Archive for ‘historical’ swimming baths

Golden Lane Sport & Leisure

Posted in London Pools, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2012 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

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.

An Oasis in the heart of London’s Covent Garden?

Posted in London Pools with tags , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2012 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

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 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.

Walpole Bay Pool and The Lido, Margate, Kent

Posted in Around the UK, Margate with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2012 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

“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 Good Times: Get Wet

Posted in London Pools, Tooting lido with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2012 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

“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!

Melbourne City Baths

Posted in Abroad with tags , , , on October 5, 2011 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

I’m in Melbourne for just three days – in Australia for a week in total – working on a research project. Naturally I am working my fingers to the bone, but the jet lag has got the better of me, and I find myself at 04.10am writing about one of the treasures this delightful (if expensive) city has to offer.

Last night, having completed a focus group with some lads about their considerable booze intake (while they got hammered, and we sat there as sober as judges), my colleague and I met up for dinner at Golden Fields, a culinary hotspot in St Kilda with two of his friends. It was amazing – the food, company and some swimming-related conversations.

Over a delicious meal of rustic pork dumplings, with Shanghai chilli vinegar; crispy soft shell mud crab with fried egg aioli, twice-cooked duck with steamed bread, vinegar and plum sauce; all nicely washed down with some Stoney Rise Pinot Noir – a native wine from Tamar Valley – we were given a lowdown about the city that you never get to read in any copy of Lonely Planet.

One of the nuggets to emerge from our conversation was about the city’s ‘historical’ swimming baths. It sounded incredible, and most definitely warranted some further investigation. Typically though, as a consequence of being on too many planes, and lack of sleep I have come down with a bit of man flu, so swimming in this little gem will have to wait until next time I visit the country.

First opened in 1860, and one of the few buildings of age in this ultra modern city, the Melbourne City Baths has provided what it describes as “health and fitness services” to Melburnians and the odd Pommy for more than 140 years.

According to its website: “In Melbourne’s founding years, a bathroom in the home was a luxury only the wealthy could afford. For most, a weekly wash or dip in Port Phillip Bay or the Yarra River sufficed.”

By the 1850s the Yarra had become quite polluted – not necessarily from the poor using it as a shower facility – and an epidemic of typhoid fever hit the city causing many deaths. However, people continued to swim and drink the water.

One of the Melbourne City Councillors, Sizar Elliott, initiated moves to build public baths and urinals in the city. A triangular piece of land on the corner of Swanston and Franklin streets was chosen and the City Baths was opened on 9 January 1860. People flocked to the baths and it was reported that 79,096 men and 2,950 women enjoyed the facilities in the first year.

For financial reasons the council decided to lease the baths but lack of maintenance resulted in such deterioration of the building that it was closed down in 1899.

In 1901 the corporation of the City of Melbourne advertised a national competition for the design of new public baths on the same site as the previous baths. The winning entry was from a well-known architect J J Clark, who also designed Melbourne’s Treasury Building.

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Sir Malcolm D McEacharn, officially opened the new Melbourne City Baths on 23 March 1904 in the presence of the Premier, the right honourable Thomas Bent, and other guests.

The design reflected all the social conventions of the turn of the century. There was segregation of the sexes for all facilities, right down to separate street entrances. Class distinctions were also apparent with second-class baths in the basement and first class baths on the main floor.

Facilities consisted of two swimming pools, 16 slipper baths and six spray baths each for the men and women.There were also Turkish and vapour baths, a Jewish ceremonial bath (Mikvah bath) and a laundry.
Mixed bathing was introduced into the City Baths in 1947 and the popularity of the swimming pool began to increase.

The success of the Australian swimmers in the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 further contributed to the popularity of the swimming pools, after which attendance rocketed to over 300,000 per year. In fact the baths had been considered as a possible venue for the Olympic swimming events but were disregarded due to the state of the facilities.

In the 1980s, in disrepair, they were nearly closed, but were saved in 1983 by a public campaign and $4 million refurbishment. Thank goodness they were. Melbourne City Baths is now a leading health, fitness and wellness centre with innovative programs and modern equipment, as well as being a significant historical icon that is visited by thousands of national and international tourists.

The uniqueness of the building and the significance it holds for so many Victorians has also prompted theatre groups, television programs and fashion magazines to use the baths as the setting for their productions, films and photographic shoots.

What can I say, apart from that I am gutted that I will not get the chance to swim a few turns in what is as truly a stunning swimming pool as any I have written about so far – you Melburnians are lucky people to have it on your doorsteps. I on the other hand feel privileged to have been told about it. Enjoy.

Bovey Tracey

Posted in Around the UK with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

I just got back from a wonderful week in Devon, more specifically Dartmoor. We stayed at Borough Farm with Devon Yurt situated on the edge of the Tamar valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

I have some wonderful swimming memories from spending time on the moors as a kid. My dad has a farm in Postbridge – a tiny village dating back to the 12th century – which has the East Dart river flowing though it. We used to swim in the natural deep pools near to the Clapper Bridge on hot summer afternoons. The pools were deep enough to dive into, and so clear you could see the trout gliding through the chilly water beneath us. In fact my step-brother used to take horses into these pools to cool them off when it became particularly sweltering.

There is a wonderful poem called Dart by Alice Oswald, which captures this remarkable river in a way that I could ever hope to articulate. After three years recording conversations with people – swimmers, farmers, foresters, coarse fishers – who live and work along the river, she produced a stunning homage to the river, and those she met along the way – a kind of liquid rhapsody. Winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2002 Dart tracks the river from its source to the sea.

Here’s a little extract:

Dartmeet – a mob of waters

where East Dart smashes into West Dart

two wills gnarling and recoiling

and finally knuckling into balance

in that brawl of mudwaves

the East Dart speaks Whiteslade and Babeny

the West Dart speaks a wonderful dark fall

from Cut Hill through Wystman’s Wood

put your ear to it, you can hear water

cooped up in moss and moving

slowly uphill through lean-to trees

where every day the sun gets twisted and shut

with the weak sound of the wind

rubbing one indolent twig upon another

and the West Dart speaks roots in a pinch of
the East Dart speaks coppice and standards

the East Dart speaks the Gawler Brook and the


the West dart speaks the Blackabrook that runs by the prison

at loggerheads, lying next to one another on the riverbed

wrangling away into this valley of oaks

The other place we used to visit – the place I chose to have a dip on this particular trip – was Bovey Tracey’s Swimming Pool. Built in 1973 and run by the Bovey Tracey Swimming Pool Association, this wonderful little pool is a Registered Charity run by a dedicated group of volunteers.

The Pool itself is a 25 metre “open air” heated pool and is much smaller than I remembered. There is also a Toddler Pool which is maintained at a luxurious 85 degrees – perfect for my daughter to have a splash around in. She loved it!

Situated alongside the village green cricket pitch (you can actually hear as willow and leather collide when you are doing your lengths), it is one of a number of pools in Devon and Cornwall that thankfully have bucked the trend for swimming in bland, municipal sports and leisure centres instead of natural pools. And because it is run by people who love the pool, rather than money men, it is as friendly as visiting a village pub, or local butchers and tearooms.

Watch out, the pool has a few eccentric opening times. When we asked at the Tourist Information hut about visiting the pool, the delightful old lady holding court with a number of ‘grockles’ politely informed me that ‘it is closed today between 1pm and 2.15 and the opening times vary from day to day.’ Wonderfully British behaviour.

There were only a handful of people at the pool, surprising given the modest admission cost, the surroundings and its own admission that it’s: ‘A great place to relax, keep fit and meet new friends!’ I didn’t meet any new friends, but I swam a relaxing 40 lengths, followed by a good old splash in the kids pool with the rest of the family.

There are various different reasons to visit Bovey Tracey – it’s worth checking out the incredibly random auction house, as well as S & D Todd Butchers for its delicious locally produced sausages, but it’s worth visiting this pool as something of a reminder to all the other pools that have been needlessly shut down by local councils over the years. As social as a local village pub, as relaxing as reclining watch a game of cricket, and fun for one and all.

Join the party in London’s outdoor swimming pools

Posted in Around the UK, London Pools with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2011 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

There was a nice piece in the Evening Standard the other night about London’s outdoor swimming pools by Jonathan Knott, with accompanying images by Tony Buckingham.

According to Knott: ‘Research suggests that exercising outdoors has the greatest benefits to mood and self-esteem, and the mere sight of water intensifies the effect.’

His round up of Lakes and Ponds, Cold Water Lidos, Heated Pools & Sea Swimming (clearly not in London!), is surely be enough to get you inspired to go and enjoy the incredible swimming pools London has to offer this weekend. Get in there!