The Lido in the Early Days
93 year old Tom Parkinson, who grew up in St Silas Street off Malden Road, remembers the Lido in the late 1930s and 1940s
The opening of the Lido in August 1938 was a huge event in 15-year old Tom’s life. He had left school at 14 and was working in the office of the railway down at Chalk Farm.
“I would go over there on my bike after work. One of the novelties then was that you could leave your bike outside and when you came out it was still there. I’d be there until the Lido closed at 8pm.”
The supreme attraction of the Lido lay in the possibility of open-air mixed bathing. Before that:
“Us young boys had to swim in the ponds and the girls including my sisters had to go to the Ladies open air swimming pond ...There was no mixed bathing – You could go to the Hampstead pond but it was right over the other side. So when the Lido was built it was luxury from day one.”
Tom remembers the Lido opening on the first of May and closing in September. In his memory there were weeks and weeks of sunshine and the water temperature was always around 60 degrees. There were no showers, just a pool you had to walk through to clean your feet before getting in.
“The key thing to remember was that in those days no one had cars so it was predominantly local people who went to the Lido. You never saw anyone come from places like Walthamstow. It was a cosy atmosphere because you knew practically more or less everyone... For us it was like a magical Hollywood ... I had a group of friends, three girls and I’d spend one day with them and one with the boys. One happy family. The entrance fee was 1 penny and we could go there all day Sunday and stay there all day from the time it opened until it closed all for one penny.”
Not much put Tom and his friends off a visit to the Lido.
“In 1940 we were going into the Lido and there was a queue, not as long as you see now, and all of a sudden there was a daylight air raid. The guns were firing. And how many people do you see running away from the queue. Not one. Everyone thought it was more important to get into the Lido.”
Tom was called up in 1942, serving in the Army in Italy and North Africa, where he also managed to get in some sea bathing in Sousse and Ancona. Demobbed in 1946, he was back in the Lido when it opened, to find that his old friend Cooper had disappeared, killed in a bombing raid over Germany.
“He was one of these fantastic divers. He could do all that. When he went up to the top board everyone stopped to watch. He done some fantastic stuff. He was one of the star turns.”
Tom was no great diver but he loved swimming. He liked girls too andhad three “girl friends”, whom he’d meet there, spending alternate days with them and the boys. He’d tie his towel to a pipe so they knew he was there (see photo) and they’d meet at 1pm.
At times his love of swimming came up against his interest in girls.
“Onelived down our turning off Malden Road, Maisie Burns, she was a daredevil. People might remember the Tarzan films which used to be on in the cinema. In one of the scenes, Tarzan dives under the water, and then Jane she dives under and they swim under the water together with her holding his foot. I’d be Tarzan, and Maisie Jane. I’d dive off at the deep end and she would follow me and hold my foot and we would see how far we could go under the water. Much later I met one of the girls I knew there, when I told her that we was doing “Me Tarzan, You Jane” she said, “You know what we was doing? I said no and she said “kiss-chase”. What a joke! There I was swimming under water when I could’ve been doing that!”
When not spending his time with the girls, Tom would sit in the corner near the deep end that was known as “Boxers’ Corner”.
Here members of the St Pancras Boxing Club would sun themselves and flex their muscles. Tom had joined the club before the war, and he knew them all including the future boxing trainer George Francis. As a flyweight he couldn’t compete in the physique stakes, though he did much better with his deep tan, developed through his many visits, not just after work before the war but also in the lunch hour when he was working for the Council at their depot in Allcroft Road. He’d take a little case with a roll and a bottle of orange juice, nip over to the Lido, swim for 20 minutes and then be back at the yard by 1pm. There weren’t many days he missed going.
Even when he met Olive, his future wife, he didn’t stop going to the Lido regularly.
“She was no swimmer, but she’d sit and sun herself. There was a nice cafe and you could get cakes and ice-cream. It was a wonderful place with a great atmosphere. It could be crowded but not like now.”
Tom was interviewed by Faith Wigzell