Duncan Montgomery & George Townsend: Parson’s Pleasure and the Ponds

Images of wild swimming are everywhere — from smartphone snaps on social media and professional photographs in glossy magazines, to short films and documentaries.

Parson’s Pleasure and the Ponds takes a step back from this high-res world to reconnect with the bathing place as an arena of aesthetic experiment, and as a social space subject to curious changes from one era to the next.

The exhibition presents a new series of wood engravings by the printmaker Duncan Montgomery, among archive material on the history of freshwater bathing, curated by the cultural historian George Townsend. There is a particular focus on Parson’s Pleasure, a men’s bathing place on the river Cherwell in Oxford, active from the 17th century to 1992; and the bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath in London. The prints explore the lost meanings of these sites through figurative and landscape wood engraving, while referencing early photography and Greek statuary.

This work marks the culmination of a collaboration over three years, including a work-in-progress exhibition, Here: A Fair Resting-Place (2023) in association with the Peltz Gallery at Birkbeck, University of London. Parson’s Pleasure and the Ponds will travel on from the North Wall Arts Centre to the Highgate Gallery in London (7-20 June 2024).

Podcast: Dive In! A History of River Swimming in Oxford

Find out about the fascinating history of river swimming in Oxford in this podcast by George Townsend and Museum of Oxford’s Marta Lomza. Listen to Episode 1, Parson’s, Screens and Psychrolousia, through your browser and via Spotify.

Read More

Parson’s Pleasure and the Ponds in OX Magazine

Exhibition Opening

Wed 8 May 2024 6-8pm
Please join us to welcome in this new exhibition.
Free event / no booking required

Artist and Curator Talk

Wed 22 May 6 – 7pm

A deep dive into Parson’s Pleasure and the Ponds, Duncan Montgomery’s debut solo exhibition at The North Wall. Find out more about wood engraving and about the show’s background history of “wild swimming”, through a joint presentation from the artist and researcher and curator George Townsend.

Free event / no booking required


Duncan Montgomery & George Townsend: Parson’s Pleasure and the Ponds


Free entry

Extra information

Opening hours: Mon – Fri: 10am – 4pm, Sat: 12pm – 4pm
Closed: Sun and Bank Holidays

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