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.
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*.
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.
Outdoor pools were developed, which were walled in with a lined pool tank, like Brockwell Lido in London which opened in 1937.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
So grab your cossie and head down to the pool, ‘cos nothing says British summer time quite like a lido!