Walpole Bay Pool and The Lido, Margate, Kent

“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.

Advertisements

4 Responses to “Walpole Bay Pool and The Lido, Margate, Kent”

  1. Anne Moulay Says:

    I support plans to rebuild the salt water pools at the lido I love the area and always have even as a child, lovely summer holidays dreamland swimming let Margate keep its saltwater pools let Margate be the first to keep this wonderful piece of history our heritage.

  2. denise rayner Says:

    What a fantastic idea , it would be a big boost for the area.

  3. Yes, let’s hope the town council do go ahead and rejuvenate the lido facilties at Cliftonville, a place of significant seaside historical architecture, which could then be enjoyed by all today. My husband and I recently enjoyed an overnight stay at the Walpole Bay Hotel during the hot August of 2013, and on an early morning walk along the promenade to Margate we were fairly amazed that nothing much seemed to have altered over the last 20 years, when Iwe last visited, apart from looking even more run down than we”d remembered. Only the new Turner Gallery, our walk’s destination, has altered the seafront as well as the refurbished bandstand at Cliftonville where apparently one can delight in afternoon concerts during the summer season. I was sorry I could not stay to hear The Chillbillies performance. The next step in the restoration of Dreamland to its rightful place as Margate’s biggest visitor attraction was achieved this week when the site was transferred to the local Thanet Council. 2016 is the planned re-opening date.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: