Club History

Although this Club became part of E.U.A.C. in 1888, the first records of University swimming available are dated 1899. In that year no less than 70 members entered for the Gala, in which the chief event was the Eight Lengths Scratch Race. For many years the winner of this race became Captain of the Club. Four names are mentioned: Newnham, the Captain; Hogg, described as 100 and 300 yards Champion of Scotland; Aarons; and MacKenzie. Hogg was the winner in 3 min. 9 sec. Competitions were held in rescue, plunging and object diving. Water polo was instituted a little later and there were matches against Heart of Midlothian and the Rosebery Club, both of which were won. S.J. Aarons was the next Captain, when defeats were sustained at the hands of Heart of Midlothian and the Hibernians, who had been Champions the previous year. Information about the earlier years is scarce, but in 1904 the Warrender Baths were offered for the use of the University and there is mention of a match against Aberdeen University, which was won; but Aberdeen were successful in the water polo. The following year, a polo match against Warrender was lost ‘as the team was unpracticed and Jollie, the internationalist, was not in his best form’.

In the Students Handbook of 1905-06 it is stated that ‘the Swimming Club has recently been formed and is a section of the Athletic Club. The reduced Subscription for Students of 30S. to the Warrender Park Baths Co. Ltd. does not admit members to the Turkish Chambers. A special room at the Baths is reserved for members.’ Three years later the Drumsheugh Baths were also used by the Club.

For a time now things may not have gone too well, as it is recorded that in 1909 a new Club was started and became more active, and the match with Aberdeen took place, in which Edinburgh was successful in the team race but lost most of the other events. A win for the newly formed water polo team was recorded against Leith Victoria, and Little won the East of Scotland 50 yards Championship for the second time. At this period chief interest seemed to be in polo, and several matches took place under League auspices, one of which was against Grove Swimming Club. The first photograph extant is of this season (1926-27), with R. H. Vartan as Captain. There are also photographs of the two following years, then a gap till 1946, when S. M. Drancz was Captain. In 1926 the outstanding member was A. W. (Pim) Macdonald, who was a swimming and water polo International from 1930 to 1936.

Owing to the General Strike, the baths were closed in 1926. In 1927, polo again seemed to be popular and there is the first mention of matches against Queen’s University, Belfast, and Drumsheugh, both of which were won. Swimming began to come into its own again the following year, when all Inter- University matches were won. Practice seems to have been switched to the Infirmary Street Baths, where regular Club nights were held.
From 1926 to 1929 the swimming and water polo teams were fairly strong and always had the beating of the other Scottish Universities, also Trinity, Dublin, and Queen’s, Belfast. R. H. Vartan, who was also a tennis Blue, had much to do with this success. J. Lawrie from Australia, P. W. Tait, who afterwards played rugby for Scotland as a Royal High School player, E. J. Samuel, a sprint swimmer, and P. Stevenson, who played in the International water polo trials, all made a valuable contribution. Most outstanding, however, was Pim MacDonald, who with Stevenson was later a member of the Warrender Baths Club during that Club’s great run of successes in the National Relay Race and Water Polo Championships from 1929 to 1935.

The Scottish Universities Championships came into being in 1931, with Edinburgh winning three out of the four events.
In 1933, membership of the Club was doubled and the Championship was won by J.S. Meldrum. Three members were selected to represent combined Scottish Universities in swimming and water polo against their English counterparts. It was in this year that the Club changed their colours to a royal blue costume with white band, the crest and lettering for a Blue, white band alone for ordinary members. The next year L. F. Togneri was Club Champion and he was selected with Meldrum to swim for Scottish Universities, while Phin and Williamson were in the polo team.

Springboard diving as we know it today is of comparatively recent origin, and it was not until 1936 that a 3—meter event was added to the list of Scottish Championships.
The introduction of this event coincided with the opening of the swimming pool at Portobello, the largest outdoor establishment in Europe and superbly equipped for diving.
The following year the Springboard Diving Championship was held at Portobello and won byJ. E. Buck, a medical student from Canada and a member of the Edinburgh University Swimming Club. Not only was J. E. Buck the first member of the Club to win the Springboard Diving Championship but he is the only winner of any Scottish Diving or Swimming Championship to have competed as a member of the Edinburgh University Swimming Club and to be credited in the records as such.
Among the enthusiastic group of young boys who were fascinated by the acrobatic movements of Buck and two fellow students, one from Ceylon and the other from Egypt, was Peter Heady, who a few years later was to contribute so much to University swimming.
Heatly trained with the divers all during the summer vacation of 1937, and before the end of the year created a sensation by winning the East of Scotland Championship at the age of twelve. J.E. Buck won the springboard diving event again the following year in most convincing style.
Springboard diving in Scotland has advanced considerably since the earlier days of the Championships, both in the standard of diving and the complexity of the dives now performed.

It is interesting, however, to put on record the contribution made to this progress by Commonwealth and Foreign students during their period at Edinburgh University and as members of the Swimming Club.

In season 1938-39 only one match was lost. Keenness now seemed to decline, as in 1941 it was found impossible to raise a team for the Inter—Universities Championships at Aberdeen. The reason for this was because under war—time conditions it was difficult to find anywhere to swim.
After the slump comes the boom. This coincided with the arrival of Peter Heatly in 1942. During 1942-43 the Club arranged matches with other Scottish Universities and also Durham, and was able to win the Inter-Universities Swimming Championships, thus setting a standard which was maintained for a number of years. The Club nights were held in Sciennes School bath, where the team trained under the watchful eye of the late Jimmy McCracken, once pondmaster at North Berwick.
In 1943, R. B. (Bobby) Symington joined the team. Bobby was a member both of Portobello A.S.C. and Warrender. He was one of Scotland’s best free—style swimmers. He succeeded Peter Heatly as Captain of the University team in 1946. After leaving Edinburgh, he went to Cambridge, where he was also awarded his Blue. While there he won the gold medal for the 100 metres backstroke at the World Student Games in Sofia. He is now lecturing in the Department of Agriculture at the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, where he gained the first ever Ph.D. to be awarded by that University.

In the spring of 1944 the Club challenged Manchester, then the leading English team, and beat them on their home ground. To achieve this, Peter and Bobby swam in every free-style and backstroke event. Alex. Gillies did the breast—stroke, and the remainder of the team joined in the team races and poio team. The return match was held in Portobello on 7th June 1944. This was the greatest Gala ever staged in Portobello Baths; a capacity audience of 8oo spectators was present and over ioo were turned away; the admission to all parts was is. All arrangements were made by the team, who hired the baths, sold the tickets, carried the forms, acted as stewards and removed the forms after the Gala. The result was fmancially a great boost to funds, which enabled the Club to undertake a number of Inter—Universities contests and allowed them to travel further afield. The Gala referee on that occasion was Ned Barnie, of Channel fame, and C. Campbell was the Chairman.
Edinburgh won the contest, and again Peter and Bobby doubled up in all events except the breast—stroke.

Early in 1945, Edinburgh was instrumental in restarting the pre-war Scotland v. England Universities Championships. These were held in Manchester. Scotland’s team was almost entirely from the Edinburgh Club; again Peter and Bobby swam in every event and the team was strengthened on this occasion by Mike Thomson, also of Portobello A.S.C., an excellent free-style swimmer who ultimately followed Symington as Captain and maintained Edinburgh’s lead in Scottish University swimming.
Peter Heatly was the outstanding University diver and swimmer of all time, and afterwards his name became a household word in swimming circles throughout the world. His successes are too numerous to mention in much detail but are of great interest. He was Captain of the whole Scottish team at the British Empire Games at Cardiff in 1958, where he is still remembered for his diving feats, as he is in Auckland, New Zealand, where he won the highboard event in 1950, and in Vancouver, where he won the spring—board in 1954. All this covered an aquatic career of twenty-one years. Starting swimming at the tender age of four, as we have already read, he won his first title, the Eastern District Graceful Diving Championship, at the age of twelve. Undoubtedly Britain’s best ever diver, he was also Scotland’s leading swimmer between 1943 and 1948, holding every Scottish free-style championship from 50 to 88o yards and creating Scottish and All-Corners records from 440 to 1,000 yards. He competed in the Olympic Games in London, where he was fifth in the high—board event, and at Helsinki, but amidst all his successes he had the supreme disappointment of being passed over for the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956—a circumstance that caused a furore in swimming circles further afield than Scotland. Peter has served on the Edinburgh Town Council.
The Swimming Club continued to function during World War II to a limited extent. Like all the other sections of the Athletic Club, fixtures were not easy to obtain, and the joy of success was often tempered by the weakness of the opposition.

It was only to be expected that time was necessary to rebuild after hostilities ceased, but some very good swimmers were available, among these I. B. Grant, who had served in the R.A.F., K. Madej from Poland, a powerful centre half, T. Birrell, D. C. Thomson, S. Drancz, J.T. Rabie, A. Giffies and P. G. Aungle. It was obvious that it would only be a question of time before Edinburgh would come to the top, and so it proved.

Under Ian Grant’s captaincy in season 1947—48, the Scottish Universities Championship was won and the Polo Championship shared. Only the Swimming Championship was retained the following year under T. Birrell, a fine free-style swimmer, who was both Captain and Honorary Secretary.
Now follows a period of Aberdeen supremacy. The Northern University has a valuable recruiting ground in Robert Gordon’s College, where there is always an excellent coach. Despite all the efforts of T. S. Ormiston, J.A. Dolan, J.N. Black, J. S. Armitage and J.T. Rabie, the Scottish Universities Championship was not regained till the season 1954-55. From then till 1959 Edinburgh themselves were practically unbeatable, but just before this period began two most valuable members had joined in the persons of George Hart and lain Percy Robb. It fell to the lot of J.S. Armitage to be Captain in the first year of what was to prove a long run of successes. Both the Swimming and the Water Polo Championships were won. These were retained till season 1958- 1959, when the Polo Championship was at last surrendered. During this happy period the Club was extremely well run, and it was a fitting tribute to the section that J.K. Hutchison, Captain of Polo, should be elected President of the Athletic Club. During this run of success Edinburgh members were the backbone of the Scottish University team, and honours and distinctions in the swimming world were commonplace. At Aberdeen, E. B. (Brendan) Lynch, also a Rugby Blue, having played a strenuous game of rugby for the University, went straight over to the baths to help the swimming team to victory by winning the 100 yards back-stroke, swimming in both relays and playing in the water polo match. Brendan scored a try in the rugby match and a goal at water polo. lain Percy Robb was a fine breast—stroke swimmer and represented Great Britain as well as Scotland. A good swimmer and most valuable club member at this time was V. Macan, who had a keen sense of humour.

The doings of the Club at this time deserve to be recorded in some detail. In 1954—55, the Aberdeen monopoly was at last broken and the Scottish Universities Championship won. Seven members of the team were invited to represent Scottish Universities against England. Percy Robb won the British Universities Breast-Stroke Championship, G. D. Hart broke the 440 yards free—style record, while the 3 x 50 Medley Relay team also broke the record. Percy Robb went on to represent Scotland at the World Student Games at San Sebastian, where he won a gold medal as a member of the British team in the 4 x 200 Relay race.
On the 28th of October 1954, a notable event took place when, in the match between Scottish and English Universities, women’s teams were introduced. Edinburgh organised the match at Coat- bridge Baths and, to mark the occasion, arranged for the proceedings to be televised. This was a great success and solved all financial problems.

The following year, the Irish Universities were invited to take part in what has now become an annual triangular international Universities match.
Next year, the swimmers retained the Scottish Universities Championship, after warding off a serious challenge from Glasgow. Percy Robb, the Captain, broke the 200 yards breast-stroke record in 2 mm. 348 sec., only 6 seconds outside the British record. The relay team (5 x 50 free-style) also beat their own existing record. In the British Universities (U.A.U.) Championships, Edinburgh were runners-up to London. Percy Robb won the 200 yards breast—stroke in the excellent time of 2 min. 33 4 sec., thereby setting up a new record for the meeting. K. H. Mekie was second in the 100 yards free—style, while both the relay teams also took second place. Percy Robb was selected to represent Great Britain against France, and he also won the Scottish 200 yards Breast-Stroke Championship. He and Murdoch (breaststroke), Hart (butterfly and 400 yards free-style), Lynch (100 yards back—stroke), Mekie (100 yards free—style), Hutchison, Hart and Corbett (Polo) represented Scottish Universities.
In 1956-57 the Scottish Universities Championship was won for the third successive year and the Polo Championship regained. In the British Universities Championships, Edinburgh took third place after London and Manchester, but they set up a new record in the Medley Relay. If the diving could be improved, chances of victory would be enhanced. J. C. M. (Jim) Hill took Neil Tasker, the British Internationalist, to a touch in the ioo yards free—style. Percy Robb and Hill went to Moscow as Scottish representatives for the World Youth Festival. Roger King from London University, a British Polo Internationalist, arrived and seven members were selected for Scottish Universities.

The following year, both Scottish Universities Championships were retained; and two individual championships were won by Jim Hill (100 yards free-style) and Percy Robb (200 yards breaststroke). Both were selected to represent Scotland at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games at Cardiff in 1958.
In 1958—59, supremacy was maintained for the fifth successive year, but to a lesser degree. Scottish Universities Swimming was retained, but the Polo Cup lost. Individual titles were won by Frank Thomas (100 yards free-style), Jim Hill (100 yards breaststroke) and A. J. Rowan (200 yards breast-stroke). Both relay races were won. The next season the Scottish Universities Championship was retained.
And so we come to the end of this chapter and leave the Club, most of the stars now out of orbit, faced with a re-building problem after an unprecedented run of success; but, after all, it would be no fun always to be ‘top dog.