Memories of Twickenham Baths

For many locals Twickenham swimming pool just means a derelict scrap of land, boarded off, overgrown and the subject of endless speculation about its future. It’s been a blot on the Twickenham landscape for years as plans to redevelop the site have faltered time and again. Yes, some parts have now be opened up as public space but there’s still a long way to go before the whole site does justice to its riverside location. Against that background it’s easy to forget that Twickenham Baths used to be a real working swimming pool where real people would go to enjoy themselves on a sunny afternoon.

Writer Kate Monro grew up in Twickenham. Here she shares her recollections of Twickenham Baths and of good times spent there. Feel free to add comments with your own memories on our Memories Page

As a woman in my early 40s, a woman who spent many happy summers growing up in 1970s Twickenham, imagine my surprise recently to learn that an event had been held at ‘The Twickenham Lido’. I almost fell off my chair. Since when had Twickenham Baths been re-named Twickenham Lido? And more to the point, why had an event been held there? Was it re-opening? My head spun with the possibilities. I’ve dreamt of this moment many times over the years but sadly, it was not to be. The event had been held in what remained of Twickenham Baths – which remained shut. Even so, I still like to think that this fictional ‘re-brand’ reflects the magnitude of what had once been.

The diving board today

If I look back at the pantheon of joyful Twickenham tinged memories from my childhood, it is the ones that involve Twickenham Baths that mean the most. Maybe it’s just because I love water but really, anyone who was there would tell you this, Twickenham Baths was a magical place. From the cavernous hallway with its twin staircases curling up past the counter where one would pay one’s (modest) entry fee, to the art deco-esque changing rooms with their waxy curtains and wooden slatted bath ‘mats’, Twickenham Baths ruled. The pool itself was something to behold. Forty elegant metres of shimmering blue water surrounded by pink paving stones, trees and happy people. On a hot day, it was simply the only place to be seen. My feet pounded those paving stones from childhood right through to self-conscious teenager-dom. And then one day, Twickenham Baths closed.

We understood. It wasn’t even heated so there was no money to be made in the winter months but it did break our hearts a little bit. Summer wasn’t the same after that. It broke us even more to see it standing, empty, dejected and overgrown. For years afterwards, I would often stop and push my face through the tiny gap in the fence just past Contessa (yep, the bra shop), to watch where my childhood had gone. As time went by, the saplings growing from the cracked fissures in the pool became trees and my memories disappeared from sight. But never from mind.

These days I make a special trip to Hampton Outdoor Pool if I have the time and the money. Otherwise I swim at my local pool in W9. A Greek island would be preferable to both but Twickenham Baths would always be my next best choice. Perhaps I am over romanticizing it. But even now, 30 straight years since the site shut down, I can still feel the excitement I felt every day after school, having begged the requisite ten pence off my mother and the breaking of the land speed record as I rushed to get to the Baths in time for a swim. I particularly remember the look of bemusement on my mum’s face one weekend afternoon as I deigned to ask for an extra ten pence. ‘I’m not giving you the money to go twice a day Kate’.

Clearly, once wasn’t always enough.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kate Monro was born in Yorkshire and grew up in Twickenham. Her ‘Virginity Project’ set out to ask British men and women to reveal their virginity loss stories. The result is a groundbreaking and very personal insight into the beating heart of British sexuality. It has been featured in the national press and radio.

* The First Time: True Tales of Virginity Lost & Found (Including My Own) is published by Icon Books and available from Amazon.

Kate Monro’s blogs:
* http://www.virginityproject.typepad.com
* http://www.bigguysmalldogblog.typepad.com

Your Memories? You can add them to our Memories Page as part of our “social history” experiment.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Memories of Twickenham Baths

  1. Frances Reading

    I have very fond memories of the baths and me and my friend Tracey spent many a happy afternoon there. The water was freezing but we didn’t mind, especially if it was a hot day. It was 10p to get in and another 10p would get a wagon wheel from the cafe. I always remember the mangle to squeeze the water out of our swimsuits and the roughness of the concrete blocks surrounding the pool and teenage boys show off on the diving board – heaven!! It was a sad day for Twickenham when the baths closed.

  2. Kevo

    Ahh yes Twickenham swimming baths. On a hot day in the summer months there would be a long enough queue, perhaps reaching backward around the corner up toward the main lights opposite Sandy’s.
    I remember waiting there one day and a woman in front of me and my mum fainted due to the heat!

    The entrance usually had a little board displaying the water temperature as you went in, so we soon learnt to gauge what the shock factor would be on entry in to the water by the numbers on the board.

    As a youngster unable to swim I fell in one day and started to drown,luckily my older sister noticed and dragged me out. Chatting to a good friend of mine, he’d had the same experience, and as shocking as that may seem pretty much all we could talk about was the cafe shop thing at the far end of the pool where you could maybe get a bag of crisps, some Opal fruits or a Marathon.

    In later years when I had learnt to swim my friends and I would go to the pool and if it were too busy, as it sometimes was, we’d jump in the Thames.

  3. Richard Thomas

    I was born in Twickenham in 1949, lived in Arragon Road and went to school at St Mary’s in the same street. I have to say I have very mixed views on Twickenham Baths (not Lido, please) and my least fond memories are of turning up there at the beginning of the summer term for school swimming lessons and dreading turning into the main doorway where the day’s water temperature would be displayed – often it would be in the mid-50s F, and to me that was too cold for a young lad to have to plunge into. We didn’t have a choice though. I moved away in 1984 and have always been puzzled at how such a prime and potentially beautiful site could be allowed to go to waste in the way it has.

  4. steve

    i have many fond memories of twickenham baths. It was freezing cold but that does’nt matter between the ages of 5–late teens!! Also frequently coming out and finding we had to wade to our bikes(chained to the river railings)!! Did’nt bother us though…it was funny!!

  5. Indeed the choreographer did organize a display outside the pool site, and inside too, check out the pictures on http://www.rosiewhitneyfish.com/
    On the same theme here is a video including some very unremarkable shots of Twickenham… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uJv27B4YYg

  6. Simon H

    Can’t help thinking we were mad to vote out the Lib Dems to stop their recent development plans.

  7. Teresa Stokes

    Brings back happy memories of the Winchester Lido, also sadly closed, which sounds exactly the same as this one. My greatest treat as a five to six year old was to go there with my parents and little sister, with our cozzies rolled up in a towel. There were little changing rooms along the side with coloured doors, pink paving round the pool warmed by the sun and a special tots’ pool about six inches deep with a fountain in the middle which you thought yourself very brave to go underneath. My first experience of “shopping” was to be given a sixpence to buy a chocolate wafer from the snack shop. The main pool was jolly cold even in summer, and we have an old cine film of me huddled with cold at the edge, but nothing beats the tingling feeling you get coming out of really cold water, which most people probably never experience any more. The same film shows a friend of dad’s diving off the extremely high diving board which would never be allowed now – in my local pool at Porchester Baths you are forbidden even to do a racing dive off the side! Happy days!

  8. I used to swim there, too, and I was really put out when the pool closed in 1980 (not 1981). My husband went there for his school sports days when he was a kid.
    You can find some of its history on http://www.rivercentre.org.uk/history.htm and in Prof Michael Lee’s book, “The Making of Modern Twickenham”.
    It was never known as a lido, and the building was disparagingly referred to in “Farewell my lido” (a survey of all lidos in England) as being undistinguished – this came out in the 2003 planning inquiry relating to the demolition of the buildings, prior to construction of the temporary playground.

  9. George

    Having first visited Twickenham in the mid 90’s and moved here in 97 I have never known the pool site as anything other than a mess. It’s great to read about it as a place of excitement & fun rather than just a bit of a tip and the source of endless bickering. As a kid I went to a lido in Hoylake on the Wirral on visits to my grandparents. A big outdoor pool. Changing booths rather than rooms. The water always just that bit colder than you expect when you dive in. The shrieks of the children playing in the water. The grown ups sitting round the edge chatting. Maybe the pool wasn’t that big but it seemed big and exciting. Wikipedia says it closed in 1981. That was a bad time for outdoor pools. No doubt the recession and the rise of cheap foreign holidays were probably to blame. Let’s hope Hampton Pool keeps going for a good while yet.

  10. Adrian Luscombe

    Fantastic blogging.
    I have similar happy memories of many a childhood summer’s day spent here. It’s a stain on Twickenham, it’s politicians & council representatives over the years, that this prime site is still a derelict eyesore, 30 years on. The families, & young & old of Twickenham, are, as usual, the ones who miss out.