Henleaze Lake: Nude swimming, high diving and romance remembered

Members of Henleaze Swimming Club in the 1920s Image copyright Janet Cocks
Image caption Janet Cocks's father Archie Macfarlane is seated on the left holding his young sister. The woman on the diving board second on the left is her mother.

The history of a wild swimming club, hidden in the heart of Bristol's suburbia, has been published to mark its 100th year.

Henleaze Swimming Club was set up in a flooded quarry in 1919 following a spate of drownings the year before.

Alumni include actor David Prowse who played Darth Vader in Star Wars.

"It's surprising how many people who've lived in Bristol all their lives don't know about it," said Janet Cocks, 87, whose parents were founder members.

Image copyright Janet Cocks
Image caption Janet Cocks remembers going to the club as a toddler in the 1930s with her older brother
Image copyright Janet Cocks
Image caption Janet Cocks' mother Blanche made the teas and her father Archie Macfarlane was a club superintendent

Photographs of Mrs Cocks as a child and today feature in the new book The Lake by Susie Parr.

Image copyright Janet Cocks
Image caption Janet Cocks still swims at the lake more than 80 years after first going there

Mrs Parr joined the club in the 1980s when it was keen for new members. Today the waiting list to join is three years long, adding to its exclusivity.

Mrs Parr is one of a group of about 200 members who enjoy swimming in the lake in winter.

"It's not everybody's cup of tea and yes it's a shock when you get in but when you get out you feel fantastic," she said.

Image caption Author Susie Parr spent seven years researching the history of the club for her new book The Lake

Researching for her book has unearthed some gems including a photograph of David Prowse, who also played the Green Cross Code man in a series of road safety commercials, in his body building days and a letter of complaint about a group of young people swimming at night after the lake had officially closed.

Image copyright Henleaze Swimming Club
Image caption Dave Prowse, from nearby Southmead, was a club member before going on to be Darth Vader in Star Wars

Liz Lewis (then Watson) remembers being one of the young people involved.

"I had no idea about the letter," she said.

"On a Saturday night we would go for a dance at the local club and come for a swim in the nude and it was all innocent - it was the only thing we got up to.

"We weren't doing any harm - maybe it was a bit exciting but nothing truly," she said.

Image copyright Liz Lewis
Image caption Liz Watson and her friends would go to dances in Henleaze then sneak into the lake after hours for a naked swim
Image copyright Susie Parr
Image caption Someone complained to the club about the "disgraceful behaviour" of some young people enjoying an after-hours swim

David Woodwood was another teenage club member until 1962 when he left the city.

He was "desperate" to join as he saw the club as "a good place for a bit of romance".

Image copyright Michael Satherley
Image caption Michael Satherley would be brought to the club to see his father Doug who taught members to dive
Image copyright Michael Satherley
Image caption Doug Satherley gave diving displays including this swallow dive from the 10m top board

"They were magnificent years and those girls and boys have become life-long friends," he said.

The club has two springboards and a diving board station with fixed boards at 5m (16ft 4in) and 7.5m (24ft 7in).

The top board at 10m (32ft 8in) is not in use anymore but Michael Satherley remembers his dad Doug performing diving displays from it.

"He was a diving coach at the lake and a diving judge, for the Western Counties ASA in the 1950's," Mr Satherley said.

Image caption Janet Cocks was made a life-member of the club and sometimes brings her family for a swim and picnic

Mrs Cocks is now one of the club's oldest members at 87, and has been coming to the lake all her life.

"I remember as a toddler being told to keep away from the edge because it's deep," she said.

"You couldn't go in unless you could swim - you still can't."

Her dad Archie Macfarlane was a club superintendent after World War One and her mum Blanche served the teas.

Image copyright Janet Cocks
Image caption Archie Macfarlane and Blanche on their wedding day with Henleaze Swimming Club life rings held as a guard of honour

Every day during school holidays was spent at the lake.

"When we went back to school in September other children would talk about their holidays and where they'd been and I'd say I'd been here at the lake and they'd say 'what's the lake?'."

Mrs Cocks admitted she swims infrequently now as the water is "too cold" but when she is tempted, she said there was "nowhere else like it".

"When you look around you can't believe it's in the middle of the city."

Image copyright Janet Cocks
Image caption Henleaze Lake in the early days of the club
Image caption Henleaze Lake in 2019

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