Heath Town Baths has been in the news following its recent closure. The local authority has decided not to refurbish and reopen the baths because it would cost around one million pounds to do so. The building may be converted into a health clinic, which would save it from the threat of demolition and also secure the future of the on-site library. Whatever happens it looks as though the days of swimming at Heath Town Baths have ended.
In its heyday the baths was well known because of the successful swimming club that was based there and has now almost been forgotten.

Bill Edwards, who was 80 in 2003, is best known today for his car racing activities with his son Peter. Bill was once well known as a successful swimmer and one of the founders of the Heath Town Swimming Club. In the remainder of this article he remembers some of the swimming teams and the events in which they participated. He has also kindly allowed us to use some of the excellent photographs of the teams from his collection.

The Swimming Club

Just after the war we demobbed and formed the Heath Town Swimming Club. Arthur Robbins who used to be a councillor was one of the founders. I was captain of the water polo team.

A lot of the men have now passed away. They made Heath Town famous and went to the national championships.


Bill Edwards

Heath Town Baths

The 1948 International Team

The International Team

In 1948 a team from the swimming club took part in an international competition at Tilberg in Holland. Bill Edwards on the far right, won a gold medallion in the 200m breast stroke. Several other team members gained second and third places in their events.


The team members are as follows:
Men - left to right:
Mr. McConkey, a free styler and lifesaver, Norman Wilkes an all-round swimmer, Tommy Hulme, free style and goalkeeper, Jack Patton, Arthur Wilkes, Mr. Wainwright who organised the events, Ken Roper, Peter Holmes a local councillor, an unknown team member, and on the extreme right is Bill Edwards

1st left is Freda Holt who won a silver medal, 4th from the left is Gladys Morcom, 5th from the left is Thelma, 3rd from the right is Hazel Peace, backstroke champion, on the far right is Jill Cooke.

Hazel Peace and Bill Edwards trained with Johnny Weissmuller for a week at the Derby baths in Blackpool. Johnny became famous as the silver screen's first Tarzan. He was the first person to swim 100m in less than one minute. His 59 second record was made at the 1924 olympics in Paris. At the games he won 3 gold medals for swimming and a bronze medal for water-polo.

A close-up of Gladys Morcom, who was a member of the 1936 British Olympic team, and took part in the games at Berlin. She was chief coach at Heath Town Baths and taught many people. Her married name was Lees.

Sadly she passed away on 19th January, 2010 at the age of 91.

I must thank Gordon Brown, ex-Heath Town swimmer, water polo player, and coach, for the information.

The Water Polo Team

The first and second teams photographed on 8th October 1953.
Front row:
2nd from the left is Ivor Bickley, next is Jimmy Sidebotham who was a famous water polo player and to the right is Philip Cooke the referee. He became one of the leading olympic referees in the country and has since died.  On the far right is Bill Edwards.

2nd row - left to right:
Arthur Robbins (club secretary), Tommy Hulme

Back row - left to right:
? , Ken Roper, Brian Moore, ? , Alf Bowen.

The Canning Shield team

The team won the prestigious shield after winning a series of events across the country.

left to right:
Alf Bowen, free style; Alan Treen, back stroke; Bill Edwards, breast stroke; J.V. Watkiss, the club president with the shield; Joe Smith; Jeff Evans, free style.

Famous Heath Town champions of the 1950s

back row - left to right:
Phil Cooke, a diving champion and referee who used to go around the local clubs doing charity work. He used to do high dives and death dives from out of the roof into the shallow end. He was Jill Cooke's brother. Next is Tommy Hulme a diver, then Bill Edwards, a diver and breast stroke champion.

front row - left to right:
Myra Jervis, Thelma, Jill Cooke a free style champion who emigrated to Canada and has since died, Jack Patton a backstroke champion, with Moira Jervis in front.
An Early Polo Team

back row - left to right:
Bill Edwards, unknown tall goalkeeper who could stand in the 6ft end with the water only coming up to the bottom of his chin. On the right is Freddie Heath.

front row - left to right:
Brian Moore, Alfie Bowen, Tommy Sidebotham, Tommy Hulme, .

Bill Edwards in Action

Bill is seen here diving from the high diving board at the Kingfisher club. Bill was 200m breast stroke champion because of his ability to swim under water. He still holds the record for under water swimming at Heath Town Baths, where he swam four lengths under water. He was a frogman in the war and learned how to breathe under water. This can be a big advantage in a race because you can swim faster under water.

Bill has suffered for his success in the sport. He had a terrible accident in one of his polo matches, when he lost an eye in a clash with Michael Hands.

Another view of the baths

The view of  the baths from the cemetery

We would like to thank Bill Edwards for his help in producing this article.

David Patten has kindly sent us some interesting photographs from his family archives and we have included them here. They were taken in the 1940s and feature some of Heath Town Bath's swimming teams. He tells us that his grandfather, Harry Patten, was club president and ran a concentrated coaching campaign at the baths from 1962.

David's father, John, is standing third from the left at the back and his grandfather, Harry is sitting on the extreme left.
John is standing in the centre at the back.
John is standing in the centre at the back and Harry is standing on the extreme left.
The certificate opposite was kindly sent by Robert Petty, who was a member of the club from 1950 to 1956. He now lives in Australia.
If anyone has any further information on the swimming club or can recognise any of the unknowns in the team photographs please contact the webmaster.

Return to the previous page Read Duncan Nimmo's article on the baths