The Penguin Mystery

Here at Victoria Baths, we have a penguin. Well two penguins to be exact and they live in the basement under the pools. They are about 5ft, they wear red yellow boots and encourage people to ‘learn to swim the p..p..penguin way’.  

You may be disappointed but not surprised to hear that they are plastic display boards made by the Amateur Swimming Association and penguin biscuits as part of one of their initiatives.  All the information we had about these penguin signs was what was written on them. It does say ‘see leaflets for details’ but we couldn’t find any record of the corresponding leaflet. So, I sent some emails and a few Instagram messages to try and find out more.  

My first email was to the Amateur Swimming Association now known as swim England. They are the national governing body for swimming in England and they were founded in 1869 so they would know a thing or two! Swim England did some digging and found out that Penguin Biscuits sponsored the first Swimathon in 1988. They suggested that there may have been an initiative around the same time to encourage young people to learn how to swim. They praised us keeping the penguins in good nick since the 80s and suggested I email Swimathon to try and find out more.  

The Swimathon got back to me with a suggestion to clean the penguins up a bit and get them in a display, which is valid but I think I’d look much worse if I’d been under a swimming pool since the 80s! They also gave me some more information about the swimathon in 1988.  

They let me know that they weren’t aware of a collaborative initiative with swimathon so weren’t able to give us much more confirmed history. However, they did confirm the fact that Princess Diana launched the penguin swimathon at the Queen Mother’s Sport Centre in Victoria, London to raise funds for the Great Ormand Street Children’s Hospital. The event has run every year since then and it was originally sponsored by penguin biscuits and then taken over by British Telecom.  

Having exhausted my ‘swimming’ leads and after the suggestion of getting Jamie Laing on the phone, I messaged McVities Instagram.  

They confirmed the details of the 1988 swimathon but told me they couldn’t find any mention of the signs or of Victoria Baths in their archives. They did however tell me that the McVities factory in Stockport was, and still is, the factory which makes their famous penguin biscuits! Due to this they said VB would be a ‘prime location to be included in such events’ and it has made Stockport higher on my list of places to live… 

So all in all, we aren’t much further forward in finding out more information but we can assume that our penguin friends joined us in 1988 and were aimed at teaching kids to swim, inspired by the first Swimathon to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital. So not only are they stylish with their yellow boots, they are also altruistic and charity minded.  

I hope we can get our 36-year-old penguins out for a waddle around the baths soon, and perhaps we can find some visitors who remember seeing them and can fill in the gaps for us. Let us know if you have any memory of our feathered friends!  

I’ll leave you with a penguin joke, it would be rude not to!  

What do a group of penguins do to help them make a difficult decision? Flipper coin 

Why can’t Penguins fly? Because they are chocolate biscuits…

  1. Silly me, the link is already on FB, that’s how I read it. Can you get it on X &…

  2. Well done on all your research, loved reading the story. Would love to see the penguins back in situ at…

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