This online exhibition gives a brief history of swimming, swimwear and watery links to the local area. The photos here are all from the Elmbridge Museum archive and serve to illustrate a rich local history.
Here you can see actress Alma Taylor in one of the ‘Tilly Girl’ film series, wearing a swimming costume typical of the early twentieth-century. It is thought that Cecil Hepworth took this photograph. Alma and Hepworth had a long-lasting professional relationship – the actress was one of Hepwoth’s favourite actresses, boasting that she never wore makeup in his films. In return, Taylor was a loyal co-worker and only appeared in three non-Hepworth silent movies.
Alma Taylor (1895-1974) was a hugely successful British actress; in 1915 readers of Pictures and the Picturegoers voted her as Britain’s most popular performer. Charlie Chaplin came second in this poll.
Alma Taylor (BFI screen online)
Elizabeth Hepworth, daughter of Cecil, is seen here on the beach in a one-piece swimsuit while out on a family trip. Hepworth famously shot his family in his films. Elizabeth’s first ‘acting’ role for her father was in a documentary short entitled Baby’s Toilet, in 1905. Baby’s Toilet is a non-fiction, three minute film which is categorised as a Domestic Scene. Hepworth claimed that the film was highly influenced by similar films by the Lumiere Brothers. Over 100 years since its making, the 35mm print of Baby’s Toilet survives and is owned by the British Film Institute.
Baby's Toilet (BFI screen online)
Cecil Hepworth (right) and Alma Taylor (centre) travelled far from Walton to visit the seaside. You can see a number of different swimsuit styles: both one and two piece suits, but what they all have in common is that most of the body – for men and women – is covered. It wasn’t until the 1930s that it became popular for men to wear only trunks.
Walton Swimming Club
Since 1910 Walton hosted a swimming and watersport gala on the Thames; it was a hugely popular annual event.
Walton Swimming Club 1923 Gala
Here you can see, 13 years after the first event, just how popular the Swimming Gala at Walton had become.
Clifford Spain, the manager of Capitol Cinema in Walton-on-Thames throughout the 1930s, compiled and screened short films of local interest topics in a newsreel format. As well as showing local election polling results and football competitions, Spain also screened images from the swimming gala.
On 16 June 1934, Walton Swimming Club opened their new pavilion on the bank of the river Thames, and Spain was able to show the event in Capitol Cinema for anyone who wanted to relive the moment.