How outdoor pools still make a splash

LIDOS are an endangered species – the dozens that used to cater for the public in London have shrunk to a handful and very few areas now have outdoor pools. But lucky swimmers in North Herts can take their choice of two, both with grassy areas where famil

LIDOS are an endangered species - the dozens that used to cater for the public in London have shrunk to a handful and very few areas now have outdoor pools.

But lucky swimmers in North Herts can take their choice of two, both with grassy areas where families can picnic and enjoy the sunshine.

Letchworth GC's lido, on Norton Common, dates from July 1935 and replaced a smaller pool in the Ball Memorial Gardens, off Norton Way South.

It had been opened in 1908 and ran a colourful programme of gala events including pillow fighting on a spar, cock fighting on a raft, costume, cigar and umbrella races, a graceful swimming competition and a cap and balls chase.


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By 1934 it was too small to cope with the demand from enthusiastic garden city residents and a new pool was proposed. Passions ran so high on the issue that the Letchworth Citizen newspaper wrote: "We note with regret that some people are prepared to speak evil of the present swimming bath but do not let us throw dirty water away until we are sure that we can get clean."

Clean was duly forthcoming and the new 55-yard pool was opened a year later by the Minister of Health Sir Kingsley Wood. It was only the second pool to be built in the country using ozone as an alternative to chlorine and could cope with 700 bathers at once as opposed to the old 150.

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At its first gala on August 17, Miss Phyllis Harding, the British Empire backstroke champion, gave a demonstration. Two years later another star turn was provided by Freddie Hodges, who came to the "last great galette of the season" according to the Letchworth Citizen. Freddie, the British spring diving champion, was watched by 898 people.

Another draw were the Aquatwerps who "brought howls of laughter and aching sides with comedy diving of the most strenuous nature" at a 1950s gala.

In 1942 admission for an adult was 6d (2.5p) or 20 shillings (£1) for a season ticket, with hire of towels and costumes at two old pennies a time. Costumes of any colour could be worn but men had to wear slips as well. Perambulators were not permitted in the pool enclosure.

The pool has always been a tremendous success but by the 1960s demand was growing for an all-year centre. Letchworth Urban District Council resisted on the grounds of cost - an estimated £160,000, but in 1965 it was faced with a 9,000-signature petition.

Three years later 5,000 mothers signed another in support of a cheaper alternative, a glass fibre dome over the open air baths.

In 1982 the Queen opened North Herts Leisure Centre in Baldock Road which included an indoor pool but fortunate residents are still able to enjoy the outdoor baths throughout the summer. It has been described on one lido website as "possibly the best open air pool in the area" in "a beautiful natural environment with extensive sun bathing area and free parking".

They are equally lucky in Hitchin, where the 1938 open air pool is situated next to the indoor baths. Both are owned by North Hertfordshire District Council which is proud of the contribution it makes to keeping residents relaxed and healthy.

Cllr Ian Knighton, portfolio holder for leisure for the council, said: "We are very proud to have two 1930s lidos in this area and we know they are much loved by the public.

"They provide a valuable resource for the community, whether they are families enjoying the sunshine or swimmers keeping fit.

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