Kindred Spirits: From Broomhill lido to West End Bathing Place- the lost swimming pools of Ipswich
- Credit: Archant
David Kindred recently featured a reader’s memories of visits to Fore Street Swimming Baths, Ipswich, for school swimming lessons.
And readers responded with their own memories of the baths.
This week he has found photographs featuring swimming facilities lost to the town. Some are long gone and two were little more than walled-off areas of the river
The West End Bathing Place was where the Rivers Orwell and Gipping meet, near what is now the junction of Sir Alf Ramsey Way and West End Road. It closed in 1936 due to pollution from the river. Marshall Jaguar of Ipswich now stands on this site.
The Stoke Bathing Place was a larger walled-off area of the River Orwell. This site is now under the West Bank terminal.
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Piper’s Vale Pools were on the east bank of the River Orwell, they opened in 1937 close to where the Orwell Bridge is now. It was demolished in 1979.
St Matthew’s Baths closed after Crown Pools opened in 1984. This site was open for swimming in the summer and was used as an events venue in the winter months.
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Broomhill Pool was built in 1938 at a cost of £17,000 and has been closed since 2003. A campaign has been running since then to reopen the site.
Mick Hawes wrote to say: “Did you learn to swim at Fore Street Baths? My answer to that question is very similar to that of your correspondent Rod Cross.
“Despite Fore Street Baths based lessons both at primary school (St John’s C of E) and secondary modern (Copleston) I never actually managed to learn to swim there.
“I can still remember the first time we were assembled there from St John’s. Having changed, we were lined up standing at the side of the pool facing the teacher. She then demonstrated the arm movement of the breaststroke and we had to copy it. I was only nine or ten, but I can still remember thinking “Why are we wasting our time in the water when we could have gone through this routine at school?”
“Of course some of the class could already swim and during that latter part of primary and first year of secondary most reached that moment when taking both feet off the bottom seemed worth the risk. Sadly for me I was not one of them. Luckily the summer holiday that year provided me an opportunity when I was with adults that could swim (neither of my parents could) and in the first week of the school holidays “lift off” was achieved. As soon as I got back home to Ipswich I commenced a routine of walking to Broomhill open air swimming pool two or even three times each week and spending about three hours there on each visit. By the end of the holidays I was able to swim 440 yards. I had to wait nearly a year before I could demonstrate this ability to the PE staff at the end of summer term “certification” session at Fore Street. Being pretty inept at most sports I hope that they were suitably impressed!
“Rod mentioned the easy going nature of classes getting to and from Fore Street. For me swimming was the last lesson in the afternoon. When the lesson was over pupils went off in various directions. In my case the teacher gave me two plastic coin tokens totalling 1½d for my bus fare home. I then walked up to the Mulberry Tree on my own where I caught the number 11 trolleybus back to my Sidegate Lane home near the Royal George.
“One other memory of Fore Street Baths – me now a swimmer and my big brother Malcolm home on leave from Cyprus where he was doing National Service, he took me there for a swim. We left our clothes in the men’s changing room. There was no system for security. When we came out and changed back I was shocked to find the few pennies in my pocket had gone. Malcolm told me not to worry he would have money to get home. Then he realised his wallet had also been pinched.”
Elaine Bamber, of Washbrook, added: “Like many people in Ipswich, I was taught to swim in the 1960s at Fore Street baths. I used to attend Sprites Lane Infant and Junior school. In my final year at the school, we went to Fore Street, on the local bus every week for our swimming lesson. The teacher stuck a polystyrene float down the back of my swimsuit. As I was swimming along the float, unbeknown to me, popped out so I was actually swimming unaided.
“Once we could all swim we had to do the ‘life-saving’ certificate. This entailed jumping into the pool in a pair of pyjamas and retrieving a black, heavy plastic brick from the bottom of the pool. I still have my first 25 yards swimming certificate and the ISSA life-saving certificate.
“During the summer holidays I, with a few of my friends, used to take a packed lunch and go swimming in the morning. I think it cost sixpence to swim for the morning. The swimming pool used to close for an hour at lunchtime. Us kids would go into a cubicle at the side of the pool, leave the door slightly ajar and stand up on the bench so that our feet couldn’t be seen. An attendant used to ‘check’ that the cubicles were empty (he obviously didn’t do it very well!) He didn’t push the cubicle doors right open. Once he had gone for his lunch, out would come our packed lunch and we would sit in the cubicle to eat it. Just after two o’clock, when the pool re-opened, we would then close the cubicle door and re-emerge to swim for the afternoon without having to pay another sixpence for the afternoon session. We certainly got our sixpenny worth (We would have received a ‘fourpenny one’ if we’d been caught) Such innocence.”
Ipswich’s Glenda Ray shared her memories.
“The interesting article in Kindred Spirits about the Racecourse area of Ipswich I found most informative. My great-aunt and uncle were the first landlord and landlady at the Racecourse public house in 1937, the year I was born, previously they had kept the King’s Head, Sproughton Road.
It is lovely to reminisce. I find I do it more and more. Although I grew up in the war years I had a lovely childhood. I lived opposite Wells pork butchers shop in Fore Street where my father had a fish and chip shop. The building was over 400 years old and in 1948 it was razed to the ground. We moved to Grimwade Street where Gardiner’s sweet factory and Peter’s Ice Cream factory and shop were nearby.
“Fore Street Baths is where I learned to swim when I was five years old. I am so pleased it is still standing. It is something else we have to thank the wonderful Cobbold family for.
Regular contributor Peter Turtill added: “I actually did learn to swim there and what is more I have always preferred it to the Crown Pools. I was very young, maybe four or five, when my uncle, Ronald Canham from Canham’s newsagents in Duke Street, started taking me there to swim.
“He was a very strong swimmer, but also very patient. He taught me to swim and later how to ride a motorcycle as he used to race at local scramble meetings. I became a very good swimmer myself and eventually I raced motorcycles too. Happy days indeed.”
Colin Pryke said: “My late father-in-law, Ted Martin, did some of his Fire Service training in a tunnel under the pool after the war.”
And George Copping emailed to say: “I attended Britannia Road Junior School and remember being taken to Fore St Baths in 1959 or 60. We were given some instruction in the shallow end, but I never put more than two strokes of breast stroke together throughout the term. At the last lesson we were asked if we wanted to put ourselves forward for a certificate.
“I’m not sure why, but at the last moment I volunteered and was instructed to climb into the water at the deep end and swim. I remember thinking to remain calm and slowly make progress stroke by stroke until I reached the shallow end. I had gained a certificate for 25 yards and subsequently gained further certificates for longer distances, but have never progressed from breast stroke.”.
Do you have memories of any of the swimming pools? Email Kindred Spirits with your memories