Swimming in the 1960s

I was not a water baby. It took me a long time to learn to swim but thankfully I did. Back in 1863 Abraham Slade recorded:

July 14th. 1863. My poor dear Arthur aged 9 years : About 6 in the evening went alone to bathe in the river near Whitton, and got into a deep hole and lost his life, was brought home quite dead. Was buried in Twickenham Burial Ground on the 18th Saturday afternoon… Oh the anguish of soul it has caused his parents…

Thankfully as a child growing up in Twickenham I had many better, safer options. My first vague memory of public swimming pools is from the early 1960s. Keen that I should learn to swim, I was enrolled in Saturday morning swimming lessons at the old (1882) Richmond swimming pool in Parkshot, Richmond, by then showing its age. Changing cubicles lined both sides of the pool. We went there because the then Borough of Twickenham didn’t have an indoor pool. There I learned to swim!

At primary school we had swimming lessons – memories are vague, but perhaps just during our last two years? A green Fountains coach would take us to Isleworth Baths (1936) and back to school afterwards. Outside school, I don’t remember going swimming very often: I never ever swam at the massive Twickenham Lido but would go to the then outdoor Teddington pool on hot summer days. Of the Twickenham baths, derelictlondon.com says

Built in the 1930s, in a concrete and brick art deco style, Twickenham Baths was municipal architecture in the grand sense with its wide hall, twin staircase and deep arches… The pool itself was an old-fashioned Lido, the last word in leisure, generously proportioned and with ample room for sunbathing on the paved areas. There were fountains at each end of the pool and a diving board at its deepest point, in the middle

Then to Hampton Grammar School. During my first few years during the summer term we would go swimming once a week at the outdoor Hampton pool, then unheated. If the water temperature was 10C (!) or more, it was deemed suitable for swimming.

Later in my school career we were given a wider choice of activities on games afternoon. Not being keen on the mud and cold of football, I opted for swimming. We were left to make our own way from school to the near-new (1965) Feltham baths by bike (c.3 miles, 10 mins), where our names were ticked off by Mr Pickering, supervising master who had driven there and would spend the session sitting in gallery catching up with marking. Once the allotted time was up we were left to get changed and make our own way home. Today there’s no way any school would be allowing its pupils to go off unsupervised, and I can’t imagine many parents would allow it either. The interesting thing about this pool was a movable boom which could be placed at one end to give a full-length pool or moved out to create a separate diving pool (in those days pools had springboards and high diving boards).

As the truly excellent Lidos Alive pages recount, the pools of my childhood are no more. In 1966 Richmond Parkshot was replaced by a new pool complex in Old Deer Park. The 1936 Isleworth pool and Library has been rebuilt as Isleworth Recreation Centre. Teddington, originally built as a lido pool in 1931, was closed in 1976 and rebuilt as an indoor facility in 1978. Hampton Pool was closed by LBRuT in 1981, then reopened following community pressure. It’s run by Hampton Pool Trust, a non-profit It’s still an outdoor pool, rebuilt in 2004, but the water is now maintained at a year-round temperature of around 28 degrees – such luxury compared with our 1960s 10C! Feltham baths is now Hanworth Air Park Leisure Centre & Library.

Twickenham Baths is the one that has disappeared. It was closed in 1980 and the site stood derelict for years. The old swimming pool was filled in and all buildings demolished in 2005. 41 years later the long term future of the site still has to be determined.

And now? The building in which I live has a beautiful 25m pool which I ought to use but rarely do. This winter I must make the effort to do so.

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