Driving through the centre of Gloucester the other day, I passed the leisure centre where a small group of youngsters were going in for a swim on a warm and sunny afternoon. As I drove home, I thought back to summer afternoons spent doing much the same thing when I was growing up, back in Hull in the 1960s. Except there wasn’t really such things as “leisure centres” then – it was Beverley Road Baths.
The green cupola there in the photograph is the glorious Victorian building which I find, is celebrated as a fine example of its kind, deservedly so in my opinion. Next door, in the foreground of the photograph is the school I attended at the time, Beverley Road Juniors.
The baths themselves were in two parts: there was a set of three swimming pools and a whole series of “slipper baths”, used by the vast majority of the local population in that area, who didn’t have the luxury of a bathroom at home. Later, there were steam baths and saunas there, but I think they must have been a relatively recent development. The swimming pools were open during the summer months only – during the winter, boards would be put across them and the building would be used as a dance hall instead, though the slipper baths stayed open throughout the year.
Going swimming then. On a warm summers day, there would be crowds of us wanting to be in there, as soon as it opened. We’d queue outside with our rolled up towels under our arms before buying our ticket from a woman sitting in a little kiosk (similar to this one) just inside the door, running down the tiled corridors with that unmistakeable smell of chlorine. Our goal was the “Ladies’ Bath”, the medium sized pool on the left hand side – there was the men's bath on the right and further down, beyond that, there was a small, shallow children's bath. Each was in a separate hall, and each had changing cubicles around the walls, hence women, men and children. On some days, if a strict attendant was on duty, they’d maintain the segregation, but usually we could go where we liked and though we probably belonged more to the children’s section at the time, we didn’t like changing in there. This was because the cubicles had only plastic curtains hanging, rather than wooden doors with bolts, and other children would come and whip that curtain open when we were changing, if we were unlucky! We left all our belongings in that cubicle whilst we swam with no fear that anything would disappear.
Once changed, we spent our time dodging between all three pools – we loved the deep and very large men's pool, but every so often would dip into the children's bath to get warm. We never had an adult with us but always went as a gang of children, all under ten, for sure. I guess we could all swim well – I don’t recall anyone ever having problems and we simply larked about – no inflatables, balls, noodles, or anything more interesting than a rubber ring unless someone had thought to bring a penny, which we’d dive for. On a normal day, we could stay as long as we wanted but on those busy summer afternoons, a queue would form for the changing cubicles (we called them “bunks”) and the attendant would begin to call people out of the pool in turn. He did this by holding up a piece of clothing and blowing a whistle – heaven forbid that he hold up your vest, knickers or something equally embarrassing! If he did, then you’d dive under for a bit and pretend not to hear! Do this for long though, and he’d put all your stuff out on the side of the pool, so it could be risky…
Sometimes, we went straight outside and joined the queue again, to have another swim, but more often we’d simply walk home, hair dripping and swimming costume rolled up in the towel again, no doubt I was told when I got there that “I’d catch my death of cold” because I‘d spent the twopence on some sweets and not used the electric hair dryer on the wall at the baths!
I was a little reluctant to post a story like this here and bore you all to tears, but I felt I wanted to record those funny old times somewhere and if not here, then where? How many childhood memories get lost along the way or simply get trotted out to a family who roll their eyes and nudge one another because Mummy’s gone down another one of her memory lanes?
There’s been a couple of great programmes recently which have prompted odd memories – the most recent one being about Victorian Parks. I had never given much thought to how much I benefitted from Victorian ideals, growing up in a city during the 1960s, but programmes such as this make me think again. How lucky we were to have a beautiful park within ten minutes of home, a fine set of swimming pools there on the corner and a tree-lined avenue or two to walk along and do a bit of shopping.
There’s an interesting site here with other stories of Beverley Road Baths. I’m clearly not the only one to have fond memories! However, am I really the only one to be old enough to not only remember wearing a swimming hat but one which had a chin strap too?!