Osborne’s existence was comparatively brief. The club disbanded in 1907/08. Not that this halted Manchester’s dominance. In 1903, another of the city’s clubs, Hyde Seal, won the English Club Championship – the first of their nine titles up to 1924.
Mark writes: Osborne Swimming Club was based at Osborne Street baths, Osborne Street, Collyhurst, just north of the city centre, a densely populated area with factories and the mills of Ancoats nearby. The baths (picture above) were opened on 14 June 1883 by Manchester’s Mayor, Alderman Hopkinson – “there was a crowded attendance inside the baths and outside the streets were thickly lined with people,” a newspaper reported.
The complex featured three baths – men’s first class (100 feet by 25 feet), men’s second class (117 feet 6ins by 28ft 6ins) and women’s (56ft by 22ft 9ins) – plus a private wash house and laundry, a committee room, suite of rooms for the superintendent, and, in an age when few households featured a bath, 60 private baths for men, 17 for women.
The Swimming Club was founded in 1887, with Sir Charles Schwann as President. He was MP for Manchester North and, in 1888/89, Vice-President of Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Cricket and Football Club – the modern day Manchester United.
What caused Osborne SC’s demise? This isn’t clear, although I suspect a successor of some kind followed – not currently confirmed. Possibly, the club was a victim of its own success because there would have been a great deal of costly travel required for their amateur players during the years of success.
A driving force behind the water polo and swimming team was John Derbyshire, Osborne Baths superintendent and secretary of the Swimming Club. His son, John Henry “Rob” Derbyshire, captained England in addition to winning many honours as a swimmer – including the first Englishman to swim 100 yds in under a minute and an Olympian in 1906, 1908 and 1912.
Osborne first hit the headlines in 1892 with victory in the Northern Counties Championship – repeated eight times up to 1901. The club won the Manchester and District Championship from 1892 to 1902 and played a key role in securing Lancashire the County Championship on several occasions.
It is true to say that Osborn SC represented Great Britain at the Paris Olympics. However, the rules of the Games stipulated that swimmers and water polo players had to be members of one club – a problem seemingly easily overcome! Research reveals that only two of the Paris team were actually Osborne men – captain Thomas Coe and Peter Kemp. Coe took the place of Rob Derbyshire, who was unable to travel.
Water polo attracted large crowds and extensive newspaper coverage in Osborne’s heyday. After their fourth national title in 1897, the club won the trophy outright. It was presented to the City of Manchester and is currently on display at East Manchester Leisure Centre.
English Championship matches were huge occasions. In 1894, Osborne played London club Nautilus at home in the semi-final with this team: H Silverdale (goal), W Mills, T Coe (backs), T Harris (half-back), J H Tyers, W Kay, J H Hicks (forwards). The match was preceded by a swimming gala in which Tyers tried to break the national 1000 yards record. He failed, giving up after eight lengths, although apparently on course for the record. More races followed, plus a polo match between Osborne Reserves and the Rest of Manchester. Finally – at 10.20pm! – the big game took place, Tyers recovering from his swim to score four in a 12-0 victory.
The sport produced its share of controversy. In 1899, in front of a crowd around 1,000, Osborne played a friendly against Hyde Seal, who included “guest” players and achieved a rare 5-3 win against the English champions. Play, according to a newspaper report, was “very rough” in the second half. “Ultimately, T [Thomas] Coe and T Wildgoose were ordered by the referee to leave the water, he having had frequently to warn other players against rough and irregular tactics.”
It would appear Coe (picture below) was not happy with the decision because, after the match, he struck the referee, James Hunt, in the mouth “violently . . . damaging several teeth and cutting his lip.” The assault resulted in arrest and a court appearance where Coe was fined £5 and bound over. He offered to resign from Osborne but “the committee of the club expressed their keen regret at the incident and strongly condemned it as a disgraceful action. In view, however, of the splendid service he has rendered Osborne in the past, and the probable dealing with the case by the governing body, they decided not to accept his resignation.”
When Coe retired from playing, he became a national referee!
An extended version of Mark Evans’ Osborne article can be found on the Playing Pasts website, https://www.playingpasts.co.uk/category/articles/swimming/