter County Water Polo competition.

On the 11th May 1912 Shepton Mallet Swimming Club affiliated to the County just before a new swimming baths opened in the town on the 22nd May.

Something of a mystery is described in the minutes of 1912 surrounding the production of medals. It seems that quotations were sought from jewellers for medals and one from Mr G W Thick of Frome offered gold medals with 9 carat  gold at 23s 6d, Silver with 9 carrot gold centres at 5s 6d and Silver only at 3s 9d. These prices seem to have been very much better than those of the previous supplier and the ASA solicitor was consulted to see whether the County could claim compensation – presumably for over charging. A settlement was reached eventually but the new medals were purchased from Messrs Haywards of Bath in the end. It would be very exciting if any of these early medals still exist. To contrast with this excitement the Executive gave permission for a water polo match between Midsomer Norton and Frome be held without goal nets – a very practical decision!

In 1913 the County prepared rules and conditions for Life Saving and Diving Competitions but these were postponed as the probability of war threatened and in August 1914 the Inter County Water Polo competition was cancelled for the same reason. One can sense from the minutes the anxieties that members had for the future – the Hon. Treasurer, Mr H H Newport stated that he was expecting his call up to the Army Medical Corps at any time, saying that his brother had offered to see the accounts through until the end of the year. On the 14th November it was reported that PC Hillier of Bath Police had been killed in action with the Grenadier Guards. Also that PC Jacques had sustained the loss of a leg and PC Howells had been invalided home. It was agreed that the Hon Secretary should send cigarettes and the like to comfort the members in hospital recovering from their wounds.

The AGM held on 30th January 1915 was told that over 300 members were serving with the armed forces. Mr N J Reynolds was elected President, H J Evans as Hon. Secretary and F W Wright as Chairman at this meeting and these persons would act as caretakers for the County affairs until the war was over.

The next County Executive meeting was held on 22nd March 1919.