A brief History of Warley WASPS

Warley WASPS Logo Redesigned in 2016

Warley amateur swimming club was founded with the opening of Rolfe Street Baths on 7th May 1888 and following a public meeting that month, Smethwick Swimming Club was formed and the first general meeting held on June 18th 1888.

Smethwick Swimming Club quickly became an important part of the sporting scene within the area and by 1900 had become part of the Smethwick Recreative and Athletic Association (SR & AA).

The water polo section was formed in 1895 and by the end of the century was winning honours in the newly formed Birmingham and District Water Polo League.

In the early years, Smethwick Swimming Club was strongly connected with Mitchells and Butlers whose own swimming club functioned as a sub-section of Smethwick Swimming Club. Both Mr Mitchell and Mr Butler were active members of the Smethwick Club Committee.

Initially, club membership was open to men only but membership was soon open to ladies as well, although it took until 1911 for the first mixed swimming gala to be held.

An extract from the original rules of Smethwick Swimming Club gives its objective as being “to promote the art of swimming, floating, diving and plunging.” Smethwick Swimming Club always took seriously its responsibility for providing swimming opportunities for its members and a professional instructor, Mr A Sheldon, was first engaged in 1903.

The club has enjoyed much success throughout its’ 135+ year history, from local success through to Olympic success and representation at GB level at water-polo, both junior and senior level. Throughout the 50’s under coach Bert Owen, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, under coaches Andy Wilson and Bernard Charles, Warley WASPS dominated the Midlands top competitions and proved year after year they were one of the premier clubs, not just in the Midlands, but in the country.

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Womens Team 1951
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Mens Team 1951

The ladies Left to right front row: Pat Hawkins, Pam Wildman Joan Cawfield, Ruby Hall  Barbara Persall (Maybe Pierceall?), Bert Owen (swimming coach and gymnast), Barbara Woodfield (?).

The Men: Herbert (Bert) CrowtherDouglas Edmonds* dec, John Pool* dec, Arther Howel*, Barry Smith (Back stroke), John KennethHodgekin Brown (Half miler), Bernard Hill* (polo capt) dec, Bert Owen dec, Frank Akers (Staffordshire 100 yard Champ circa 1952).

Mr Brian Sadgrove, a former swimmer of the above era recalls:

“I do not recognise the trophy. It could be for swimming or polo as there are not enough members in the photo to make up either squad.”

“JKH Brown was by far the best all round swimmer leaving Frank and myself (Staffordshire 100 yard Champ circa 1953) trailing.”

“All those with an asterisk, including myself were regular Smethwick SC 1st team polo players. Our polo coach and ex captain was the mighty Freddy (scourge of the Nazi’s) Colclough. Prior to Bert Owen the swimming coach was Teddy Owen (no relation) an elderly club member.

The connection with M&B’s came about because some of our parents worked for the brewery. This enabled some of us kids including myself, to join M&B’s Thursday evenings swimming club at Harbourne Baths.”

“Bert Owen was employed by Smethwick Swimming Club and Smethwick Education committee for coaching swimming at the towns schools. Holly Lodge Grammar School was major source for young talent in the late 40’s and 50’s. He regularly gave up his lunch times to give us extra tuition at Rolf St baths. It was an enthusiastic dash from Holly Lodge for the best part of an hours swim chasing a single alternating light that flashed along a row of lamps layed out along the side of the pool. (Health and Safety would not like it today) Followed by a dash back to school for afternoon lessons to avoid detention that could delay our evening training session.”

“Mr Francis (ex England Olympic back Stroke representative) was manager of Thimblemill baths at the time. We were never allowed any facilities other than club nights and had to train without lanes as best we could, jostling around the general public. Then watch his swimming friends train out of hours much to our annoyance as we got changed.”

Unfortunately Brian Sadgrove passed away late in 2019, his name lives on, engraved on our trophies.

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Above is Isabella May Campbell, a former swimmer from late 1800’s through to early 1900’s. She was the great grandmother of Della Warr, one of current swimming teachers.
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This is the same cup, but in a cleaned state. This is the exact same cup that was won by Isabella May Campbell in 1900. It can be seen on the table to the left on the above picture of Isabella. It is still in current use, as of 2020.

We at Warley WASPS are very proud of our past history and have tried to piece together a list of honours the club and swimmers of the club have achieved. This will be updated as and when new (or old) material is found from the archives. Below are some of the clubs highs and lows:

East Midlands League – One of the Founder Members

1967– Division 1 Champions

1968-1982 Division 1 Champions/Finalists

1983 Relegated to Division 2

1984 Relegated to Division 3

West Midlands League

Joined Pre 1975

1976 Division 2 Runner Up Promoted to Division 1

1977 Division 1

1979 Relegated to Division 2

1982 Division 2 Runners Up Promoted to Division 1

1983 Relegated to Division 2

1984 Relegated to Division 3

1985-2008 Division 3

2013 Division 3 North (Re-Joined league) 22nd

2014 Division 3 West 15th

2015 Division 3 West 2nd Runners Up – Promoted to Division 2

2016 Division 2 17th Place

2017 Division 2 15th Place

2018 Division 2 18th Place

2019 Division 2 21st Place (Relegated to Division 3)

Worcester Winter League                    

1975 1st Champions

1976 1st Champions

1977 1st Champions

1978 1st Champions

1979 1st Champions

1980 1st Champions

1981 1st Champions

1982 1st Champions

2015 Rejoined League 12th Place

2016 9th Place (Gala 2 Trophy Winners)

2017 7th Place (Gala 2 Trophy Winners)

2018 8th Pace (4th Gala 2)

2019 Team Sandwell Formed Sharks, Strikers, Storm

2020 Competition suspended after Round 1 – Covid

Worcester County Founders Prize

Awarded for outstanding contribution within the Worcestershire region.

1968 Avis Willington

1969 Avis Willington

1970 Avis Willington

1971 Avis Willington

1972 Avis Willington

2003 Alex Parsonage

2009 Graham Harrington

Avis Willington represented Great Britain at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

Alex Parsonage represented Great Britain at both Junior and Senior level water-polo. Was a member of the 2012 London Olympic squad.

Graham Harrington represented Great Britain at junior level water-polo.

Vicki Hawkins also represented Great Britain for water-polo. Just miss out on selection for 2012 London Olympics

(Both Alex and Graham were involved with their respective GB squads – up to Dec 2011)

Worcester County Express Cup Division 1

1975 Champions

1976 Champions

1977 Champions

1978 Champions

1979 Champions

Worcester Counties & Midland Districts

1977 14 Swimmers achieved a total of 35 Midland District times, the biggest entry in the Midlands

1982 58 Medals won at Worcester Counties, 33 Midland District times recorded and 6 National Times.

Nottingham 100 Gala – Clubs over 100 years old competing.

2001 Champions

2002 Champions

2003 Champions

Nuneaton and District Junior League

1978 Division 2 Runners Up Promoted to Division 1

1979 – 1985 Division 1

1985 Relegated to Division 2

1986 Relegated to Division 3

1987-1996 Division 3

1997 Relegated to Division 4

1998-1999 Division 4

2000 Runner Up Division 4 Promoted to Division 3

2001 4th Place Division 3 Final Promoted to Division 2

2002 5th Place Promoted to Division 1

2003 Relegated Division 2

2004 Relegated Division 3

2005 Division 3

2006 Division 3 Champions

2007 Division 2

2008 Relegated to Division 3

2009-2010 Division 3

2011 Division 3 Finalists 6th Place.

2012 Division 3 Finalists 5th Place.

2013 Division 3 Finalists 3rd Place. Promoted to Division 2.

2014 Division 2 14th Place.

2015 Division 2 22nd Place. Relegated to Division 3.

2016 Division 3 2nd Promoted to Division 2

2017 Division 2 West 5th

2018 Division 2 11th Place

2019 Division 2  16th Place (Relegated to Division 3)

2020 No Competition (Covid)

Mercian Summer League – Joined 2012

2012 16th Place

2013 22nd Place

2014 17th Place

2015 22nd Place Winners Gala 4 Trophy.

2016 13th Place (3rd in Final Gala 3)

2017 14th Place (4th in Final Gala 3)

2018 15th Place (4th in Final Gala 3)

2019 20th Place (3rd in gala 4)

2020 No Competition (Covid)

PGL Ross League – Joined 2013

2013 12th Place

2014 12th Place

2015 12th Place 

2016 4th Place (7th place Final)

2017 6th Place (6th place Final)

2018 12th Place

2019 11th Place

2020 No Competition (Covid)

Unfortunately, Warley WASPS suffered a turbulent period from the mid 80’s and 1990’s, where the team dropped from Division 1 of both senior and junior leagues down to the bottom regions of Divisions 3 and 4.

Towards the end of 1999, Warley embarked on a scheme of re-building, by the early 2000’s, Warley WASPS swimmers, again, after some 15 years, were achieving Midland District and National Times. This was achieved through the help of Marc Soulsby, who joined in the October of 1999 as Junior Coach, and Roger Soulsby, who joined in 2000.

Marc left in November 2005, to coach at Stourbridge Swimming Club, but returned in September 2009, with a view to re-build from the base upwards. The ‘Learn To Swim Programme’ was the priority and the National Teaching Plan was implemented. This part of the club, including its dedicated teaching staff, was then, early in 2010 passed into the capable hands of Tim Beddowes, one of the clubs Level 2 Teacher and Level 2 Coach.

The LTSP, has now exploded into life, with a great Sandwell wide reputation, with qualified teachers and helpers in all sections of the pool, is now producing many quality swimmers.

Early in 2010 saw Mr Ray Evans return to the front-line of the club as Chairman and also back into a coaching role with the clubs growing junior squads.

Mid 2011 saw the return of Janet Evans to the junior coaching staff, she brought back much need help to an ever growing junior squad.

Further-more, December 2011 saw the return of Roger Soulsby (after 3 years of additional service with Oldbury), who was coaxed out of retirement, to help with the coaching of junior and senior sessions. We are always looking to bolster to our teaching and coaching staff, to help the club grow into a vibrant teaching and competitive swimming club.

As the club continued to grow, it was deemed necessary to expand further with coaching staff, in 2013 the club were joined by Gareth Comerford and Paul Hammersley to help with the growing junior section as they were about to be split into two different squads.

2015 saw the club, for the first time since its relegation to Division 3 in 1983, return to Division 2 of the National Arena League (Formerly Speedo League), a sure sign that fortunes are changing.

Warley WASPS were a well renowned competitive club, winning local, national and even European galas and titles.

Warley have also had its’ fair share of Midland and National Champions, as well as Commonwealth Champions, Olympic representation, and were the number one team/squad in Sandwell, Staffordshire, Worcestershire County and the Midlands.

As well as many highs, the club has experienced its’ lows. It takes many, many years to build up a high reputation like Warley had, but only a few bad years to lose it.

Warley WASPS are still a club in progress and are and will continue to build. Warley can boast a host of talent, balanced with young and older members in its teaching and coaching staff and with the dedication of its now 600+ members, there is no reason why we can’t succeed and return to where the club belongs!

‘Cura, et studio pares fortuna causam‘

(Commitment, motivation and enthusiasm equals success)