In his continuing series Ion Castro takes another look at what was Europe’s largest bathing pool and the events it hosted.
He writes. Exactly 84 years ago on May 27 1933, Sidney Little’s Bathing Pool at West St Leonards, concurrent with the 1933 Empire Games, was officially opened and entertained 33,000 visitors in its first week.
It was said to be the largest in the Europe, being 330 feet by 90 feet, with a capacity of 800,000 gallons and seating for 2,500 people. History shows that the pool was not financially viable in the long term, and it closed in 1959. In 1960 it passed into the hands of Alderman Sid Withers, who converted it into a down-market holiday camp. The pool closed in 1986 and was demolished in May 1993.
To maintain its viability all sorts of events were promoted.
Then, as now, physical fitness was one of the suggestions and toward the end of 1935 the local paper (The Hastings Observer), following national headlines, reported that 90 per cent of the urban population of Great Britain were “physically illiterate”.
It went on to declare that whilst in Germany there were are more than 10,000,000 perfectly trained young men and women, in Great Britain the number is under half a million, and that our country is a long way behind others in this important matter.
It suggested a Physical Fitness Drive should be based on the Bathing Pool as a great physical training and sports centre for the area and should include physical training classes for the unemployed, beach classes for visitors to the seaside, a great increase in the number of trained gymnastic teachers, and intensive propaganda in the schools to encourage children to keep up their training after they have left school.
It was understood the Bathing Pool Committee of Hastings Council had given the matter some consideration and it was hoped they would eventually deliver a report recommending the adoption of some such scheme and it was noted that, with the Bathing Pool “there was a splendid opportunity to make a start before any other resort and get Hastings talked about as the first place to make a serious attempt to grapple with this problem” and it “would also prove a very paying proposition for the town”.
The ‘Official Hastings Handbook’, published annually throughout the 1930’s, carried details and information about the Bathing Pool and many of the hotels and accommodation providers as far away as Hastings pier advertised how close they were to the pool.
Despite the gathering war clouds the 1939 edition noted “Hastings and St.Leonards offers a full range of recreations. It guarantees excellent sea-bathing whatever the weather (from the foreshore or in the magnificent Bathing Pool or in the White Rock Baths)”.
Later that year that same brochure carried a pasted-on note on the front cover “Owing to war conditions some of the information and accommodation advertisements are out of date but visitors to Hastings and St. Leonards will still find many things to make a holiday enjoyable……”.
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
1939 Official Hastings Brochure - Physical Jerks.
Outdoor physical exercise on the top deck of the pool better known a roller skating rink.
An advertisement for the pool dating from 1939 with some of the facilities.
The original caption from this April 1936 picture in the Hastings Observer says “Did she have an ‘L’ on her back? An Easter incident at the bathing pool” The participants are roller-skaters using the top deck of the pool and in those days the skates had steel wheels, rubber not becoming available until the 1960’s, the thunder of massed roller-skaters cannot be imagined! In the 1960’s Chalets were built on the top deck in an attempt to turn the pool into a holiday camp.
In August 1936 The Hastings Observer reports “A Canadian lumberjack demonstrates the art of log-rolling at the Bathing Pool” one of the many and varied attractions offered at the pool before the war.
1st War re-enactment.
Reported in the Hastings Observer 21/8/37, “Incidents in the clever Bathing Pool spectacle, depicting the famous (first) war-time episode of the blocking of Zeebrugge.” Another ambitious attraction offered at the pool.
Europe’s Finest Bathing Pool, Hastings.
Posted three weeks before the outbreak of World War 2, this card by Boyd’s Photo Stores of 28 Castle St makes no mention of the gathering war clouds. Notice the original ‘Ladder’ lamp standards have been replaced with slender columns, these too would be later removed completely.
Bathing Beach and Chalets.
Although posted in August 1954 this ‘Norman Series’ card by Shoesmith & Etheridge is clearly pre-war because it shows an undamaged St.Leonards Pier on the right. These chalets, built in concrete by Sidney Little, outlasted the Bathing Pool by another decade before it was claimed that their concrete construction was beyond economic repair and they were demolished to make way for conventional wooden chalets.
This postcard by an uncredited publisher would have appeared toward the end of the 1930’s - notice the absence of the lamp standards and the presence of the popular ‘Bukta Ball’.
Europe’s Finest Bathing Pool, Hastings with dimensions.
“Length 330 ft width 90ft Holds 1,000,000 gallons of water deepest part 15ft.
This card by ‘H&W Hastings’ was posted at the end of July 1939, just weeks before the outbreak of war and depicts some sort of children’s event was taking place, there was no mention of the impending war. Notice that there are now no lamp standards
A Grand Variety Entertainment at the BATHING POOL, ST. LEONARDS·ON·SEA,
Commencing Wednesday, August 31st; and each evening at 8 p.m. until Sunday, September 11th, 1938, inclusive. Inside it would advertise the variety of events on offer,
(Subject to alterations)
The Palm Beach Quartette.
Dare Devil Peggy assisted by Ken and Jack in an Aquatic Interlude.
The Lucerne Skaters, On a Miniature Rink only 8 ft. square, in a picturesque scene featuring “The Human Top”
“The Stratosphere Girl”
(Direct from the Steel Pier, Atlantic City, New York)
In a breath taking performance on the top of a steel pole, 137 feet high.
“The Contacro Four,”
In an Artistic Equilibrist performance.
Dare Devil Peggy.
Giving you the World’s Greatest Thrill “THE DEATH DIVE”.
He will dive from a platform 80 feet high, enveloped in flames, into a blazing sea of fire, with firework effects.
September 4th to 11th inclusive.
James B. Hamilton the Legless Wonder, In a diving, trick and ornamental swimming display.
Eric Troon, the Scottish Champion,
In a sensational Acrobatic and High Diving Display.
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