Thomas Sibly, the first headmaster of the school, regarded outdoor activity highly. When the school was based at Castle House boys dived into the River Tone but this was less convenient when the school moved to Trull Road. To resolve the matter, Sibly erected an open-air pool to the rear of the main building in 1848 – an extraordinary initiative for the time. However, due to a lack of water it was chiefly used for paddling until 1861 when the Taunton Water Works Company provided a proper supply of water.
Over the years various modifications have been made. The most striking is the enclosure of the pool 60 years later. If you look up to the eaves of the roof above the external door you will see the date, 1908, carved into the stone of the wall. That year Sir Robert Hart was the guest speaker at Speech Day and, after lunch, his wife officially opened the building. He had been a pupil when the school was at Castle House and he remembered swimming in the river.
Another photo was taken in 1910 showing the new facility. Diving boards were pinned to the end wall and they remained until the pool was given a make-over in the early 21st century. Changing cubicles were sited to the right side of the pool. At some point they were removed and tiered seating was erected in their place, running the length of the same wall. A few benches for spectators were added to the wall either side of the door. Less obvious from the photo, but very important, was the retiling of the flooring, quarry red around the edges in contrast to white tiles lining the pool.
These improvements made it possible to hold swimming competitions in the pool. The most eagerly anticipated event in the calendar for swimmers was the annual Meade-King Cup competition which involved Queen’s College, King’s College, Taunton School and Wellington School which utilised all of the pool’s four lanes. The first of these fixtures was held in 1925 at Queen’s which the home side won. Each school took it in turn to host the competition though nowadays the event is not held at Queen’s.
The pool has nurtured the swimming talents of many pupils. The most notable OQ swimmer is Matthew Clay who won the gold medal in the 50m backstroke at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. When he was guest speaker at Speech Day the same year he reflected fondly on the time he spent in the pool at Queen’s. Rebecca Wilde was selected for the national squad of Wales in 2016.
In recent years the flooring was fibre glassed which is less slippery than the tiles used to be and in colours which makes the pool brighter and more attractive. The old wooden benches, which had long served their time, have been taken out.
Besides swimming galas with other schools, the annual house competition has always generated great interest in the pupil body. The nature of the competition has changed over the years. These days the competition is limited to the standard strokes – freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly and relays – at differing lengths for different age groups. However, until the mid 20th century the competition included events such as diving for plates and swimming under water. A highlight of Speech Day for many years was a display given by the school swimmers before the prize giving. On such occasions, swimmers engaged in wrestling between pairs with one of the two sitting on the shoulders of the other and early forms of synchronised swimming finishing the display with the ‘Atlantic Wave’. Those involved jumped into the pool simultaneously to generate a large swell of water which if performed with perfect timing would result in water swishing out of the pool and flooding the surrounding area. It was usual for some of the spectators to leave the display with very wet shoes and clothing.
Today, certain activities create waves in a different way. Water polo is played as is canoe polo: Georgie Longbottom learned the sport here and achieved a place in the GB Under 21 Women’s squad, 2017. Canoeists training for Duke of Edinburgh practice their skills including how to capsize and retrieve the situation. The pool is popular with visitors staying at the school in the summer holidays and boarders still enjoy the chance to swim during summer evenings. It used to be possible for OQs to pop in for a swim using the key which hung on the wall outside the pool door. Of course, safety concerns are such these days that the pool can only be used if certain rules are abided.