The Story of the South Bay Pool

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.

South Bay Bathing Pool

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.

South Bay Pool

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.

North Bay Bathing Pool

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.

South Bay 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!

 

South Bay Bathing Pool
 
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.
 
South Bay Pool
 
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.
 
South Bay Pool
 
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.
 
From Fee:
 

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?

 
From Tony:
 

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…

 
From Dave:
 

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!

 

From Gary:
 

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.
 
South Bay Pool
 
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.
 
Sources
 
Scarborough Civic Society
 
The Twentieth Century Society
 
Scarborough News
 
Materials held at the Scarborough Room at Scarborough Library

Sea Bathing and the First Bathing Machine at Scarborough: Part II

This is the second part of an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2012) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished here. You can read Part I by clicking here.

Article Summary:

Scarborough rapidly became a fashionable spa town and the first original English seaside resort after the discovery, in about 1626, (by a Mrs. Farrer) of natural mineral springs at South Bay. It also saw the arrival of the first bathing machines in 1735. “Taking the Waters” quickly became Scarborough’s accepted medicine and its fame promptly spread.

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Above: This photo was taken by the well known photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe in about 1905. He has captured a crowed scene on the sands at Scarborough’s South Bay. Scarborough Castle and harbour can be seen in the distance. At the edge of the sea are a number of bathing machines and beyond, swimmers can be seen in the sea. There are stalls on the sands and two horse riders on the Foreshore. (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

The bathing machine was a mobile changing room for swimmers, it allowed people to change out of their usual clothes into their bathing costume and then wade into the sea from beaches. They were wooden carts with four big wheels, steps and small windows. In fact, there were many different designs, ranging from Royalty to the basic bathing machines which were to be seen on the majority of beaches. Some had a small flag which could be raised by the bather as a signal to the driver that they were ready to return to shore.

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Above: Bathing machines line the beach at high tide in the North Bay at Scarborough. Above the line of bathing machines can be seen Scarborough’s North Pier stretching a thousand feet into the North Sea. It opened in 1868 and in January 1905, the pier was wrecked in a severe gale. Above the pier stands Scarborough Castle on the headland which divides Scarborough into two bays, North Bay and South Bay (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Below: Bathing machines on the sands and edge of the sea at Scarborough’s South Bay. A fisher woman with two baskets full of sea food can be seen in the foreground and fishing boats in full sail out at sea. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

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The machines were pulled by horses to the edge of the water or even into it, if the waves and tide permitted. When the machine stopped the bathers inside emerged through a doorway from the back of the machine directly into the water hidden from the view of others. After they had had enough time in the water they could re-enter the bathing machine, dry off, change back to their street clothing and be wheeled back to the rental establishment on the beach, emerging fully dressed and avoiding the stares of the crowd.


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Above: North Bay at Scarborough, looking north towards Scalby Mills. The north promenade and beach bungalows, which can just been seen on the left, were erected just before World War 1. Here a summer crowd enjoy the new facilities and the days of bathing machines are coming to an end. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Bathing machines were rented out by operators whose livelihood depended not only on the renting of bathing machines, but also deck chairs, bathing suits and other beachfront paraphernalia. Their target market was the newly rising middle class and better off lower class holidaymakers, who now had the time and the transportation to go to the seaside once a year. The hiring charge for a bathing machine in 1770 varied from 9d for two or more gentlemen bathing by themselves to 1/6d for a gentleman taking a machine with a guide.

bathing3

Above: This old photo faces north towards Castle Hill, across a crowded beach that is full of holidaymakers and traders. Only three bathing machines can be seen. The nearest one has a raised flag indicating that the last bather had, had enough time in the water and had been returned to shore. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

The bathing machines remained in active use on beaches until the 1890s, when they began to go out of fashion. This was due to the ever-expanding nature of the bathing costume, first for women and then for men. The machines were then scrapped or became beach huts used as stationary changing rooms for a number of years. Legal segregation of bathing areas ended in 1901, and the bathing machine declined rapidly. Most of them went out of business and disappeared by 1914, but some have survived as a reminder of those prudish days.

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Above: The South Bay at Scarborough. To the north is Scarborough Castle and headland in the background. A number of bathing machines are at the water’s edge and three bathers can be seen next to one. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Permanent, bathing/beach huts, first appeared in about 1910, but the idea of creating a series of cells in a permanent row was pioneered in Scarborough’s North Bay in 1911. This was followed closely at South Cliff in 1911-12. Beach huts represented a fundamental transformation from the wheeled bathing machines previously used, where people changed in private and modestly lowered themselves into the sea almost unseen. Beach huts were built well above the high tide mark which reflects changing ideas about social decorum: getting changed for bathing, in a hut at the top of the beach, and walking to the sea in full view became a new, liberating activity.

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Above: Brightly-painted beach huts, North Bay, Scarborough (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2012). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough!