Look Back with Little: Outdoor pools – forever a very special attraction

Banbury outdoor pool NNL-180625-130009001
Banbury outdoor pool NNL-180625-130009001

Back in the 1930s the editorial in the Banbury Advertiser was entitled Town Talk. It consisted of one or more comments on matters of topical interest.

In the newspaper for Thursday June 8, 1939, the attention of readers must have been drawn to the headline ‘Bathing Parade’.

It was inspired by a succession of high temperatures in late May and early June. These had resulted in vastly increased attendance figures for the new borough open-air swimming pool.

The pool had been opened a fortnight earlier and the Advertiser was keen to reveal just how popular the venture was proving. At last there was a realisation that the town was becoming ‘water minded’.

The column was also an opportunity to remind people that there was a lido at the opposite end of the town. This Grimsbury facility was also a big attraction during what amounted to a heatwave in North Oxfordshire.

The Banbury Pool was opened on Tuesday, May 16, by Alderman JC Fuller of Ealing who was a member of the Grants committee of the National Fitness Council which had contributed £4,000 towards the £9,163 cost.

Needless to say Blinkhorns were on hand to take pictures of the occasion. Two of these captured the key moment of the opening ceremony and a wider view of the pool with a substantial gathering of members of the public. Most of these would have agreed with the Advertiser’s observation that ‘the finished work is in every way commendable and justifies the care which has been expended on it’.

The story of the opening of the pool dominated the front page of the Advertiser issue for May 25. Remarkable weather made it an occasion to remember for over 1,000 people present. The sun shone brilliantly on what was recorded as the hottest day of the year.

Inevitably some ratepayers in the town had remarked that they should have been spared the expense involved. However it was good that both the Advertiser and the Guardian drew attention to a generous gift of land from the Gilletts of Woodgreen who revealed once again how much they took Banbury to their hearts.

Shortly after the pool opened to swimmers, councillors wanted to know about the public response. A ready reply came from the Chairman of the Baths Committee; Councillor J A Deacon gave an unequivocal ‘doing very well’. Admissions on the Whit Monday Bank Holiday had been nearly 1,400. This total included spectators as well as swimmers.

Before the end of June there was a significant development. A public meeting was called to discuss the formation of a swimming club at the municipal pool. Appropriately this was held at the town hall and attended by the Mayor Cllr Horace Lester. The lead speaker was Mr FM Brewer, president of the Oxfordshire County Amateur Swimming Association.

Amongst his suggestions was the planning of a swimming gala at which competitions could take place for the county championship. In particular Mr Brewer recommended that the 100 yards free style championship should be decided at Banbury.

Appropriately the funds of the club were given a vital boost by the offer of one guinea from both the speaker and the Mayor. Cllr Lester went one stage further by promising a cup for the club championship.

An interesting tailpiece to all these pool related happenings came in the form of a letter to the editor from Rosa Dartle of Highgate. She thought there should be signs stating ‘From the Swimming Pool’ as well as a direction to it. Her reason was that elsewhere in the county this was a way of avoiding congestion.

During the lead-up to the town’s latest recreational acquisition, compilers of Town Talk considered the pool in terms of the all-round development of the town. This was viewed under the theme of ‘Talk Banbury up’, a progressive process for which there was every justification. A final interesting comment in the Advertiser‘s Town Talk for May 25, 1939, was that the amenity should attract more visitors to Banbury.

It is interesting to add that in 2018 we are still seeking ways of achieving this.