Saturday 26 November 2011

SUN-BATHING WAR Riotous Scenes on the Banks of the Welsh Harp

Indignation was rife among local residents during the weekend at the proceedings of sun-bathers in a field near 'Sandy Cut', Cool Oak Lane, Kingsbury, and spirited protests by Hendon and Kingsbury householders culminated in violent scenes on Saturday evening and Sunday.

The sun-bathers, who are, for the most part, non-residents in this are, are members of the Sun-Ray Club and the New Life Society.  They sun-bathe on the grass near the edge of the Welsh Harp reservoir in various states of semi-nudity, while notices are chalked in surrounding trees stating, 'Sun-bathing ground. Please keep away.'

On Saturday a number of nude women women bathers were present with the men, and so strong was the objection of a hostile crowd that the followers of this cult were ultimately attacked, and found it necessary to seek police protection.

A resident of Wakeman's Hill Avenue wrote to Kingsbury Council:
Why is nude bathing permitted in the Welsh Harp Reservoir without some enclosure, where sexual maniacs can perform out of view of the more respectable members of the community? On Sunday evening last and myself were walking across from Old Kingsbury Church to Edgware Road, and were half-way over when we came upon a bunch of stark naked men hanging around the water side. Hardly a pleasant sight for a man to have to pass with his wife!
The attack on the sun-bathers commenced on Saturday, when some 40 men and women lay on the grass near the water's edges. Some wore no clothes; others wore slips or bathing drawers, Passers-by tooking objection, particularly on the ground that there were children in the vicinity, and soon a large crowd gathered, excitement growing until jeers and insults gave way to blows but no one appeared to be seriously injured.

Captain H.H. Vincent (secretary of the movement) was attacked by a woman but evaded her blows. There were cries of 'Duck him in the lake!' 'Drive them out of Hendon!' and Mr F.G.Biddle of Bell Lane, Hendon declared that he would 'get the lot of you locked up for indecent behaviour in public.' When the sun-bathers managed to get partially dressed they left the field.

A cartoon comment at the time
 Captain Vincent afterwards stated that the crowd appeared to take objection to one of the women, who wore nothing above the waist.
We put up notices warning people that sun bathing is taking place but they will come and stare at us, and some of them even take photographs. Dress or undress is optional with us. The objectors are ignorant people, with whom it is useless to argue.
The above events took place on 28th and 29th June 1930 and this is an edited account  from the Hendon and Finchley Times. My mother, who died earlier this year, and lived in Church Drive close to the the Welsh Harp, told me that she and her her sister, when children, used to hide in the bushes and spy on the sun bathers. It was their only sex education...

Thanks to Phil Grant for digging up the press coverage. There is an account of  the riots in a beautifully illustrated  new book entitled Welsh Harp Reservoir Through Time by Geoffrey Hewlett. The Welsh Harp has a colourful past including horse and greyhound racing, water skiing, motorboat racing, regattas, rowing competitions between neighbouring boroughs, ice skating and even an escaped bear!

Welsh Harp Reservoir Through Time, Geoffrey Hewlett, Amberley Publishing, £14.99 Available from the Willesden Bookshop

1 comment:

Philip Grant said...

When this "riot" was being discussed in June 1930 by Kingsbury Urban District Council, the Chairman (Councillor Elmer T. Ashman, a local headmaster who lived in a Trobridge thatched house in Slough Lane) pointed out to his colleagues that there was no public path within 300 yards of the place where sun bathing was taking place.
In May 1931, a special meeting of the Council was attended by a deputation from the National Sun and Air Association, who were applying to rent a piece of land beside the Welsh Harp as a private area 'for sun and air bathing'. After very careful consideration the Council 'RESOLVED UNANIMOUSLY that, having regard to the fact that the deputation stated there would be no costumes worn and there would be intermingling of sexes, the application be refused'.
I wonder how Brent Council would respond to a similar application today?