The Construction of the Lido
Parliament Hill Fields Lido was opened on 20 August 1938. At a cost of £34,000, it was the most ambitious and expensive of the thirteen lidos built on parkland sites by the London County Council between the wars. The LCC leader Herbert Morrison vowed in 1937 to make London ‘a city of lidos’. The aims were to provide open-air recreation for all – to bring the seaside to the city.
The low rise buildings were designed (by the LCC Parks Department architects H.A. Rowbotham and T.L. Smithson) to reduce shade and trap the heat. Terraces were provided, mainly for sunbathing but also for spectators for diving events and galas. There was a 5m diving board and 3m and 1m fixed and spring boards, plus chutes for adults and children. The pool, 200ft x 90 ft (61m x 27m), held 650,000 gallons of water and was designed to handle over 2000 bathers. A modern filtration system cleaned the entire pool in five hours; the ornamental ‘wedding cake’ cascade at the west end aerated the water.
The symmetrical design ensured equality of changing room provision between the sexes. The great attraction was mixed bathing, which was allowed four days a week in the summer, for a charge of 6d. Not everyone was happy, however: a letter in the Ham & Highin July 1938 complained about the imminent opening of the Lido on the grounds that ‘sun-bathing attracts a large number of young people of both sexes, many undesirable, who come, not to swim, but who think it “the thing” to show as much of their nude bodies as they dare, in all sorts of postures.’
As was traditional at several other London swimming facilities, people were allowed to swim free early every morning through the year, originally in segregated sessions.
The Lido was declared open by Stanley Rous of the Football Association (not by the Hollywood film star Tyrone Power as several articles have claimed since). There was then a diving display from the top board by members of the Highgate Diving Club and the Mermaid Swimming Club, and a life-saving demonstration, before members of the public were allowed to use the pool.
Twelve pool attendants trained in life-saving were employed, four of them women, and from 1939 two keep-fit instructors gave swimming tips from time to time.
There are some photos of the original building (including of the changing room showing the original lockers) available at architecture.com
The Camden New Journal celebrated the 70th anniversary of the opening, which you can see here.
All of the photographs on this page have been reproduced with permission from the London Metropolitan Archives.