Beyond the Spa and the South Bay bathing huts in Scarborough, is a large expanse of concrete. Now a star map, it covers what was once the South Bay Bathing Pool, one of the town’s most popular attractions.
Above: The South Bay Pool (source)
The pool was one of many masterpieces designed by Scarborough’s former Borough Engineer, Harry W. Smith, who was responsible for Peasholm Park, Floral Hall and Northstead Manor Gardens, to name just a few of the attractions that came to define his glittering career. Under his guidance much of the town was transformed into a haven for tourists, and his legacy can still be seen across Scarborough today.
Above: The pool was part of a large scale redevelopment of the area beyond the Spa (source)
Harry W. Smith apparently thought of the idea – for an outdoor pool – after a visit to Guernsey, which already had an open air tidal pool for bathers. The pool he proposed would be the first of its kind in Britain, and would include diving boards, water chute, different depths, changing rooms and showers etc. This would exceed existing seaside provision for bathers, which was rather meagre – the North Bay Bathing Pool would not be built until the 1930s and those who wanted to swim often headed for the sea, accompanied by a cumbersome bathing machine.
Above: The North Bay Pool did not open until the 1930s (source)
Construction began shortly before the outbreak of WWI, and was taking place in December 1914, when Scarborough was bombarded by German ships. Workers were able to shelter, coincidentally, behind the new wall they had recently constructed for the pool.
Above: The early days of the South Bay Pool (source)
The pool was part of a larger development including the Clock Cafe, gardens, cliffside paths and beach bungalows that had enjoyed such popularity when they were introduced along the North Sands earlier in 1910. This newly developed area in the south, just beyond the Spa, helped accommodate the growing crowds of holidaymakers, and the pool in particular was vast. Built in the Art Deco style, it measured 330ft long and 167 ft wide, and was filled naturally by fresh sea water, propelled into the pool by the tide each day. Officially opened in 1915, the pool later hosted national competitions, such as the Amateur Swimming Association championships, and provided a training ground for more serious swimmers, some of whom would go on to swim the Channel – more on this to come in a future post!
Above: One of the original diving boards at the pool (source)
It has also been reported that the pool may have been designed in such a way as to protect against coastal erosion . Either way, it provided a picturesque, family friendly spot, where visitors of all ages – bathers and non-bathers, could enjoy themselves.
Above: Many visitors simply came to admire the displays of swimming and diving (source)
In 1935, due to popular demand, the pool was subject to a number of improvements, which included additional seating for audiences, who enjoyed the many competitions and aquatic displays hosted at the venue, better changing facilities and new fountains for children.
Above: The pool provided substantial seating areas for visitors (source)
There are several videos online that offer tantalising glimpses of the pool at various stages in its history – some examples are included below:
Video 1 (1939) 1:33 onwards
Video 2 (1957) 5:19 onwards
Video 3 (1980s)
Video 4 (2000) shortly before demolition
Visitors to the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page have shared some lovely memories of the pool.
Ah, many a day was spent during the summer hols in this pool. Who remembers being able to take inflatable’s into the pool; the Victorian changing rooms and the mangle to wring out your cossie?
I spent wonderful summers here, swimming all day and chatting with friends, leaning over the outer wall at high tide and watching enormous eels swim by…
Picture this, a foggy morning, the fog horn monotonous ghostly call and a crocodile fashion of school boys winding their way down the ‘south cliff’, the pool down in the distance, looking about as welcoming as the North Sea itself……The lighter green area is where we had to do 2 lengths in order to satisfy the teachers that all new boys could swim. So long ago, but the memory of chattering teeth and hyperventilation during the test (mid May 1969) and over active imagination….and this is before Peter Benchley’s Jaws!!… This picture is a fine example of how people wanted it to be like, but in reality…shhhhivvvvver!
I did the top board ! I remember sitting on the edge and slipping off ! I remember it was so cold ! My mother took me to the open pool every day in our summer holidays ! I also remember they may of had a small board around the pool apart from the main three !! Happy days I was only a very young man !
Check out the album for this attraction on the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page for more memories and comments – there were too many brilliant ones to include them all here.
Above: The pool in its heyday (source)
The pool closed in 1989 – the diving boards were taken down, although the fountains remained and the facilities slowly fell into dereliction and decay. Attempts were made to save it from being filled in – the Twentieth Century Society, for instance, put forward some strong arguments for its historical value, but in the early 2000s it was redeveloped, and all traces of the pool, except for its distinctive outline, have since disappeared.
Scarborough Civic Society
The Twentieth Century Society
Materials held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library
Above: The South Bay Pool (source)
Above: Waterscene – later Water Splash World and Atlantis, formerly the North Bay Bathing Pool (source)
Above: A dolphin emerges from the pool at Scarborough Marineland and Zoo (source)
Swimming and diving have never been purely recreational – indeed, the South Bay Pool was redeveloped in 1935 to accommodate growing audiences for aquatic shows, and the North Bay Pool opened only a few years later with a grand display of diving and acrobatics.
Above: Note the diving board and seating for audiences at the South Bay Pool (source)
Featured in this article are the stories of three exceptional female swimmers, all in some way connected with Scarborough, famed for their mastery of the water and noted for their athleticism.
Miss Gertie Perkin (active late 1800s, early 1900s)
Gertie, short for Gertrude, was a swimming instructor, pier diver and competitive athlete, who performed, taught and competed at the beginning of the twentieth century. She is described in the Yorkshire Evening Post as follows:
…a well-known expert and instructress in swimming and physical culture. Miss Perkins holds the Royal Humane Society’s certificate and medal for “life-saving” efficiency and will also be recollected as one of the chief competitors in the All-England Beauty Contest.
(from The Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday November 23, 1904)
Before the North Bay Pier tragically succombed to a storm in 1905, Gertie was pictured diving from the structure, into the turbulent North Sea.
Indeed, pier diving was a form of entertainment during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and saw a range of brave (or foolhardy, depending on your opinion!) men and women perform dives from ornamental piers across the country.
Above: The North Bay Pier prior to destruction (source)
Gertie competed in swimming contests and provided displays of ornamental aquatic displays for venues across Yorkshire and the North West. She also made glowing endorsements for a cream called Zam-Buk:
I have found Zam-Buk very efficacious for a chafed skin. When the ZamBuk arrived I was in despair about my face. I have an exceedingly fine skin, and the recent wins played havoc with my face. The skin all dried and I looked a pitiable object. I had tried about half a dozen creams, but had derived no benefit. I applied Zam-Buk to the affected parts, and much to my surprise, i found my skin quite smooth the following morning. So I think I have discovered a boon in Zam-Buk, as I could not find anything to produce the same good effect until I used Zam-Bu. When I have had an engagement for pier-diving at seaside places the effect of the salt water on my skin has smites been maddening. I now known that Zam-Buk will be a remedy for this. After the benefits I have derived from Zam-Buk I shall be pleased to recommend it to my physical culture and swimming pupils, as well as to my friends generally.
(Gertie Perkin, quoted in The Yorkshire Evening Post, Friday November 23, 1904)
It has been difficult to locate sources about Gertie or her life, but it’d be fascinating to know more about her pier dive at Scarborough.
Ada Webb (active late 1800s, early 1900s)
Miss Ada Webb has already been mentioned here at Stories From Scarborough, for having performed at the Scarborough Aquarium in the late 1800s. Like her sister Louie, Ada was a renowned natator (another name for a swimmer), champion diver and able to perform all kinds of feats underwater, including eating, drinking, and, supposedly, smoking.
Miss Webb attracted many grand titles, including ‘Empress of the Sea ’ (after Britannia), ‘Champion Lady High Diver of the World’ (following her impressive diving from heights of up to 56 feet) and ‘Queen of the Crystal Tank’ (after her customised performance space).
A report described how she ‘rescued’ a number of ladies who were apparently in danger of drowning at Bromley Swimming Baths. Apparently such rescue feats were commonly used as publicity by professional swimmers, divers and aquatic acrobats at the time, making it difficult separating fact from fiction.
Ada performed across the country – she opened Latchmere Road Baths in 1899 and regularly appeared at London venues.
You can see an advert for one of her performances by clicking here.
However, professional swimming and aquatic performances were a young person’s domain, and, as her own prowesses diminished, Ada began to comandeer her own group of performing lady swimmers, and became a successful manager. Ornamental swimming of this sort peaked in popularity between the late 1800s and 1910s, although aquatic feats of endurance and acrobatics continued to draw audiences well into the twentieth century.
Eileen Fenton (1928 – present)
Eileen Fenton, a Religious Studies teacher from Dewsbury, is perhaps the most remarkable of all three ladies mentioned here, given her incredible achievement of swimming the English Channel in 1950, at the age of just 22.
On the Stories From Scarborough Facebook Page, John remembers her training for the event:
Remember when Fenton was the superintendent there and his daughter Eileen trained morning and evening for a cross channel swim.
Interestingly enought, the first swimmer to make the 22 mile crossing was Captain Matthew Webb, who also famously swam for 74 hours in Scarborough Aquarium’s pool in 1880. After Webb’s successful Channel swim in 1875, only nineteen swimmers had successfully made the crossing between then and 1950, when Eileen entered a new competition, organised by the Daily Mail, to complete the feat.
At first the competition organisers were doubtful of her suitability to participate. Reportedly a slim lady of only 5ft tall, she was deemed ‘too small’ although eventually proved her ability by swimming across Scarborough Harbour in temperatures close to freezing. She later swam for up to ten hours at a time in the town’s North Sea, in order to build up her endurance and tolerence for the cold.
Of the Channel swim, Eileen made the following comments:
It was pitch black and very cold. We could see nothing but the light on the boat we needed to follow. When I got to nine hours I could see Dover harbour, but my arm stopped working and I had to do a front crawl with one hand. I was too weak to get over the tide and I was pushed back by the current. It took me over six hours.
(Quoted in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 19 August, 2010)
Only nine out of twenty four competitors finished the race, and Eileen was one of them. Not only that, but as first lady, she received a huge prize of £1000, then enought to purchase a small house!
She remarked that after the freezing cold waters of Scarborough’s North Sea, the Channel waters were pleasantly mild! Eileen later went on to train a number of Channel swimmers and recieved a number of awards for her winning 1950 performance.
Do you know any more about these inspiring ladies? Or do you have any stories about swimming or swimmers in Scarborough? Any comments and/or corrections welcome!
Yorkshire Evening Post – various articles
Lancashire Daily Post – various articles
When the North Bay Bathing Pool officially opened on July 8th, 1938, Scarborough was quick to sing its praises.
We have imparted to this sunshine pool the atmosphere of a Continental resort, giving you the warm, blue waters of the Mediterranean, and surrounding the whole with lovely flower beds, thus making a perfect setting for a tonic holiday. By night the pool will be flooded by underwater lighting, thus making it the Wonder Pool of the North.
(Councillor Gibson, quoted in the Scarborough Mercury – July 8th, 1938)
In spite of the fact that the pool was unfinished when it opened to the public on the previous Saturday, 33,000 visitors passed through the gates of the attraction within the first week alone, and vast crowds gathered on the slopes of nearby Alexandra Gardens to watch the opening ceremony, which included performances from Munn and Felton’s Band, and a diving exhibition by Mr D. W. Hider, the Yorkshire Springboard Diving champion.
Above: The impressive outdoor pool (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
As was usual in Scarborough at this time, the opening was a grand affair, with all the usual trimmings. The Mayoress was presented with a bouquet by a young child (in this case Miss Anne Overfield, daughter of the Borough Engineer), there were lots of wordy speeches and demonstrations, and no doubt a ribbon was cut. However, the usual presentation of a gold key (which characterised the opening of the nearby Corner Cafe for example) was overlooked. Shocking! Instead the Mayor was presented with something altogether different, described as follows:
…a hand wrought fruit dish with applied vine-chased border, engraved with the Borough’s coat of arms and an appropriate inscription.
(Scarborough Mercury – July 8th, 1938)
What this inscription was, remains unreported, but this represented an unusual departure from tradition. Then again, this was no ordinary bathing pool. In fact, the pool was already three years old when this ‘opening’ occurred. It had previously served as a pool for small motor boats, which were later transferred to the lake at Northstead Manor Gardens.
The original opening, in 1935, attracted far less attention and glamour. Indeed, three years later the Scarborough Corporation pulled out all the stops to transform the venue into a glamorous place to be.
…with the water transparent and sparkling in the brilliant sunshine…
(Councillor Gibson, quoted in the Scarborough Mercury – July 8th, 1938)
There were white glazed tiles on the floor, walls glistening with white marble terrazzo and fifty three ‘dressing boxes’ for each sex. There were seating areas for bathers, spectators and even sun-seekers, who could sunbathe on a rooftop terrace. The pool itself was divided by a long island into a shallow area and the main pool, with seawater pumped in and a system that took only six hours to clean the entire pool.
Above: The North Bay Bathing Pool enjoyed many prosperous decades of operation (Stories From Scarborough Image Archive)
It is incredible to think how many people swam here between 1938 and 2007, when the final manifestation of the pool (by then referred to as Atlantis) eventually closed for good. All that remains are the entry gates, outer walls and some of the Mediterranean themed buildings. The sparkling waters described in the Scarborough Mercury, all those years ago, are difficult to imagine today.
All information in this post was retrieved from old newspaper articles held in the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library.