Scarborough Lido aerial view and view across the bay
A brief introduction to Architecture Historic photography Listed places

A Brief Introduction to Lidos

Increasing water safety concerns in the 1920s inspired the creation of outdoor pools with concrete, tiled tanks and water filtration systems.

Warm weather in England has inspired many to take up outdoor swimming, but our love for lidos has existed for centuries.

A black and white photograph of bathers in an open air pool.
Bathers in Northstead Lido in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, between 1950 and 1959. © Historic England Archive. View image AA98/18185.

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. A block of changing rooms set out in a crescent is facing the pool.

A photograph of a lido in a crescent shape at night with the changing rooms lit up.
The Grade II* listed Cleveland Pools in Bath, Somerset. © Historic England Archive. View image DP348288.

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

A panoramic photograph of a lido with crowds surrounding it.
The Grade II listed Sandford Parks Lido in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. © Historic England Archive. View image DP195152.

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

Former Engineer Harry W. Smith designed the South Bay Bathing Pool in Scarborough. It was the first in Britain to include diving boards, water chutes, different depths, changing rooms and showers.

An aerial photograph of a lido next to the sea.
Scarborough Lido and view across the bay in 2002. © Historic England Archive. 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.

A photograph of a tidal swimming pool.
The Grade II listed Walpole Bay Tidal Pool in Margate, Kent. © Historic England Archive. 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, the Italian word for ‘beach’.

A black and white photograph of two women sitting on the railings of a bandstand.
Two young women at Blackpool Lido in Lancashire between 1946 and 1955. © Historic England Archive. View image 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, two of which are protected: the Coate Water Diving Platform in Swindon, Wiltshire, and the Diving Stage at the former Purley Way Lido in Croydon, London.

A photograph of an Art Deco style diving board in a lake.
The grade II listed Art Deco diving board at Coate Water in Swindon, Wiltshire.

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

A photograph of a lido at night.
The Jubilee Pool in Penzance, Cornwall. © Historic England Archive. View image DP181687.

There has recently been a rise in lido refurbishments. A notable example is the 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.

A photograph of a swimmer standing next to a lido.
Mitchell Adams, champion swimmer and team captain at the Grade II listed Uxbridge Lido. © Historic England.

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

Further reading

5 comments on “A Brief Introduction to Lidos

  1. Janet Donnell

    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.

  2. 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

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

  4. Jeremy Poynton

    Hayfield Lido u in the Pennines is where we went when the weather was like this. Idyllic, sadly long gone.

  5. Trevor Colluney

    Thank you for this post – very informative and embedded in my early years. These Lido’s were really the first health and fitness venues

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