Jonathan Schofield stumbles on a century-old Mancunian triumph at Mayfield Baths

It’s hard to credit in 2020 but in the decades around 1900 and up to World War II, water polo was a major competitor sport, attracting good crowds - with its heart in Manchester. Mayfield Baths water polo team was one of the best, winning the league four times. They played in purple (technically indigo blue) a nod to the colour made famous by the nearby Mayfield Print Works.

The Mayfield Partnership has made good use of this shade since it took over. You may have seen the colour on hoardings around their summer food market. 

The Partnership has now begun the redevelopment of the huge site, which lies adjacent to Piccadilly Station and over recent months has hosted The Warehouse Project in the old station depot. 

Mayfield Baths was bombed flat in 1940 and the site is now about to become part of Mayfield Park.

The whole Olympic episode reads like a screenplay waiting to be written

While researching the area, I stumbled on a lovely Mancunian triumph. The most celebrated Mayfield Baths water polo player was Robert Arnold Crawshaw (1869-1952). He was from Bury and was a regular team member for many years. In 1903 he was described as a veteran but still playing just as well. He was a victim of crime in 1898 when John Yules stole his bike close to Market Street. I feel his pain. Yules was sent down for one month’s hard labour. That’s the way to treat the buggers.

2020 01 07 Mayfield Baths Area
The old Mayfield baths area (the lower area on the left) waiting for the new park to arrive

What Crawshaw was most proud of was capturing the gold medal in the Paris Olympics of 1900. He wasn’t playing for Mayfield though, he’d been co-opted into the best Manchester team, from Osborne Swimming Club whose home was the long-gone Osborne Street Baths in Collyhurst. One of the Olympic team was Viktor Lindberg, who had been born in Fiji to Swedish and Irish parents. Crawshaw went back to play for Mayfield after the Olympics. 

2020 01 07 Mayfield Water Polo 1900 Olympics
The 1900 Paris Olympics were a proper Olympics with not only water polo but ballooning and tug of war

The whole Olympic episode reads like a screenplay waiting to be written. A working-class team from the inner suburbs of this smoky, industrial city was chosen to represent Great Britain in the ‘city of love’ without national trials, just because they were the best, with a little help from outsiders such as Crawshaw.

One of the official accounts is delicious as an example of sporting conduct but also total dominance. The Osborne Swimming Club scored 29 goals and conceded only three in their three matches. In the final, in front of 5000 spectators, they limited the number of shots on goal to avoid humiliating their opponent Brussels. 

These were the results: 

Quarter-finals Osborne Swimming Club v Tritons Lillois 12-0 

Semi-finals, Osborne Swimming Club v Pupilles de Neptune Lille 10-1 

Final, Osborne Swimming Club v Brussels Swimming and Water Polo Club 7-2 

2019 01 07 Water Polo 1858 Baths 1
Mayfield Baths as it looked when it was completed in 1858

Crawshaw from Mayfield also competed in two swimming events, the 200m freestyle and the 200m backstroke, but never made it to the final.

The British water polo team would win two out of the next three Olympics. They might have won four but they never competed in one of the subsequent three games. 

As stated above, somebody write that script and get it on the silver screen please.

It's funny how history turns. Mayfield Baths played in purple. There is still a Mayfield water polo team, but it's a female water polo club based in Palo Alto, California. The team colour is purple. Delicious in a way.