Remember the time when most local parks had a lido – or at least a kiddies paddling pool?
Growing up in the area I remember being spoilt for choice for an outdoor swim – Valentines park, Barking park, Leys, and Larkswood to name a few. Barking, thanks to a lottery grant, has recently reopened as a ‘splash park’. All very nice – but its not a proper lido.
When Valentines park pool closed in 1994 there was outrage that yet another of London’s once grand leisure facilities was going the same way as many other lidos which closed in the seventies and eighties. A petition to retain the pool signed by over 2,000 people fell on deaf ears – the powers that be unwilling to finance repairs that were estimated at £250k. The 150ft by 50ft H. Shaw-designed facility was demolished at a cost of £26k in 1995.
I’d never thought about the background behind Valentines pool until I chanced upon some info. The idea of a swimming pool in the park was first proposed in July 1923, at an estimated cost of £7,700. The council at that time, however, decided against this proposal and recommended that such an open air swimming pool be built as part of the scheme for the new High Road baths. However, in October 1923 a revised estimate of £5,500 for a pool in the park was submitted and it was decided to that work could be provided for local unemployed during the winter of 1923/24 in conjunction with the Unemployed Grants Committee. In December 1923 sanction to apply for the loan was received from the Ministry of Health and work commenced on the old gravel pit. The swimming pool was officially opened to the public on Saturday, August 2, 1924.
Perhaps this could be the way forward for a new pool – utilise the unemployed to dig in for a cooler summer? In the event and with advances in earth moving machinery I would doubt this would be politically possible to implement. But with lottery funding, council leadership and public will – surely it is possible?
A design sympathetic with the Grade II landscape on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest, that hosts the excellent Valentines Mansion, would surely be a vote winner for any local politician. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the heatwave which has seen temperatures widely exceed 30C the past four days this is a genuine appeal to Redbridge and other local authorities to at least consider bringing back these facilities that used to be widely enjoyed by the masses, many of them affordable or even free of charge.
They don’t have to be expensive white elephants – the few lidos that were spared the axe or have reopened, such as the London Fields lido which reopened in 2006, are well-run facilities that are used all year round. Anyone who’s tried to use a public swimming pool recently, indoors or out, would know that demand often seems to outstrip supply – just the other week I had to abandon plans to visit the brilliant new Dagenham indoor pool because the waiting time was too long, much to the disappointment of my 6-year-old daughter.
The wonderful work done so far on the restoration of Valentines is commendable. A pool would be the icing on the cake.
Many thanks to the excellent Library Info & Heritage department at Redbridge Central Library