Rise and fall of St Leonards Bathing Pool.

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This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the early days of The Bathing Pool.

He writes. On 27th May 1933, exactly 83 years ago this month, The Bathing Pool at West St Leonards, built for the 1933 Empire Games, was officially opened, along with new facilities at White Rock Baths.

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The pool, created by Sidney Little, was said to be the largest in the Europe, being 330 feet by 90 feet, with a capacity of 800,000 (some said a million) gallons and seating for 2,500 people. It was a great success, having 33,000 visitors in its first week.

The Hastings and St Leonards Bathing Pool built in 1933 was of course a Sidney Little project and came after he had built the Falaise Hall in 1928; the Great Sanders dam in 1929; the first promenade eastwards in 1930; the White Rock swimming pool in 1930 and Bottle Alley in 1933.

It was followed by the front line promenade in 1934 when Mr Little’s plan to rebuild the promenade and sea wall from London Road to the Bathing Pool was approved. That work was completed by December 1938 when Darwell Reservoir was started. The total cost of the work over the ten years was £4 million (£190 million today) with some of the work being funded by central Government to create work for the unemployed

After the first flurry of enthusiasm, and despite the diversity of attractions, the pool was not financially viable in the long term, and it closed in 1959. The following year, 1960 it passed into the hands of Alderman Sid Withers, who converted it into a down-market holiday camp.

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It finally closed in 1986 and was demolished in May 1993, 60 years after it first opened.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series - contact him - ion@1066.net or tel 01424 437468 and there’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk. Hastings Museum and Art Gallery in Bohemia Road has a permanent exhibition which features the Bathing Pool.

Captions:

Proposed Bathing Pool.

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Hastings Corporation’s 1932 handbook proclaimed “A magnificent outdoor bathing pool and Lido is being constructed at the west end of the promenade and will be finished in 1933. It will include spectator’ terraces, cafes and a bathing beach. The cost will be about £60,000” (more than £3 million today) The original caption said “Architect’s drawing of the Bathing Pool and Lido with terraces and cafes, now being constructed at St. Leonards. The work will be completed and opened in the summer of 1933” and was repeated in French and German.

Plaque.

The Plaque unveiled by Sir Humphry Rolleston (whose name was misspelt on the plaque as Humphrey), he was an eminent physician and a great nephew of Sir Humphrey Davy the inventor of the miners’ safety lamp. The Plaque is now in Hastings Museum & Art Gallery as part of a permanent Seaside Exhibition.

Going ahead with the Bathing Pool.

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“A Bird’s eye view, taken from the Wilton Hotel of the Bathing Pool site at West St.Leonards” published in The Hastings Observer, on January 16th 1932 when work had just started. Now that the pool has been demolished and the site levelled it appears little changed today.

Work Begins.

From “The Observer” 16th January 1932. “Preparations begin for transferring the deserted stretch of grassland and beach into a hive of industry. Above is a typical queue of unemployed men who will welcome the news that the Minister of Health’s sanction has been received”

Workmen are laying the temporary track that the crane will run on and we are reminded that this work would reduce unemployment levels.

Rowing Club.

“Preparing for the Regatta Season – Hastings Rowing Club members are keeping fit at the Bathing Pool by using a drag anchor attached to a four-oared galley” the original caption when these images appeared in the Observer in February 1935. The Bathing pool was closed to the public during the winter months and this was an imaginative use of the facility

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Europe’s finest Bathing Pool. Hastings.

An uncredited postcard showing the Bathing Pool shortly after it opened in 1933. Note St.Leonards Pier on the right and Pickfords Repository (now luxury apartments) on the left. Parts of the beachside terrace on the right still exist.

Foreshore and Bathing Station.

Posted in 1930, this postcard proclaims “British Manufacture” and “This is a real photograph” but gives no clues as to the photographer or publisher. Three years later the Bathing Pool would occupy the area on the right. Almost in the centre of the picture, beside a hut, is an old-fashioned mangle – for wringing out bathing suits perhaps?

Hastings & St.Leonards New Bathing Pool.

‘Norman’ series postcard franked in August 1935 shows the pool in use. Notice the ladder type lamp standards; these were later changed to a safer style. The temptation to climb them must have been almost irresistible.

104 The New Bathing Pool, Hastings.

Posted in July 1933, not very long after the pool opened, this card by an unknown photographer and publisher shows the ‘Bukta Ball’. Bukta was the trademark of E.R. Buck & Sons founded in 1879 and firmly established itself producing shorts for soldiers fighting in the Boer Wars. It became famous for swimwear and is still trading today principally as a football-kit supplier. The Wilton Hotel can be seen behind the high diving board.

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