The Peter Pan Cup: London's Coldest Race

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By M@ Last edited 11 months ago
The Peter Pan Cup: London's Coldest Race
Swimmers line up for the 2011 Peter Pan Cup. Image by Sinister Dexter in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Every Christmas Day, London's hardiest swimmers take a dip in Hyde Park's Serpentine, in a competition for the Peter Pan Cup.

The 9am spectacle sees members of the Serpentine Swimming Club battle it out over a 100-yard handicap in the icy December waters to the south of the lake.

The 1911 race as shown in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. The event was won by the appropriately named AC Fear.

It was named the Peter Pan Cup by the author JM Barrie, who donated the prize in 1904 — the same year that Peter Pan was first performed on the London stage. The competition is much older, though, dating back to 1864.

The starting line in 1930, in a race won by A Stonyer.

Unless you're a member of the Serpentine Swimming Club, you won't be able to take part. But the Christmas morning splash is free to watch from the lakeside.

Scenes from the 1914 cup, with 1913 winner G Gyton.

In the early years of the 20th century, competitors could look forward to a warming cup of beefy drink, courtesy of a 'big Bovril van' that attended the race. The Bovril company also awarded prizes for second and third place.

The race was postponed in 1935 — the first time for 40 years — when the Serpentine was unusually icy. Undeterred, around a dozen members smashed through the ice and went for a non-competitive dip.

The scene in 1991.

Barrie continued to present the trophy into the 1930s, whereafter it was awarded by club chairman Albert Greenbury and later his descendants. They're still involved today.

Not many swimmers have won the cup on more than one occasion. A notable exception is Mr FW Maggs, a butler who first bagged the trophy in 1920, and then again in 1955 — at the age of 71. Maggs would later give his name to another trophy of the Serpentine Swimming Club.

The Peter Pan Cup, every Christmas Day at 9am, south side of the Serpentine. Archive images courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive, copyright the British Library Board.

Last Updated 20 December 2016