Scout Swimming Sports

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Swimming and Life saving competitions were recorded in the first Annual Report of 1912.  The Swimming Shield was presented by the Cambridge University Rover Troop to the Cambridge District Boy Scouts Association and was awarded from 1925.  The last entry was 2014.

The representative notes in Cambridge Archive (below) are followed by a programme from 1926 and a composite 1950’s programme.

Cambridge Archive

  • 1926 7th Cambridge (County School) Court of Honour proposed that they go swimming ‘as soon as the temperature of the water rises definitely above 57F.’ (14C.) They later planned weekly swimming for those who were not boxing or doing gymnastics.
  • 1929 From CDN report of AGM competition abandoned through insufficient numbers.
  • 1932    ‘Plunge’ appeared alongside diving in the list of events.  Plunge for distance- diving but not using a stroke  Plunge for speed – fastest to 60’.  Falling from use about this time.
  • 1935    A letter to District stated that Cub swimming races were held in other districts and that caution was necessary as to distance and evidence of strain.  The first Cub swimming recorded was 1936
  • 1940    Leys school baths
  • 1941    Jesus Green
  • 1949 25 yds. back stroke without hands
  • 1950    Cubs swimming  – no support from CM’s
  • 1954    ’This year as an experiment the Novice Width is being swam as a race’. It appears from the scores given that previously each successful width swum by a Novice earned one point.  This gave a strong incentive to get as many scouts as possible to swim.
  • 1961    Offer of Cubs to swim
  • 1964    Swimming Cubs approached.  If we can fill the venue then worth booking   Cub leaders promised support
  • 1967    ‘Corks should be held in the shallow end’
  • 1970/71 Balloon race, Horse and Rider, Wee Willie Winkie race and Leap Frog. 400 attended and the Mayor handed out the prizes.
  • 1976    ‘Plastic cups’ and a ‘Balloon race – pairs’ were races
  • 1978    ‘Obstacle race’ for Scouts and Venture Scouts

1926                The swimming sports for Thursday July 15th 1926

This early notification of the swimming sports is for Thursday July 15th 1926. The venue is the TOWN SHEDS, Sheep’s Green and the course the river, both across and along.   

The classes subdivide Scouts into Junior, Middle, Senior and ‘Super Senior’ that is over 18.  Senior Scouts 16 – 18 were frequently a separate category in competitions long before the formal Senior Scout category in 1946.

A separate category is for ‘Novices across the River’, those who could not cross the distance last year.  They were not allowed to enter any other competition.

The venue is the TOWN SHEDS, Sheep’s Green across the river, and for distances ranging from 50 to 440 yards, along the river.

  • Junior              J           under 13½
  • Middle             M         under 16
  • Senior              S          under 18
  • Super senior    SS         over 18            possibly older Scouts or Rovers  
  • Events  

Although the Group system did not yet exist Rover Crews were attached to Troops.  Not all Troops ran a formal crew.

  • Diving, (Standing and High)            Open
  • Undressing in the water                   Open               Shirts, Shorts, Stockings
  • Swimming under water                    M S SS
  • Fighting on the spar                           J M S SS
  • 50 yard breast stroke                         J M S
  • 50 yards any stroke                            J M S SS
  • 50 yards without hands                     J M S
  • 100 yards                                            M S
  • 440 yards                                            S SS
  • Novices across the river         (c. 10 yards)    Open to anyone who could not swim the distance last year.  Competitors must not enter for any other event.

‘In awarding the shield notice will be taken of the number of boys in a Troop who cannot swim – as evidenced by their non entry’.

The Stage 3 Activity Badge of 2018 appears to equate with the length of swimming in the longest of these events.  Being held in the River Cam and now designated ‘wild swimming’ a greater level of confidence and experience was required.


Held in the Jesus Green Baths two swimming trophies were available, the Swimming Shield and the Senior Scouts Trophy.  Cubs were yet not part of the Gala but Cub swimming was recorded from 1937.  The age Groups were

  • Junior              J           11 – 13
  • Middle             M         13 – 15
  • Senior              S          15 – 18

which aligned with Scout/ Senior Scout ages.   Sixteen Groups participated in 1950, ten in 1952, thirteen in 1954; the Senior Scouts with about half the numbers of the Scouts.

  • 25 yds  breast stroke                                       J M S
  • 25 yds freestyle                                               J M S
  • 50 yds freestyle                                                 M S
  • 100 yds freestyle                                                    S  
  • 25 yds on back no hands                                J M S    (listed as backstroke on forms)
  • Diving  1 running, 1 standing, 1 higher       J M S               
  • Troop relay
  • Novices width                                         (1954 both J and M novices)
2nd Cambridge 1934


The nature of swimming renders it less open to fun activities for the less able but the ban on tumble turns, use of flippers, the collecting of corks and later cups in the shallow end are all attempts to open it up to as many as possible.

The earlier Novices event, which only became a race in the 1950’s, fighting on a spar, undressing in the water and swimming on the back with no hands all contrived to achieve the same wider participation.

JWR Archivist Jan 2019