Singapore Swimming Club



The Singapore Swimming Club (SSC) was established in 1894 at Tanjong Rhu by a group of Europeans.1 In 1994, the club celebrated its 100th anniversary with the opening of a museum dedicated to its history and the release of a commemorative book.2 With a huge membership, it continues to concentrate on its core activity, swimming, despite providing a wide range of sports facilities.3

History
19th century
The SSC owes its origins to a group of young European men who, in the early 1890s, cruised on sampan from Johnston’s Pier to Tanjong Rhu to reach their bathing spot. They bathed off a military pier that projected into the sea from the old Tanjong Katong Fort (the present Katong Park), spending many hours swimming in the cool waters and relaxing on the clean sand of a long and empty coastline. The men brought sandwiches and bottles of cold tea for a picnic after the surf and discussed having a place for changing and a bar – thus the idea for a swimming club was born.4


On 23 October 1893, the leisure swimmers sent a circular to various offices to obtain support to start a swimming club. Interested parties paid $1 monthly to meet club expenses. Soon, 30 signatures were received and an inaugural meeting was held on 6 November 1893 at the former Waverly Hotel. The Singapore Free Press newspaper reported the presence of about 20 people at the meeting that was presided by A. L. Tregarthan. The club’s committee comprised F. Nawton, R. Price, G. Mousley, R. Charlton, H. Fregarthen, H. L. Coghlen and W. Craig. The first clubhouse was an attap hut rented from a Malay fisherman. When a rented bungalow, belonging to a man named Drew was found in the vicinity, the shed was abandoned. A Chinese sampan was hired at $10 a month to transport members to the club from the pier.5

The facilities of the club in its early days were simple, and the food on offer was plain. The bungalow was in a dilapidated condition. The first members painted and spruced the place up themselves. The Swimming Club was officially inaugurated and opened on 7 February 1894. At the time of its opening, there were 50 members.6

After its humble beginnings, the club’s membership began picking up. It rose steadily from 65 men in 1894 to 79 in 1895 and then 116 members in 1899, with $835 in the coffers. In 1895, the club decided to allow ladies in on Wednesdays. On 26 January 1895, the first aquatic sports meet of the club was held with a reportedly large turnout. On 14 June 1897, the club held its inaugural swimming race. In 1899, concerned about the changing ownership of the bungalow, the club bought the property from its owner, Gaggino, for $3,500. It financed its purchase by issuing debentures.7

20th century
The purchase of the bungalow led to improvements to the premises – a sea wall, a large dressing room and a bathing enclosure surrounded by stakes were built. A diving platform was also added. The Swimming Club thus became an established institution. Most of its members in the early years were British or other Europeans. Subscription remained at $1 a month. By 1902, the club had paid off its debentures and, the following year, with sufficient funds in its coffers, a new clubhouse was in the pipeline. This clubhouse was constructed at a cost of $15,165, and a carnival was held to celebrate its opening on 21 May 1904. The early 19th century also saw the club renamed Swimming Club of Singapore, as the Singapore Sporting Club pointed out that people might be confused by the same initials of the two entities.8


In the years before World War I (1914–18), the Club developed steadily. Visitors to the clubhouse came by sampan and, later, by steam launches from Johnston’s Pier. Some cycled to the Sea View Hotel instead and then walked to the clubhouse from there, through dense coconut plantations. During the war, many members left Singapore to fight in the war, resulting in a period of lull. After the war, however, the club entered into one of its most flourishing periods. Female membership and patronage became more flexible with the admission of ladies as honorary members in 1923, and the extension of the club usage to ladies on public holidays. Another milestone was the club reverting its name to “Singapore Swimming Club” in 1931 because the Singapore Sporting Club had by then been renamed Singapore Turf Club. The addition of a pool was also a sensation. The pool was officially opened on 3 December 1931 by then Governor of the Straits Settlements Cecil Clementi, who, after declaring it opened, threw off his dressing gown and jumped into the pool. The opening of the pool caused a stir throughout Malaya at the time, as nothing like it had been seen in the country before.9

The club’s membership, which by 1928 had risen to 2,821, grew substantially with the pool’s opening. All of this culminated in the opening of the club’s new, expanded wing in 1936. The club prospered until the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), when the Japanese took over the club premises and reportedly used it as a leisure centre for its officers. After the Japanese surrender, the British armed forces requisitioned the club for a services club, calling it The Lido. Club members pressed hard for the return of the premises, and this finally took place on 1 July 1946, with the club reopening and the commencement of restoration works.10

After SSC’s reopening, membership once again began to rise, peaking at 4,645 in 1955. However, with the imminent pull-out of British forces and their civilian attachments, the character of club activities changed, and no longer possessed the same carnival-like atmosphere during earlier times. After 1955, membership began to decline. In 1962, an important change to the membership and management rule occurred when nominations for top offices were no longer confined to members “who are British subjects by birth”. In 1963, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew issued a directive to all British clubs that they could no longer stick to their “white only” rule, and the SSC accordingly began admitting Asian members. By 1969, the decline in membership had begun to reverse, with an increasing number of locals joining the club; this more than made up for Services Club members leaving the club for good.11

Recent developments and progress
Towards the end of the 20th century, a five-year development plan was made for a new clubhouse to be completed in two phases. The first phase, costing more than S$10 million, was completed in November 1994.12 The new facilities added were a multi-storey carpark with a health centre in its basement, a jacuzzi, changing rooms, two new food-and-beverage outlets, a new 10-lane bowling alley, four tennis courts, a spectator’s gallery and six badminton courts. The second phase of the development, costing S$20 million, was completed between 1999 and 2000, and included a 250-seat theatrette, a karaoke lounge, a live-music lounge and a block of apartments.13 A new five-storey administration building was also constructed to replace a pre-war structure.14


To raise funds and make room for new members, the SSC began buying back inactive memberships at S$10,000 in 1994, and selling them back to new members at S$20,000.15 A museum displaying memorabilia from the past was opened in 1994 as well.16 On 23 October 1995, the club’s executives served as waiters at a dinner event to raise funds. Earlier in the day, a badminton tournament was also held with each player donating S$50.17 After the redevelopment was completed, the new club was officially opened on 27 February 2001, graced by honorary life member, the late President S. R. Nathan as its guest-of-honour.18 Today, the SSC is a far cry from being an exclusively European club. It offers a range of activities including swimming, bowling and tennis competitions, as well as line dancing.19




Authors
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman




References
 
1. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, pp. 7, 9. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
2. The shark that got a British officers’ club a pool. (1994, April 7). The Straits Times, p. 4; Ranganayaki, T. (1994, November 29). SSC opens museum to mark 100th year. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Singapore Swimming Club. (2016). Retrieved 2016, September 29 from Singapore Swimming Club website: www.sswimclub.org.sg
4. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, p. 7. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
5. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, pp. 7–8. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
6. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, pp. 8–9. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN); The Swimming Club. (1894, February 8). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Free Press (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, pp. 11–12. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
8. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming, pp. 12–13, 17. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
9. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, pp. 14–15, 23–24, 29, 31, 33. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
10. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, pp. 30, 80, 83–84. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
11. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, pp. 85, 95, 99–101, 103. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
12. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, pp. 109. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
13. Mardiana, Abu Bakar. (1994, April 7). Swimming club to buy back inactive memberships. The Straits Times, p. 4; Ranganayaki, T. (1994, November 29). SSC opens museum to mark 100th year. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Swimming Club. (2016). Retrieved 2016, September 29 from Singapore Swimming Club website: www.sswimclub.org.sg/
14. Tan, C. L. (1994). The first 100 years: Singapore Swimming Club 100th anniversary. Singapore: YTJ Total Communications on behalf of Singapore Swimming Club, p. 110. (Call no.: RSING 797.210605957 TAN)
15. Mardiana Abu Bakar. (1994, April 7). Swimming club to buy back inactive memberships. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Ranganayaki, T. (1994, November 29). SSC opens museum to mark 100th year. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Club executives serve as waiters to raise funds. (1995, October 24). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18.  S’pore Swimming Club re-opens. (2001, March 2). The Straits Times, p. H11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Singapore Swimming Club. (2016). Retrieved 2016, September 29 from Singapore Swimming Club website: www.sswimclub.org.sg/



The information in this article is valid as at 1998 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Sports and games
Historic buildings--Singapore
Public buildings
Swim clubs--Singapore
Organisations
Organisations>>Associations
Recreation>>Sports
Sports, recreation and travel>>Water sports>>Swimming
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Civic and Administrative Buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings