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Swimming into modernity: innovation and invention amongst aquatic craft communities in Victorian England

Day, Dave (2019) Swimming into modernity: innovation and invention amongst aquatic craft communities in Victorian England. Leisure/Loisir, 43 (2). pp. 185-204. ISSN 1492-7713

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Abstract

While it was mainly limited to bathing in the natural environment in the early nineteenth century, swimming subsequently developed into a competitive activity, stimulated by the expansion of facilities created by the 1846 and 1878 Baths and Washhouses Acts. In the absence of national structures, progress in all aspects of aquatics relied upon the innovative approaches taken by swimming ‘professors’, working individually and collectively through informal craft communities, who used their expertise to improve techniques and introduce new technologies. These artisans also penetrated the entertainment industry by creating aquatic shows in music halls and theatres, swimming baths, in sea and rivers, and in aquaria and circus rings. Through their innovative use of technology, their creativity in both sporting and entertainment environments, and their promotion of the female swimmer, these communities demonstrated a willingness to embrace modernity that fundamentally altered attitudes to swimming and created the basis for the contemporary sport.

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