(Images: scrappy nw; abandoned lido at Grange Over Sands)
Nothing says ‘beach holiday’ in the UK quite like a lido. Sprawling pool and leisure complexes that cropped up along seafronts (and, occasionally, inland) in the 1920s and ’30s, they were once an icon of Britain at play. At their height, 169 operated across the country, offering families a place to relax and enjoy the (infrequent) sunshine.
Today, their legacy has all but vanished. Across Britain, once-glorious lidos now lie neglected or abandoned. But all is not lost. As we edge ever-deeper into the 21st century, community groups and local enthusiasts are starting to revive these once-great institutions. This article features a series of abandoned lidos and derelict paddling pools across the UK, as well as others that have been restored to their former glory in recent years.
(Images: scrappy nw; abandoned Grange Over Sands lido)
Not so long ago, the north of England was renowned for its lidos. Then those at Blackpool, Morecombe and Scarborough were filled in, leaving only Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. An Art Deco masterpiece that once defined summertime in the region, it too has sadly fallen victim to neglect, becoming a shell of its former self.
Lying on the fringes of a vast open plain, the abandoned lido at Grange-over-Sands is today little more than a vast monument to a fading past. A chain link fence keeps punters out, while the once-grand diving area has become faded and grimy. That’s not to say Grange-over-Sands has been forgotten. Many locals keep an affectionate spot for the old lido in their hearts, and there has been a long-running campaign to reopen it – alternately helped and hindered by the local council.
(Images: k_a_t_i_a; view from the shallow end)
Now a Grade II listed structure, Grange-over-Sands lido seems forever on the verge of reopening. With some luck, the day may soon come when the north’s last lido is restored to its former glory.
Wealdstone Lido & Paddling Pool (Harrow)
(Images: Bing Maps)
Not every great lido was found on the seafront. The small open-air pool and paddling complex near Harrow in London was long-regarded as a local highlight. Opened in 1934, it lasted a full 60 years before finally shutting down for good in 1997.
Although an adjoining leisure centre was thrown up in the 1970s, financial difficulties forced the pool itself into a state of neglect. Photos taken in 2006 show a sad, ruined hole in the ground; its walls stained with mould and its deep end filled with murky water. Yet even in this sad condition you can get a sense of the wonderful little lido that once lived here.
At some point in the last decade, the abandoned pool was finally demolished for good. The old lido was filled in. It has now been redeveloped entirely.
Tarlair Pool (Aberdeenshire)
Situated at the bottom of a great, craggy cliff and opening into the blisteringly cold North Sea, Tarlair Pool in Aberdeenshire has to be seen to be believed. Opened in 1929, the grand Art Deco lido looks like a mirage in the beautiful Scottish wilderness – a piece of the sunny south coast picked up and dropped halfway up Scotland.
Unsurprisingly, such outdoor pools didn’t take off in wet and chilly Scotland, and Tarlair is one of only three surviving outdoor swimming pools. For a long time, ‘surviving’ would have been meant in only the loosest sense. Over time, Tarlair was abandoned and left to gather graffiti and weeds. At one point, serious proposals were even put forward to redevelop the complex as a lobster hatchery.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. Thanks to the efforts of local community group Friends of Tarlair, the abandoned lido will soon be restored and reopened to the public.
Broomhill Pool (Ipswich)
It was once the centre of Ipswich life. The grand Broomhill Pool and lido complex opened in 1938 to remarkable fanfare. With its vast pool (currently the largest outdoor pool in East Anglia) and streamlined ‘Moderne’ design, Broomhill became an icon of a city on the up; the perfect place to while away a lazy summer afternoon.
All of which only made it sadder when Broomhill finally closed its doors in autumn 2002. Abandoned quietly, it quickly fell into disrepair. Weeds sprouted through the cracks. The abandoned pool itself filled with stagnant water. Graffiti sprawled across the once-gleaming white walls. At one point, things got so bad that the local paper christened it ‘Doomhill.’
Luckily, the pool’s Grade II listed status saved it from an ignominious end. Although Broomhill currently remains closed, an injection of funds by the local council and a takeover bid from an outside client means the abandoned lido will soon be restored and reopened, beginning in summer 2018.
Cleveland Pools (Bath)
(Image: ye sons of art; Cleveland Pools abandoned lido)
Set in the historic city of Bath on the fringes of the British West Country, Cleveland Pools has a pedigree unlike no other on this list. First built way, way back in 1815, it is today the oldest outdoor swimming pool in England.
The lido itself is simply gorgeous. Designed in a semi-circle and made of Bath’s signature limestone, it’s as quaint and elegant as anything in the city. It also had incredible staying power. In its first incarnation, it ran more-or-less continuously from the early 19th century right up until the 1970s.
Still, nothing good can last forever. Cleveland pools was eventually closed down, converted into a trout farm, then closed down again and left to go to ruin. For over a decade it sat in glorious desolation, a reminder of happier times. Happily, those times are about to return. Thanks to the efforts of local community groups, Cleveland Pools celebrated its 200th birthday with an announcement that it would soon be open to the public again.
Knap Lido (Barry)
(Images: Bing Maps; Google Earth; abandoned lido in Barry, Wales)
For decades, the windswept lido at Barry in Wales was one of the region’s top tourist attractions. Situated on the Bristol channel, the grand old complex opened in the 1920s and kept tourists coming until well into the 1980s. At its height in the 1970s, the lido and surrounding area would be crawling with bathers, each fighting for a tiny sliver of space. With entry to the pool itself set at 5p, it was the last word in affordable day trips.
Almost as impressive was its long period of disuse. Shut down in the mid-1980s, Knap lido remained in a state of decay until well into the 21st century. Despite plenty of support from locals for reopening the pool, it was slowly pulled down and eventually dismantled altogether. But hope has not yet been lost. Community groups are campaigning for a new, restored lido to be opened on the old site, following the successful redevelopment of an old lido in Pontypridd.
Tynemouth Outdoor Pool (Tyne & Wear)
One of the heartening things about writing this article has been the sheer number of community groups we’ve encountered who are dedicated to restoring their local lidos. Such has been the case with Tynemouth Outdoor Pool.
A white-edged marvel situated right on the beach, it was opened long ago in 1925 when Tynemouth was still a holiday hotspot. Although those days have long since gone, local groups have refused to give up on the abandoned lido. Thanks to the work of the Friends of Tynemouth Pool, the ageing site was recently awarded £50,000 for its restoration.
The pool is a valuable historic site. With its elegant whitewashed railings surrounding a large sea-fed pool, it looks like nothing less than a cage for containing the mighty ocean. For locals, it remains an essential part of the community – a place of near-endless memories.
Abandoned Paddling Pool (Felixstowe)
(Image: Google Earth)
Of course, not every abandoned paddling pool and lido becomes a resurrected success story. Such is the case with this small paddling pool along the front at Felixstowe. Part of the Felixstowe Marina, it once provided an additional attraction alongside the arcade and chip shops. This photograph shows it lying empty and unloved, a stark reminder that the boom days of the British seaside are long over. What’s more, Google Earth reveals that, like many other lost lidos, it’s since been filled in.
King’s Meadow Swimming Pool (Reading)
(Image: Jorge Berland)
A long, narrow pool surrounded by high redbrick walls, King’s Meadow lido in Reading is significantly darker and more-claustrophobic than many on our list. For some, however, that is precisely its charm. Whereas most of the above lidos were built in the 20s and 30s at the height of Art Deco design, King’s Meadow harks back to an earlier era. First opened in 1903, it is one of the best surviving examples of Edwardian outdoor swimming pool architecture.
Originally conceived as a ladies’ pool, King’s Meadow was designed as a counterpoint to the older (since demolished) men’s pool nearby. Built on the site of an old bathing area, it eventually became a unisex destination enjoyed by the whole of Reading. It lasted right up until the 1970s, when its luck finally ran out. In the years since, it has been closed to the public and ownership has passed between different groups. By 2009, it was in a terrible state of disrepair.
That all changed in 2015. Following a threat to demolish the Grade II listed building, Thames Lido took over the site and began restoring it. The previously abandoned lido will once again be open to the public in the near future.
Reopened: Lymington Open Air Sea Water Baths (Lymington)
(Images: Chris Roos; abandoned lido in Lymington has now been reopened)
The oldest open-air saltwater lido in the UK, Lymington Open Air Sea Water Baths (to give it its full title) first opened in 1833. At the time, its size was overwhelming. Capable of holding some 1.7 million gallons of saltwater it was one of the largest lidos in operation. At a time when Britain’s upper middle classes were just discovering the joys of holidaying, it became a significant attraction.
Impressively, this long history ran almost uninterrupted. It wasn’t until 2008 that Lymington lido formally closed its doors for what was meant to be the last time… only to reopen them again two years later following a campaign by locals. Six years later, the refurbished lido is still going strong. In 2013, it even netted itself a mention in the Guardian, as one of the few surviving outdoor pools in Britain.
Reopened: Hilsea Lido (Portsmouth)
For a long time, Hilsea lido in Portsmouth was something of a depressing joke. A former favourite hotspot in the summer, it fell into disrepair in the 1970s. After limping on without its diving board for another 30 years it was quietly abandoned in the early 21st century.
This was a particular shame, as Hilsea had a historic pedigree. Visited by the British diving team during the 1936 Olympics, it also served as a training ground during World War Two and was even used as a set in The Who’s rock opera Tommy. The on-site facilities were equally impressive. At one point, the lido even had its own miniature train to ferry punters around on – a ridiculous extravagance given its small size.
Like so many on this list, Hilsea suffered an ignoble death as British holidaymakers ditched towns like Portsmouth for package holidays in the south of France and elsewhere. As bits and pieces were slowly removed it began to seem like someone should put the abandoned lido out of its misery. A local group managed that in a wholly unexpected way. Taken over by a voluntary group of residents, Hilsea eventually managed to reopen its doors in 2014.
Reopened: Uxbridge Lido (London)
A grand, wide pool with low-lying buildings that seemed to stretch on forever beneath the sun, Uxbridge lido was a thing of quiet beauty. Built in the late Art Deco or ‘moderne’ style, its angular lines and white tiles were simply dazzling on a sunny day. Looking at old pictures now, the original lido seems to exude a degree of elegance you’d be hard-pressed to find in most swimming pools.
(Image: Harrison49; entrance to the fully restored Uxbridge Lido)
Then, in 1998, Uxbridge lido was closed down. With remarkable swiftness it became a mecca for poor graffiti and an air of desolation settled over everything. Its eventual resurrection came from an unlikely source: the 2012 Olympics in London. As part of the massive regeneration scheme taking place across the capital, money was pumped into reopening the abandoned lido for local athletes to train in. Today, the refurbished open-air pool is known as the Hillingdon Sports and Leisure Complex. And it looks as grand as ever.