Before the days of Stratford Park outdoor pool, swimmers in Stroud chose a seemingly natural alternative: the town’s canals.

While of course a bad idea now - rat urine and the risk of Weil’s disease have seen to that - swimming in our town’s canals was so popular it warranted its own club.

Tournaments, diving displays and even pillow fights - such were the activities of members of Stroud Swimming Club once they emerged from a towpath dressing hut in the early 20th century.

I recently paid a visit to the Cotswold Canals Trust, the headquarters of which at the Upper Lock in Wallbridge used to be the diving spot of choice for the club.

Its volunteers shared a wealth of memories given to them by Val Nesbitt, daughter of one club member Reginald Richings.

Val has kept Reginald’s memoirs in which he recollects his time with the club in the 1930s while he lived at the George Tap in Stroud.

The biggest takeaway from Reginald is the “firm friendships” he struck as he and companions regularly dipped in the canal - or ‘the cut’ as they would call it.

As he became more involved with the club, he writes: “I had by now become a very keen member, and I was on the committee when 15 or 16 years old.

“I visited the canal most days, either in the afternoon or evening. We did no serious training, and had no coach such as they have today, and our season was from May until September.”

This lack of vigour did not stop swimmers from getting competitive, however, and from Val’s evidence its clear the club held galas at least annually.

A highlight was the 1936 gala, when the club was paid a visit by two prominent figures in the swimming world.

One was a Stroud girl, Ms Shelagh Browning, at the time the holder of the English and Welsh Long Distance Swimming Championships.

Her visit “attracted a large number of spectators,” according to one newspaper clipping.

It goes on to say that Ms Browning was the “daughter of Mr Dan Browning, for many years one of the stalwarts of the Stroud Club” and a judge at the gala.

The other celebrity was Ms Patt Downes, “a champion of the Western Province of South Africa”, who, along with Miss Browning, gave a demonstration to the club - but members clearly had a favourite.

Another newspaper clipping explains: “Ms Downes display was greatly appreciated but naturally the spectators were looking forward to Ms Browning’s exhibition and she certainly did not disappoint.

“She gave a comprehensive display, introducing racing speeds and several exercises which form part of her daily training.”

Having presented the Gold Cup to its winner, Ms Browning thanked Stroud Swimming Club, telling them it was a great pleasure to come back to her native town and give the demonstration which they appeared to have all enjoyed so much.

What about when competition time was over, and everyone was ready for a bit of fun?

One newspaper report from the 1935 gala details how the “humourous side of the programme had been admirably catered for by an obstacle race and a greasy pole contest.”

The former meant scrambling over floating barrels, which “proved more difficult than picking up piece of wet soap in a hurry” apparently, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Such canal-based fun came to an end after the opening of the open air pool at Stratford Park.

Though Reginald fondly remembers his first dip at the park, he writes: “The swimming club however never seemed to get off the ground at Stratford Park, and with the canal beginning to have little use - less barges being used to transport coal, etc, along the canal - it began its decline of dereliction, and the club more or less fell apart.”

Perhaps it was the prospect of warmer waters - Stratford Park outdoor pool opened with heating, though the boiler was soon salvaged for the war effort.

In any case, thanks to Val and the CCT for the memories.