Professor Cavill and Weymouth’s swimming display 1871

As a child growing up in Weymouth, i have many happy memories of swimming from the old Pleasure Pier.

This was at a time when there were changing rooms for the swimmers, a slide, diving boards, and steps, water polo matches were played there. In the summer the water would be thick with kids and teenagers all splashing about happily in the sea. A town band played at weekends, locals and trippers would walk to the end, sit and watch the ships sailing in and out of the harbour or across the bay, have a drink at the cafe.

Life was good


Sadly that pier is now becoming a crumbling  wreck, no longer revealing any signs of it’s former glory.

During the Victorian era, the graceful old wooden pier, with it’s curved end provided much entertainment for both locals and trippers.

At the start of the summer season in 1871 Professor Cavill burst upon the scene, bringing with him a troup of professional swimmers, not only giving a display off the pier of their prowess and stamina, but arranging swimming matches open to professionals and amateurs..

Professor Cavill was a resident of Brighton, and a great advocate of swimming as an excellent form of exercise, he declared that it  a necessary lesson to those who lived by the sea, he also rather boldly referred to himself as the Champion Swimmer of the South of England..

The day of the great event dawned  beautiful and bright, the water as smooth as glass. A course had been marked out for the races, large spars were floated in the water alongside the pier to keep any boats well back from the competitors. Two barges took their place at the beginning of the course, one held the officials and the starter, while the other was used as changing rooms for the men. (there was no mention of any women swimming at all!)

The Pile pier (as it was known in the Victorian era) was packed with all manner of spectators, nearly 5,000 people jostled for space along the rails to watch the proceedings, many more took to boats out in teh bay to get a better view of the events. At the end of the pier was the band of the fusiliers, they were there to keep the crowd amused in the afternoon between races.


As was usual at the weekends and when  events had been organised, special trains brought in carriage loads of excited trippers, more were  arriving aboard the steamboats that travelled from up and down the coast.

There was even a one legged swimmer present to give aquatic displays, a certain Professor Moore from London. He thrilled the crowds with his astonishing agility and speed.

The races were divided into differing abilities., being one for the boys of the navy and another for the local lads. The professionals swam in a race of their own, many having come from afar to enter.

A grand day out was had by one and all.

Oh that Weymouth could witness those scenes again, but alas, I fear our so called Pleasure Pier won’t hold out on it’s old wooden wonky legs much longer!


Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.


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