A brief introduction to lidos

The recent warm weather in England has inspired many to take up outdoor swimming – perhaps for the first time – but our love for lidos has been around for centuries.

Bathers in open air pool, Northstead Lido, Scarborough North Yorkshire 1950-59 c Historic England
Bathers in open air pool, Northstead Lido, Scarborough North Yorkshire 1950-59 © Historic England

All recreational swimming originally started outdoors – in rivers, lakes, ponds and canals and from the late 17th century purpose built establishments were offered for hygiene, relaxation and medicinal purposes.

One of the oldest surviving purpose-built outdoor pools, is the Cleveland Baths just outside Bath, built in 1815. Facing the pool is a block of changing rooms set out in a crescent. It is now listed Grade II*.

A couple lie on the grass watching a child sail boats at highgate ponds, hampstead, london
A couple lie on the grass watching a child sail boats at Highgate Ponds, Hampstead, London (1967 – 72) © Historic England AA096299

The late 19th century saw a rise in ponds in public parks being used for swimming, including, Highgate Ponds on Hampstead Heath and the lake at Victoria Park, Hackney, now used for boating.

Sandford Parks Lido, Cheltenham c Historic England DP195152
Sandford Parks Lido, Cheltenham © Historic England DP195152

Outdoor pools were developed, which were walled in with a lined pool tank, like Brockwell Lido in London which opened in 1937.

Brockwell Lido in 1938 cc Wikimedia Commons
Brockwell Lido in 1938 cc Wikimedia Commons

South Bay Bathing Pool in Scarborough was designed by former Borough Engineer, Harry W. Smith. It was the first of its kind in Britain and included diving boards, water chute, different depths, changing rooms and showers.

 

Scarborough Lido aerial view and view across the bay
Scarborough Lido and view across the bay © Historic England AA038528

Margate in Kent was popular for sea bathing and in 1937 the construction of an expansive concrete-walled Walpole Bay Tidal Pool at Cliftonville allowed hundreds of bathers to enjoy the waters at once.

Aerial view of the tidal swimming pool at Walpole Bay
Aerial view of the tidal swimming pool at Walpole Bay © Historic England HEA_33057_038

The increasing concern regarding the purity and safety of pool water in the 1920s and 1930s inspired the creation of outdoor pools with concrete, tiled tanks and water filtration systems. Due to the vibrant entrances, changing blocks, cafes and sunbathing areas, these outdoor pools became known as lidos, which is the Italian word for ‘beach’.

Two young women at Blackpool Lido, Lancashire. Image by John Gay 1946-1955 c Historic England AA047938
Two young women at Blackpool Lido, Lancashire. Image by John Gay 1946-1955© Historic England AA047938

Tall diving boards were also once prominent, but most have been dismantled for health and safety reasons. Only three outdoor inter-war concrete diving platforms are known to survive and two have been listed at Grade II: Coate Water Diving Platform, Swindon and the Diving Stage at the former Purley Way Lido, Croydon.

Art deco diving board in the middle of a body of water
Art deco diving board, Coate Water, Swindon, Wiltshire. via Wikimedia Commons

Some of our best-loved lidos are on the coast. Tinside Pool in Plymouth and the Jubilee Pool in Penzance – both listed Grade II – combine modernist design in a dramatic setting, and are among the most representative building types of the 1930s.

Aerial view of Tinside Lido
Tinside Lido at Plymouth © Historic England
Jubilee Pool, Promenade, Penzance, Cornwall.
Jubilee Pool, Promenade, Penzance, Cornwall. © Historic England DP181687

There has recently been a rise in lido refurbishments. A notable example is the Grade II listed Uxbridge Lido, in the London Borough of Hillingdon built in 1935, closed in 1998 and reopened in 2010. Among its listed structures by G Percy Trentham is a freestanding reinforced concrete grandstand.

Mitchell Adams, champion swimmer and team captain stood at Uxbridge Lido
Mitchell Adams, champion swimmer and team captain, Uxbridge Lido. Photographed as part of ‘I am London’ © Historic England

So grab your cossie and head down to the pool, ‘cos nothing says British summer time quite like a lido!

Further reading: 

3 responses to A brief introduction to lidos

  1. Janet Donnell says:

    So interesting! I spent a lot of my early childhood summers at Southport Sea Bathing pool with my family and friends, so this brought back many great memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Phil says:

    Don’t forget Grange Lido which also has its diving platform intact and we are campaigning to re-open. It is the last remaining great northern seaside Lido. Please support our campaign. Thanks Save Grange Lido

    Like

  3. Jane Lee says:

    It’s a pity that both Scarborough pools featured in this article no longer exist.

    Like

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