Here’s a really nice piece on some stunning pools that have been abandoned in the UK on the website Urban Ghosts … well worth a look. Click here
Something to warm the cockles this Yuletide. Click on this link to hear the wonderful Lido Song performed by Chris Stanton and the Big Splash (feat. The Dive-in Belles) at Tooting Bec Lido. Photography by Kat Robinson & Sue Brearley. Audio & visual production by Tom Robinson. Hilarious.
While we’re at it, don’t forget to put 26 January 2013 into your diary. The South London Swimming Club will be hosting the 5th UK Cold Water Swimming Championships at Tooting Bec Lido. This biennial event has become a must for cold water swimmers, attracting both the experienced cold water swimmer and people who are trying it for the first time. Age and ability is no barrier as, with water temperatures as low as 3°C, jumping in for the 30 yard races is a challenge in itself.
The Cold Water Swimming Championships celebrates the fun and camaraderie of cold water swimming and the competiton is often just friendly but can also be fierce. There are a variety of races this year, from the traditonal “head-up” breaststroke, the freestyle dash and relays to the 450 metre challenge for the really fool hardy. To help the competitors recover there will be a Finnish sauna available after the races as well as good food, a host of stalls and entertainment going on throughout the day.
Click here for a little preview film. See you there.
One day in the distant future when the kids have grown up and ‘er indoors and I retire, we have decided we will move to the Barbican in London EC1. Grade II listed in 2001, the complex is one of London’s principal examples of concrete Brutalist architecture and considered a landmark. We both love it, although I think if we sell our house we might just be able to afford one of the studios there. Looks like the kids will have to fend for themselves.
Right next to the Barbican is the Golden Lane Estate a 1950s council housing complex in the City of London built in an area devastated by bombing during World War II.
The competition for designs was announced in 1951, and at a time when post WW II recovery was still slow, the opportunity to design such an estate attracted a lot of interest among architects. The competition and entries to it were covered in the architectural and popular press. Golden Lane Estate is important as the first work of the partnership formed when Geoffry Powell won the competition to build the estate on 26 February 1952. The three partners-to-be of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (who later designed the Barbican) were all lecturers in architecture Kingston School of Art and had entered into an agreement that if any one of them won, they would share the commission. The estate included leisure facilities, including the recently restored Grade II listed swimming pool.
I have been visiting the Barbican for years and had never even heard of the pool. I am so pleased that I made the effort to go and find it. Golden Lane Fitness is not only a delightful pool to enjoy a few turns, but the staff are excellent, and the surroundings and view through the glass paneled walls make it worth every single penny. Although amazingly this time it didn’t cost me a bean. Arriving straight from a thoroughly tedious meeting, soaking wet having been caught in a sudden down pour, I arrived at the leisure centre without any cash. To top it off the centre’s card machine didn’t work. No matter said the incredibly welcoming chap behind the desk: “Why don’t you just pay me next time you visit?” Really? This is unprecedented. I think you get so used to people being shitty about things – by you not having the right change, no padlock, etc etc – that when someone is pleasant it is a bit strange. Not only that, when I point out that I didn’t have any change for the locker, he lends me a quid. Brilliant.
The Grade II Listed pool is located at the heart of the celebrated Estate. The ‘L’ shaped Centre is wrapped around a quadrangle and is the conglomeration of two formerly separated buildings; the two storey swimming pool and badminton court and the single storey club rooms. A key aim of the recent refurbishment was to provide a wide range of fitness options for residents and visitors, encouraging greater use of the leisure centre, generating greater income and modernising it to a standard that allows it to serve the community for years to come.
To achieve this, refurbishment has also included the badminton court and changing rooms, added a new gym and dance studio and created a new, fully accessible, reception area and circulation routes. It really works
Occasionally it is used as a venue for other activities. A couple of years ago the pool was used by Sky+HD for a special screening of the film Titanic
People turned up in Victorian costume and sat through the film in rowing boats for the screening. It transformed the Golden Lane swimming pool in London back to the high seas of 1912. Incredible.
Anyway, get yourself down there if you get the opportunity. It really is a wonderful pool. I am going to go again today, if nothing more than to repay my debt to the chap on reception.
Do the shoppers in Covent Garden Piazza realise that just ten minutes away, they could be swimming outdoors? Most of them probably don’t.
I have been meaning to write about GLL’s Oasis outdoor pool for sometime now. As my work tends to be in the west end of London it is an easy place to get to, come rain or shine, before or after a day’s toil. The sports centre it is based in has the usual choice of facilities, squash courts, gym, group exercise studios and sauna and a 25 metre indoor pool. The centre is extremely spacious and has a really friendly atmosphere to match any within the industry – GLL does most things really well.
The most popular of all of the facilities the centre has on offer is 27.5 metre heated outdoor pool and sun terrace. It really is a lovely place to swim, particularly in the winter when the steam is rising from the pool and when there is a chill in the air. You are surrounded by shabby council flats and disheveled offices, the noises you hear permeate from Covent Garden shoppers, and it feels and sounds amazing. Proper urban swimming.
It does have a bit of a reputation. According to one blog: “the gents changing room is historically a gay cruising zone, although I have never noticed it.” Really? It can’t really have been any more blatant. Another blog, imaginatively called Cruising Gays.com says: “This place is very popular. Because it’s cheap, there’s a decent supply of hot young dudes. Also, the outdoor pool is very cool for London: warm even in winter! There is also a smaller indoor pool, gym and sauna. This is a very cruisy place. It will hit you instantly. Homoeroticism is everywhere.” Make you own mind up!
Anyway if you can get over that trifling point, the Oasis open-air heated pool, and sun terrace is a central London revelation to the uninitiated. Swimming is free for Camden residents aged 55 and over between 9am and noon Monday to Friday. There really is something for everyone, but best swam in when the winds are blowing, the snow or rain is falling.
“The sun set long ago on the heyday of Britain’s seawater swimming-pools, but they retain their mysterious allure” Ken Worpole
I don’t know about you, but whenever I think about Margate I just don’t seem to be able to get the 1989 Only Fools & Horses: Jolly Boys Outing out of my head. It’s the one where the Trotters join other Nag’s Head regulars – Boycie, Trigger, Mike, Denzil et al – on a day trip to Margate. Kiss me quick hats, too much shellfish, the great Raymondo, the Villa Bella, and the trip to the infamous fun fair Dreamland (where you can see Denzil clearly shouting “f**k” as he goes upside down on one of the rides). Brilliant stuff. Comedy genius.
Twenty-odd years later we are going to spend a couple of days in Margate, firstly to go and see the amazing looking David Chipperfield designed Turner Contemporary gallery, as well as to try and get a swim somewhere in the historic town.
The construction of the Turner Contemporary gallery on the harbour is part of an attempt to attract higher quality shops (and punters) to the old part of the town, the project also forms part of a plan to relaunch Margate through the arts and its social history. Dreamland is also set to reopen by 2012 to help attract day visitors back from London, and get a bit of a buzz back to this ghost town (once referred to by The Times as a “Dump”) which seems to be dominated by boarded up shops, decay and a complete lack of local government funding.
But while many of Britain’s faded resorts see art and architecture as the path to renewed prosperity, why do so few of them open their eyes to the architectural swimming gems? In Margate’s case its now derelict Lido and the stunning Walpole Bay Pool.
We checked in at the wonderful Walpole Bay Hotel to be as near to the sea, and the Walpole Bay Pool as possible. This historic Margate hotel was built for discerning guests in 1914, extended in 1927 and is now being lovingly restored to her former glory by the Bishop family. Apparently it’s where Tracey Emin stays when she visits the home of her birth – but don’t let that put you off.
Anyway, off to see what the Walpole Bay Pool has to offer. Avoiding the sea of dog excrement we amble to down to the sea front in the cold drizzle much associated with the British seaside.
Legend has it that Walpole Bay got its name because of a ship named after Britain’s first prime minister Sir Robert Walpole. The vessel was wrecked by smugglers that had stolen the valuable cargo after the ship was driven ashore during a gale on 17 December 1808.
The tidal swimming pool that dates back to 1900 seems to be all but forgotten by the locals – although it is sometimes used by people learning how to dive. Like much of the town it has seen better days. Sadly the elegant art deco funicular that used to transport swimmers from the town (or those staying at the Walpole Bay Hotel) has been closed down. According to one of its lifeguards: “Even on hot days, I’d describe the atmosphere as sedate.” It is such a shame as it is stunning. Some locals say that despite is yearly ‘essential’ maintenance, there are rumours that it is soon to be refurbished as the town becomes increasingly gentrified, and tries to take on the like of Broadstairs as ‘must-go-to’ UK seaside destinations. Let’s hope so.
Meanwhile, in the 1920’s the Lido at Cliftonville was completed to cater for the popularity of sea bathing. The Lido was built on the existing Clifton Baths Estate, beneath which ran many passageways used by smugglers in previous centuries. The underground complex consisted of bars, cafes and an indoor warm sea water pool with nearby changing facilities.
The Lido was hugely popular from it’s construction right through to the 1960’s. A winter storm in January 1978 which destroyed Margate Pier also wreaked havoc with the Lido, particularly the outdoor pool. The last time it was used, it was the venue for a series of raves in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Reconstruction work has never even been considered, and even today the Lido faces almost certain demolition. Check out these shocking pictures of the state of the Lido as it ‘stands’:
Times are changing in Margate. You sense that the Turner Contemporary has breathed new life into the town. Let’s hope the locals reconsider the role of their wonderful seawater pools and use the town’s heritage of swimming to encourage locals to petition the local council for funding to save their swimming gems. We have lost too many seawater pools – here’s the chance to save two of the finest.
“The new leisure centre on Clapham Manor Street has just opened its doors – and it’s twice as big as the old one!”
I finally got the chance to have a swim at the new Clapham Leisure Centre this weekend. My daughter had recently been saying that she wanted to go swimming again – she’s 2.5 years old – and rather than going to Tooting Lido (which would definitely be a tad too cold for her) I thought we would see what GLL’s new pool had to offer.
The actual building looks like one of those massive depots you rent space from when you are either moving home, or when you current one is bulging at the seams. Descriptions of it looking like a ‘multistory car park’ or that it is a ‘monstrosity’ are not far off the mark. Never mind, what about inside?
O.K. it was Sunday, and you would expect it to busy, but the queue was massive and even before we had got to the till we were told that we wouldn’t be able to use the kids pool. Having not yet been to the centre I didn’t even know there was a kid’s pool, but I felt short-changed anyway.
Having handed over £5.65 for both of us (What ever happened to free swimming for all Lambeth Council? What happened to your pre election pledge?), we wandered through the generic reception area, past a viewing window to the kids pool I was told I wasn’t going to be able to swim in, and through to the ‘village style’ changing rooms. Compared to the old Clapham Leisure Centre changing area with its complete lack of privacy, poorly plumbed communal shower and fetid smelling toilets, these are great.
Through to the pool. Apparently size isn’t everything. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, but this is not true. The old pool was a pre metric 33 yards, whereas the new pool has been reduced to the standard 25 metres. I am sure most people wont notice the difference, but that was a wonderful quirk of the old place. It is however wider, but the lanes are narrower. I noticed a few people bumping into each other as they turned after a length as there is hardly any room to pass. Shame.
Anyway, a swim in the ‘big’ pool would have to wait. I spotted a couple of adults with babes in arms leaving the baby pool. I grabbed my chance. To be fair, compared to the old kids pool – which was so dark and dingy that I would never have let my daughter near it – the new version is a wonderful surprise.
Allowing only 30 people in at a time makes absolute sense as it gives first swimmers the space to try a few things out, accommodates various inflatable toys, a few floats here and there gave my daughter something to focus on. She loved it. Despite not being in a pool for some time, she was splashing around, kicking her legs, waving to my wife who was watching. When I asked her if she was cold, or if she felt she had swum enough: ‘No daddy. More. More.’ I could not have asked for more.
When we did eventually get out of the kids pool I went for a swim in the big pool as my wife dressed our daughter. Firstly I could not dive in as the depth has been reduced (although I am led to believe that the depth is variable for some reason) the lanes are painfully thin and it does make a difference swimming shorter lengths. The cavernous structure it is housed in has no character, it is all a bit soulless.
It feels a shame that so many swimming pools have been lovingly restored to their former glory (see the Marshall Street baths), retaining their character, staying true to past while looking to the future with new facilities, climbing walls etcetera, yet Clapham Leisure Centre has got rid of something wonderful and replaced it with something mediocre. Never mind, I will get my swimming kicks somewhere else, but as long as my daughter enjoys it at the new Clapham Leisure kids pool I will go every weekend. Damn it.
“Feeling gloomy? There’s nothing quite like an invigorating swim to put you in a good mood, especially with the open sky above you. Simon Murie, founder of specialist swimming holiday operator SwimTrek, talks us through London’s best spots for an al fresco dip,” says The Good Times, a magazine designed to have steered us through the (official!) most depressing day of the year, Jan 16th. The Good Times is The Church of London’s (a Shoreditch-based creative agency) response to the January blues and the result of a week-long project to write, design and print a one-off newspaper which celebrated only good news.TCoL rallied writers, designers and illustrators together to produce a newspaper which exclusively featured ‘good news’ stories. Copies were distributed in London and available direct from the TCoL office on Leonard Street in east London. And seeing Tooting Bec Lido, The Serpentine, Hampstead Heath Lake, and London Fields Lido being written about as a natural antidote to the trials and tribulations that January did put a smile on my face. There is a link to the full text in the picture above. Enjoy!