History of the Hunstanton Christmas Swim
People have swum in The Wash off Hunstanton’s coastline on Christmas Day since the end of the Second World War and probably long before that time. Two notable Christmas Day swimmers, as recalled by Dick Melton, included the late George Raines and the late Tom Drew who swam off Hunstanton Beach in the 1950s and they continued to do so for many years thereafter.
The idea of a Christmas Day Swim first came from George Raines. The first Hunstanton Christmas Day Swim took place in 1957 and was started by the Hunstanton Seagulls Swimming Club. There were originally eight volunteer swimmers but only four swimmers actually took part – Tim Reynolds, Ray Woodcock, “Dinky” Tipton and Garth Thorpe. Since then, the Hunstanton Christmas Day Swim became a feature in the local annual events calendar and continued in this form until 1971. I am told that there were always between three and eight swimmers on each occasion and that the number of spectators usually matched that of the swimmers, which rarely reached double figures. The regular swimmers – at least up till 1971 – included Tim Reynolds, Michael Watt, Robin Crameri, “Dinky” Tipton and, Heacham boy, Mike Pull. Some other original swimmers included: Margery Cook (who, jointly with George Raines founded the Hunstanton Seagulls Swimming Club), Paul Purdy, Raymond Swallow, Brian Woodrow, Nigel Guys, David Guys, Sheila Thaxter, Pat Lowry, Reggy Ram and Brian Daws.
The concept of raising funds through sponsorship was aired only a month before the 1971 Swim and it was decided that the area’s school swimming pool was the lucky recipient of the funds to be raised. Thus the first sponsored Christmas Day Swim – organised by Ken Arnott – took place with many swimmers in fancy dress. At the time, this was the largest Christmas Day Swim in the UK with 49 swimmers and spectators numbering approx 300. The proceeds amounted to £169. This was repeated in 1972 with help from the Hunstanton Round Table. This Swim attracted more than a thousand spectators and once again the proceeds went to the area’s school swimming pool. From then on the Hunstanton Round Table took control.
The Hunstanton Round Table Sponsored Christmas Swim has continued attracting a growing number of swimmers and spectators over the years. Fancy dress also became a regular feature of the event with the more popular costumes being Santa or a snowman. Others would attend dressed as Elvis, teddy bears, reindeer, fairies, clowns and many more novel characters. The temptation of swimmers to run down to the water, dip their toe and run out again was eventually thwarted by the organisers when they ensured that several helpers were positioned approx 20 metres out to sea. In order to qualify as having done the Hunstanton Round Table Sponsored Christmas Day Swim all swimmers had to go around these helpers and then return to the shore.
Another addition to the event are the many willing supporters who walk up and down the Promenade shaking their collection buckets to help swell the fundraising. A constant member of this group is Peter Brooke who travels along the Promenade in his little replica Vintage Car.
The plucky swimmers in years gone by have braved the elements to do their swim including torrential rain resulting in many swimmers but few spectators. Even the snow has not put these brave souls off. On one occasion the swimmers couldn’t resist a snowball fight before finally taking the plunge. In 1963, the sea froze over (but not on Christmas Day). Naturally such valour deserves its reward and thus prizes are now awarded to the Best Pub & Club Team and the Best Individual.
The Hunstanton Round Table Christmas Swim now attracts thousands of spectators each year from near and far and has enjoyed fantastic support for more than 50 years. The event plays a crucial part in many a family Christmas in these parts for both residents and visitors alike and it raises huge sums of money for many charitable causes. It will doubtless continue to go from strength to strength and be around for many years to come and before we know it the centenary will be celebrated. What an achievement from those humble beginnings.
About Hunstanton Round Table:
Hunstanton and District Round Table is a local young man’s organisation that meets regularly and raises money through events to benefit local good causes, charities or needy individuals. Unlike some organisations, Round Table’s time is totally voluntary so for every £1 donated for local good causes £1 goes to benefit these good causes (after any expenses incurred).
NOTES FOR VISITORS TO THE HUNSTANTON CHRISTMAS DAY SWIM
Swimmers assemble around 10.30am and the swim commences at 11am from the Central Promenade.