There was a time when pretty much every decent sized town in England boasted a Lido or two. Late thirties London, before the Luftwaffe arrived, boasted over fifty open air swimming pools. Many of them were originally built in a glorious kitschy Art Deco style in the early part of that decade funded largely by the government and local authorities who used them as building projects that gave the long term unemployed a few months work.
Sadly, as the decades passed, many were neglected by uncaring councils and when the nation’s holiday makers discovered cheap package tours to warmer climes in the 1970s their fate was sealed.
The select few that escaped the wrecking ball were saved by passionate local groups keen to preserve not just modernist architectural gems, but also places where they could swim as surely we were intended to swim, in the open air with the sun high in the sky.
Over the past decade there has been a significant Lido revival. The re-generated London Fields Lido has become the de facto beach for East London while other threatened Lidos Like the one in Charlton have been saved for future generations enjoy.
Here then are our ten favourite British Lidos. Some are no longer with us, some you can swim in today. All are a bit special.
Jubilee Pool, Penzance
Opened it May 1935, this Lido is not only known for being the largest outdoor seawater pool (100m x 73m on its longest axis) but also for its interesting triangular shape which appears to have been chiseled out of the sea wall. Its curious shape is designed to conform to the natural direction of the waves. The Lido also has high walls to protect swimmers from the wind and sea and provide a terrace for holidaymakers to lounge on and bask in the Penzance sun.
The Lido was a popular attraction in Penzance for many years, though by 1992 it had become dilapidated that its future was at risk. After hearing of plans to add a cooper coloured pyramid to the top of the pool, architect John Clarke volunteered to help refurbish the Lido, keeping its previous aesthetics, but re-generating it for contemporary swimmers. The pool was repaired in two stages and was reopened in 1994 with same critical acclaim as it received 60 years earlier. However, sadly this year the pool will not be open due to severe storm damage. To ensure the reopening of the lido the Save Our Lido campaign has been set up.
Tooting Bec Lido, London
Tooting Bec Lido is not only the largest purpose built open-air freshwater pool in England (at 300ft x 100ft), but is also the second largest in Europe. Opened in 1906, so it pre-dates the 30s Lido-building craze, it was altered slightly in 1931, with it dressing sheds being turned into individual cubicles. In 1936, these were replaced with newer ones as well as a café. It is open from May to September, although if you join the South London Swimming Club you can swim all year round. Given that the water isn’t heated that might mean it is a little challenging in February.
Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park, London
As tempting as it is to jump into the Hyde Park’s Serpentine from one of the bridges that traverse it, unless you want to seriously annoy Royal Park keepers, you are much better off heading for the Lido on the south of the Lake. Here you can swim in a 30mx100m area, surrounded by buoys so you don’t get hit by passing peddle boats. You’ll probably have to share your water with a few ducks though.
The Lido is open all year round to swans and members of the Serpentine Swimming Club – the general pubic are limited to between May and September. There is also a gated area with a paddling pool for children that boasts slides, swings and a sand pit and a private sunbathing area with sun chairs for hire.
Uxbridge Lido, Uxbridge
This Lido was built in 1935 is the last remaining 12 side ‘star’ shaped pool in the country. It is also the second biggest open air pool in London – only Tooting Bec Lido is bigger. This Grade II listed pool, which boasts some stunning Art Deco touches, has had a chequered history. It has been closed and re-opened many times in the last few decades, though it is now flourishing thanks to a major refit a couple of years back. It really is a stunning pool, though be warned, its size and lack of heating means that the water temperature is on the cold side.
Brockwell Lido, London
Built in an Art Deco style in the 1930s, Brockwell Lido has acted as a makeshift city beach for thousands of South Londoners. Its future was threatened in 2003 when Lambeth Council proposed demolishing the pool. However the pool was handed over to a company called Fusion, and since then the Lido has thrived. You need to get here early on sunny days. There’s a similar Lido for those who live north of the river at Parliament Hill in Hampstead.
And five you can’t swim in – for now
Saltdean Lido, Brighton
Saltdean Lido was built in 1937-1938, and boasts an iconic, innovative design which includes cafes, a tea terrace and a sun deck all placed on the winged roof. In spite of being hugely popular with generations of locals, its future hung in the balance as recently as 2010 when this Grade II listed building was scheduled to be turned into a block of flats. In response to this, locals set up the Save Saltdean Lido campaign in March 2010. Two years later Brighton and Hove city council came to an agreement with the leaseholder to give ownership to the Saltdean Lido Community Interest Company. Later this year the 12-18 month refurbishment programme will begin, with the Lido being back open for business in 2016.
The Lido, Worthing
Many Lidos have risen from the grave and maybe one day it will be Worthing Lido’s turn. Built in the 1930s it was an unheated pool which replaced a once-popular bandstand on the town’s promenade. The pool, which contained purified seawater, remained open until 1988, when dolphins from the Brighton Sealife Centre were kept there for a year whilst their permanent accommodation was being rebuilt. There is now a new floor on top of the pool, and the area is used as an entertainment centre with café and ice cream parlours. The pool is still underground however, so maybe one day we will see it resurface!
Super Swimming Stadium, Morecambe
‘The seaside town they forgot to close down’ sang Morrissey in the late 80s and although Everday’s Like Sunday was inspired by a resort in Wales it could just as easily been an homage to Morecambe. The once-thriving resort which boasts an Art Deco gem in the stunning Midland Hotel, had by the 80s hit very hard times as the girls and guys from the nearby mill towns swapped Morecambe for Malaga.
One of the first big public buildings to go was the beautiful Art Deco Super Swimming Stadium. Built in the 1930s, the pool was very popular and even had a cameo in the 1959 Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer. It was finally closed in 1975 and bulldozed soon after.
Purley Way Lido, Croydon
This Lido featured a cross-shaped pool measuring 200ft x 73ft on the major axis, and 100ft x 60ft on the other. Built in 1935, it was something of a trailblazer as it was one of only five outdoor pools to boast heating. In fact Purley Way Lido was pretty advanced for its time as it also featured lighting on the floors. The pool was used for international polo matches, and some of the competitors would fly in to the aerodrome adjacent to the Lido. It also had a diving pit with 3m, 5m and 10m boards, which can still be seen today. However, it was unfortunately shut down in 1979 and has now been converted into a garden centre. Interestingly you can still see its diving board, which is part of a play area.
Broomhill Pool, Ipswich
First opened in 1938, Broomhill was one of the most sophisticated of its time boasting heaters, underwater floodlights and a very efficient water filtration systems. It also boasted a grandstand capable of holding 700 spectators.
It flourished for several decades and during the 1970s and 1980s attracted around 2000 visitors a day during heatwaves, and up to 60,000 visitors during its 90-100 day opening period.
However, these golden days did not last. A lack of funding, a steady decrease in opening hours and new health and safety regulations meant the number of swimmers started to decline. Until, in 2003, the local council announced that Broomhill would not open for the 2003 season. However, the Grade II listed pool, which is the only remaining outdoor 50+ metre pool in East Anglia, would not be forgotten easily. The Friends of Broomhill Group was formed in 2002, and have been campaigning for Broomhill to be reopened. Here’s hoping they get their wish soon.