Voices from the Library: Royal Mint Swimming Club


Posted on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 by The Royal Mint Museum

Royal Mint Swimming Club Medal

Royal Mint Swimming Club Medal
The Royal Mint has long been home to a strong community of workers and the Museum cares for many items which reflect their shared passions and hobbies. Our archival material in particular records the involvement of Mint employees in a range of sports and social clubs. One of the earliest of these, the Royal Mint Swimming Club, had its first committee meeting 120 years ago on 4 August 1897, when the Mint was still located at Tower Hill in London.

The Swimming Club Committee minute book, which is now retained in the Museum’s library, tells us:

'It having been decided to start a swimming club in connection with the Royal Mint, a meeting of those gentlemen who had promised to join and support the club was called at the Whitechapel Swimming Baths'.

Throughout its lifetime the Committee organised excursions, concerts and galas for members and their families. The minute book gives a very personal account of these events. For example, it is easy to sympathise with the swimmers on the club's first excursion to Southend when they visited the New Palace Baths and found the water to be of 'arctic temperature'.

Royal Mint Swimming Club book

The first entry in the Royal Mint Swimming Club minute book

The club also held an annual Costume Entertainment evening. At the inaugural event in October 1898 the Swimming Baths in nearby Goulston Street were decorated with flags, Japanese lanterns and palms and more than 400 spectators were treated to events such as blindfold racing, diving displays and the intriguing 33 yards midnight and candle race in which competitors swam in night attire carrying a lit candle.

costume entertainment programme

1898 Costume Entertainment programme

These events clearly fostered a sense of community. In 1898 Club Vice-President Edward Rigg, then Superintendent of the Operative Department and one of the most senior figures in the Mint, said that the club was 'a thorough success numbering 41% of the entire staff of the Mint from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Charwoman'

The Museum collection also contains information about prominent members of the swimming club. These include the talented George Harry Orchard, who joined the Mint when he was just 13 in 1892. Entries in the Royal Mint Establishment Lists show that he started his career as a boy. It was expected at this time that workmen admitted to the Operative Department as boys would be promoted to the rank of third class workmen after five years, and second class workmen after another five years, if their conduct was deemed satisfactory.

list of persons in the operative department

Entry for G.H. Orchard in the ‘List of Persons Working in the Operative Department’

In 1900 the Swimming Club planned its first championship race. Using voluntary donations from members, the Committee had purchased a silver trophy to be presented to the winner and designed medals for second and third places, the tooling for which is stored in the Museum. By this time Orchard had become an active and accomplished member. He had already won competitions and been described by members of the Committee as swimming 'in good style'.

Swimming Club Medal Die

Royal Mint Swimming Club Medal Die

The race was held during the Club’s annual excursion to Broxbourne and had five competitors: Messers Wallace, Hyem, Orchard, Jeffries and Smith. An exciting account of events is given:

'Hyem was the first to come away and swimming at a rather fast stroke led by about 30 yards for some distance. G Orchard however lessened this start about halfway with Jeffries following his lead. Hyem was undoubtedly in good form and maintained the lead and eventually won by some yards'.

Hyem had won in a time of 7 minutes and 47 seconds with Orchard coming second. The Museum has now acquired the silver medal he received for his achievement.

Swimming Club Medal

Silver Medal awarded to G.H. Orchard in 1900

Despite his creditable performance in 1900 Orchard was to do even better in the years that followed. Recent cataloguing work enabled us to take a closer look at the swimming club silver trophy itself. The winner’s shields added to its base for the races in 1901, 1904 and 1905 all bear the name G. H. Orchard.

Swimming Club Silver Cup

Inscriptions for Hyem and Orchard on the Royal Mint Swimming Club Silver Cup

Another notable figure was Ernest George Harry Clinkscales. Born in Hackney in 1863 he began working at the Royal Mint as a boy in 1879 at the age of 16. He appears to have been an active figure, appearing in the minute books of several of the Royal Mint clubs and societies over his 43-year career. He was Secretary of the Royal Mint Swimming Club and personally organised the entertainment at many of the Club's Smoking and Bohemian Concerts. The programmes we have from these concerts show he was not above performing himself with a song called 'Jack's the Boy'.

Smoking Concert programme

Smoking Concert programme from 1898 featuring Clinkscales as a Musical Director

By 1912 club attendance had waned but Clinkscales was evidently still passionate about the organisation. At one of the Annual General Meetings he recalled it 'not only as a swimming club but as the only social club linking up the members of the R.M.'. He made 'an earnest appeal to members to help bring the club up to its old position'.

There were no committee meetings of the Royal Mint Swimming Club through the years of the First World War and when they recommenced in 1921 it does not seem to have been as popular as it was in its early years. By 1923 the club was part of a larger Sports and Social Club and the final meeting was held on 21 May 1926.


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Welcome to the Royal Mint Museum Blog. Here you’ll get to meet the faces behind the Museum and find out how our hard-working team cares for this exceptional and varied collection. You’ll find entries on our favourite objects, how we’re looking after the objects, and the work being done to interpret and research the collection. You may also from time to time get a sneak preview of exciting projects and future exhibitions.


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