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.
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.
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