The Swimming Confectioner

Sport – you really can’t escape it at the moment. Wimbledon, The World Cup, The Ryder Cup and The Tour de France, are just a few of the major global sporting events taking place over the summer. More locally, Dundee has recently hosted the World Karate Championships, The Open Golf Championships are being held along the coast in Carnoustie, and summer sports camps and clubs are in full swing.

We have a wide range of sporting items within our collections at Dundee City Archives, some of these feature in our current searchroom exhibition “Summer of Sport”.

Display
Our ‘Summer of Sport’ Exhibition

Amongst the items on display is the first minute book of Ye Amphibious Ancients Bathing Association, “YEAABA”. A group of hardy bathers who met by the Castle in Broughty Ferry from as early 1884. On the 5th June 1899 they formed into a regular association with a constitution, rules and office bearers being appointed. They initially met in the Refreshments Room of Broughty Ferry Railway Station. One of the first things they did after the formation of the association was to rent a piece of land from the North British Railway Company to erect a shed for the bathers. The shed would become known as “Ye New Bunk, Broty Pier”, and it would become their meeting place.

YEAABA Minute book inside cover page
The first page of Ye Amphibious Ancients’ Minute Book

One member of the association gained notoriety for his crossing and then immediate re-crossing of the Tay. On Saturday the 29th July 1905 William Thomas Blair Jnr, William Murdoch and J N Thomson swam from Broughty Ferry to Fife. They entered the water about 6 o’clock in the evening, at the bottom of Church Street, and completed the swim in 30 minutes. But William Blair, didn’t get out of the water on the Fife side. He turned around and swam back again. Taking only 33 minutes for the return journey. The newspapers reported that all three men had turned up the following day for their usual Sunday morning plunge although Mr Thomson was said to be “a trifle fagged”.

Blair envelope
Mr Blair the “Swimming Confectioner” Broty Ferry

William Blair became well known for his exploits, becoming known as “The Tay Swimmer”, and as you can see from the image below, “The Swimming Confectioner”, by his friends. This decorated envelope sent to him by his friend Tom Livingstone in 1907,  enclosed a letter thanking William for looking after his bicycle and making arrangement to collect it. William Blair Snr, was a baker and confectioner in Gray Street, Broughty Ferry which would seem to be where the swimming confectioner name came from.

YEAABA Group Photo
William Blair Jnr – 3rd from left in third row (hands clasped),  William Blair Snr – on Jnr’s left (arms folded).  Chief of YEAABA, John Barrowman – behind Blair Snr (short white beard), c. 1905

William was in the news again a few years later, in an extraordinary feet performed at Ye Ancient Amphibians Gala day. On Monday 31st August 1908 The Dundee Courier reported “A word of praise is due Mr William Blair jnr, whos prowess as a Tay Swimmer is well known. Besides being prominent in displaying his aquatic abilities throughout the proceedings, he allowed himself to be tied into a sack, in which he was dropped over the pier. He lost no time in appearing on the surface free from his trammels, and received an ovation”. Sounds like something straight out of Britain’s Got Talent. I’m sure modern day risk assessors would be trembling at the prospect of someone being tied up in a sack and dropped in to the Tay!

William Blair jnr died in 1937 aged 64, he certainly left his name in the records of Ye Ancient Amphibians.

The Summer of Sport exhibition will be on display over the summer months, please feel free to drop in if you are in Dundee.

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