On this day in history : 25th December 1864 – The first traditional Christmas Day swimming race in London’s Hyde Park Serpentine Lake takes place….
The Serpentine had been formed between 1730-33 and was the idea of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II…. as she had wanted an ornamental lake in Hyde Park…. There is some evidence that swimming races had been held informally since the 1830s as swimming clubs such as the London Swimming Club had been using it…. However, it was the Serpentine Swimming Club who first brought some structure to the proceedings….
The first 100yd Christmas Day race was won by H.Coulter – and it is an event that has been held every year since…. In 1904 it became known as the Peter Pan Cup as in this year a trophy was presented to the winner by James Barrie, author of Peter Pan…. It was the first time a trophy was given – as previous winners had received a gold medal…. Barrie lived in nearby Bayswater and was a regular visitor to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park – he would undoubtedly have watched the swimmers from time to time…. In 1904 his play Peter Pan made its debut on the London stage….
The Serpentine Swimming Club holds a race in the lake every Saturday throughout the year…. The Christmas Day race is only open to club members and to take part swimmers need to qualify by participating in 7 out of the 9 Winter races…. The December 25th race starts at 9am sharp and the swimmers wear just their bathing costumes, wet suits are not permitted – and the water is usually below a very chilly 4 degrees C…!!