The Lido: Changes Over Time
The basic layout of the Lido has not changed since 1938. In 1999 it was Grade II listed as the best representative example of an urban lido. It remains unheated. However various alterations have been made, reflecting social changes.
After the war there were often over 100,000 visits to the Lido per season, but with the advent of heated indoor pools, and cheap foreign holidays, attendance fell from the 1960s. The changing rooms, which originally extended to the west and east wings, were reduced in size. In London, and nationwide, most Lidos closed in the 1970s and 1980s. A 15-year old boy was murdered onsite in 1976, a tragic incident that remains unsolved.
In the 1980s the Greater London Council debated closing the facility. In an attempt to boost its attractiveness, it also drew up plans for a roof cover and site redesign, which included putting a wave machine, an artificial island and a wall of vegetation in the pool. In 1986 there were only 12,700 users and in 1987 19,000. It became accepted that the Lido could only survive if a lot of money was spent on it. After the GLC was abolished, Hampstead Heath, including the Lido, was given to the City of London Corporation to manage in 1989, on this understanding.
The most important refurbishments were carried out in 2004-5 at a cost of £2.8m. The filtration system was greatly improved, and a stainless steel bottom was installed (a first for a British outdoor pool), in order to reduce leakage and eliminate the need for maintenance and grouting. Pool depth was reduced in order to reduce filtration time and improve attractiveness to young families. Disabled access was also improved, and the main poolside clock was restored. At the same time, the tradition of free swimming before 9.30am was dropped, replaced by a £2 entry fee.
More detail on the renovation can be found in Janet Smith’s book, Liquid assets: the lidos and open air swimming pools of London, English Heritage, 2006, and in a report made by Hampstead Heath superintendent Simon Lee to a conference in 2006, which you can read here, on page 19.
The diving boards were removed in stages, the last in 2003, because of health and safety considerations. The diving tower remains, named Alwyn’s Tower after a lifeguard, Alwyn John, who died in a road accident in 2003.
In 2014-15 the café was renovated and opened to the Heath, and a sauna was installed for the winter months (for which season and day tickets are available from the lifeguards). Both changes have greatly boosted the appeal of the Lido outside the summer months.
Also in 2014-15, an innovative palisading design was used to rebuild the back security fence, which had collapsed during a storm in February 2014. You can read about this here.
There are many good interviews with regular lido swimmers over the years, in Caitlin Davies's book, Taking the waters: a swim around Hampstead Heath (2012).
The photos have been reproduced with the permission of the London Metropolitan Archives.