Evocative reminders of Britain in a bygone era, seaside lidos are making a comeback. SHARON GOBLE dives in to find out more.
No other type of building conjures up the inter-war years quite like the lido. During the 1920s and ’30s, Britain had an almost insatiable appetite for these stylish outdoor pools, fuelled by a growing awareness of the health benefits of swimming and sunshine. Lidos gave coastal communities a sociable place to swim that was safer than bathing in the open sea.
The word lido derives from the Latin litus for ‘shore’ and originates from a resort in Italy, but the nationwide health movement which led to lidos being built all around the UK coast was also influenced by Germany’s Volksparks, which were dedicated to healthy outdoor pursuits.
In the post-war years, costly maintenance and falling visitor numbers saw many lidos go to wrack and ruin but in recent years there’s been a veritable lido revival, resulting in many being restored and reopened. Here’s my round-up of six of the most fascinating:
Saltean Lido, East Sussex
The symmetry of Saltdean Lido with its Art Deco curves encapsulates the age of health, efficiency and modernity. Architect Richard Jones adopted an optimistic, international style known as ‘streamlined moderne’ which had a strong nautical influence.
This gem of a lido, east of Brighton, underwent major restoration some years ago when a committed community rallied to save it from the wrecking ball. A second round of community-led restoration is nearing completion to give a new lease of life to the entire complex, not just the pool area.
When the leaseholder announced plans back in 2010 to concrete the site and build apartments on it, residents mobilised to take on the lease and raise enough money to restore the lido and make it sustainable. They managed to get the site’s listing upgraded – it’s the only Grade II* (star) listed lido in the UK and, in 2018, English Heritage named it as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of The English Seaside’.
Deryck Chester from the Saltdean Lido Community Interest Company, says: “In the inter-war years, Saltdean was purpose-built as a seaside resort with the lido at its centre. It became a destination venue – the most modern, glamorous, Hollywood-inspired lido in the UK.
“It was closed from 1940 until 1964, then it was extended and became an important community space with facilities we wanted to revive.”
The pool is open for the season from May, followed by a phased opening of other facilities including a year-round restaurant and cafe bar, ballroom, gym, shared workspace, library and heritage hub.
Tinside Lido, Devon
This lido in Devon’s ‘Ocean City’ of Plymouth is another classic Art Deco pool complex, built in 1935 and Grade II listed. Situated on the shore of Plymouth Hoe, its location overlooking Plymouth Sound is second to none.
Consistently voted among the top ten outdoor pools in Europe, the stunning saltwater pool is fully accessible to people of all needs and offers safe surroundings in which to swim and sunbathe.
The lido has both shallow and deep ends as well as water features – perfect to cool off on a hot day as the water is unheated!
Tinside opens between May and September and features a sun deck, surely one of the most stylish places in the city to soak up some rays.
Fancy a cold dip this summer? Check out these wild swimming walks in Devon.
Jubilee Pool, Cornwall
Come on in, the water’s lovely! At least it is in the Jubilee’s geothermal pool, a UK first launched in 2020, offering a warmer bathing experience where the natural salt water is heated to a very pleasant 35 degrees.
In the remainder of this large triangular Art Deco pool – the largest seawater lido in the UK – holidaymakers and locals can still embrace tradition with a chilly dip in unheated waters, as they have for decades. You’ll be glad to know there’s a poolside cafe where you can warm up afterwards.
The Grade II listed pool opened in 1935 and is celebrated as one of the best examples of a pre-war lido in the world. Built on a traditional bathing spot near the harbour, it was designed by local borough engineer Captain Frank Latham.
The pool was badly damaged during the storms of February 2014 and closed for major structural work and upgrades, including measures to anchor the pool to the rock bed. Since reopening in 2016, it’s open every day from late May to early September.
Grange Lido, Lancashire
Grange Lido is the only surviving seaside lido in the North West of England – with a prime position on the scenic coast of South Lakeland that affords spectacular views across Morecambe Bay.
Designed by the local council’s district surveyor, Grange Lido is comparatively simple and functional and blends with the promenade and the sweep of the bay. The pool was formally opened in August 1932, although it had been in use for some weeks by then.
Despite becoming a much-loved community asset hosting swimming competitions and beauty contests, Grange Lido closed in 1993 and now needs considerable TLC. It was listed as Grade II in 2011.
Save Grange Lido is working in partnership with the local authority on a two-phase restoration to create a community-owned leisure facility with a restored 50m pool at its heart.
Stonehaven Swimming Pool, Aberdeenshire
Following a poll of residents in 1933, Stonehaven Pool was built to competition standards the following year for £9,529. Stonehaven’s claim to fame is that it’s the UK’s only Art Deco Olympic-sized seawater lido. The first season was highly profitable; however, customer feedback was not entirely positive. So, from 1935, not only was the sea water circulated, filtered and disinfected, but it was also heated!
During the Second World War the pool provided recreation – and showers – for locally-based troops. After the war, it was popular with visitors. Despite changing holiday habits over the following decades, attendance remained healthy until the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, closure loomed.
The Friends of Stonehaven Open Air Pool was formed, now a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation that works in close partnership with Aberdeenshire Council. A paddling pool, cafe and a new chute opened in 2021.
One of the most famous outdoor pools in Scotland, Stonehaven is the most northern lido in the UK and opens from late May to early September.
Portishead Open Air Pool, North Somerset
Relatively speaking, Portishead Open Air Pool is a new kid on the block. 750 hardy souls turned out for a chilly opening day in 1962. The Lord Mayor of Bristol declared the pool open by symbolically pouring a glass of water into it! At the time, hot water created as a by-product at the local phosphorus plant was brought in by tanker several times a day to raise the temperature to a mere 21 degrees. An oil-fired boiler was installed in 1969.
The pool suffered because of new indoor sporting and leisure facilities. After years of neglect and underfunding it was finally threatened with closure in 2008. Local supporters fought tooth and nail to keep it open, eventually persuading the council to allow the Portishead Pool Community Trust to take over its running for the 2009 season.
The trust still faced an uphill battle to get the facility spruced up in time for a May opening. Then Ty Pennington of TV’s Extreme Makeover came to the rescue. The pool re-opened as scheduled under the auspices of the Trust and has gone from strength to strength. It now opens annually for the season on April 1.
GOING, GOING, GONE…
In the golden age of the Lido, they dotted Britain’s coastline from north to south but most haven’t survived the test of time. The vast open-air pool that once graced Blackpool’s south shore was demolished in the 1980s. The building could take 1,500 bathers and 8,000 spectators and was built – unusually – in Renaissance style.
On the Kent coast, Margate’s lido complex, where artist Tracey Emin apparently learned to swim, has long been abandoned by sunseekers and filled in. While the local visitor information centre says there are no immediate plans for demolition, this now less-than-lustrous lido continues to deteriorate. Sadly, a classic case of sink or swim.