Happy Birthday to Banbury's outdoor pool

Banbury's outdoor pool circa 1955 (courtesy Joan Brown)
Banbury's outdoor pool circa 1955 (courtesy Joan Brown)

The pool at the Woodgreen Leisure Centre turns 80 today.

Exactly 80 years ago today the Woodgreen Leisure Centre’s open air swimming pool was opened to much fanfare and local excitement.

The grand opening was overseen by Alderman JC Fuller from Ealing who was a member of the Grants Committee of the National Fitness Council that had contributed money to the build.

Mr Fuller said of the pool: “You will agree good physical development and grace of movement are hardly less important than beautiful features, and men and women of Banbury will be able to acquire that development and grace as a result of the enterprise which has culminated in this ceremony today.”

The creation of the pool was also made possible by the generous gift of the actual land from Mr and Mrs JA Gillett.

Also attending the opening ceremony were a who’s who of local dignitaries including then mayor HS Lester with the event attracting some 2,000 curious spectators.

Coverage of opening in the Thursday, May 23, 1939 edition of the Banbury Guardian filled an entire broadsheet page, underlining the importance of the pool and the very different journalistic style of the day.

The second paragraph of the main article read: “We feel sure all who see the new pool will agree the work has been admirably designed and executed.
“We have seen modern baths in other places but we are certain Banbury’s new venture will hold its own as an up-to-date venue for all who are keen on the delights of swimming.”
It concludes: “The result of the enterprise, costly as it has been, is a triumph for the borough surveyor, who succeeded in reducing the cost without impairing the efficiency of the scheme.”

Some of the ‘up-to-date’ features included lockers and wringers for bathing costumes.

The cost of the pool was £9,163. Builders JF Booth and Sons charged £7,900 for the construction with the remaining £1,263 going to the purification plant constructed by the United Filters and Engineering Company of London.

The National Fitness Council gave the town a grant of £4,000 towards the build so the overall cost to the taxpayer was £5,163, roughly £335,000 in today’s money.

Mayor Lester said at the opening: “We have gathered together to witness the completion of a great ideal.
“Everything must have a beginning and at the beginning of the scheme we were faced with great difficulties but today most of those difficulties have passed away and we can congratulate ourselves on a great achievement.”

As part of the celebrations Banbury Museum held a reminiscing event at the Royal Voluntary Service’s Cornhill centre this week where people who have fond memories of the outdoor pool, even from the year it was opened, shared their stories.

Brenda Heath, 86, remembers fondly her childhood days at the pool during the mid-1940s.

She said: “I do remember that during the six week summer holiday we practically lived up there, everyday.
“There was nothing else to do, you either went there or to People’s Park.
“My brother, Bob, when he was ten or 12 went to the swimming pool with his mates and they went and laid on the grass to sunbathe.

“He was ginger and they didn’t have creams or anything like that and he burnt all of his back and had six huge blisters and I used to have to take him to the school clinic so the sister in there could cut his blisters and dress and bandage him.”

She added: “When it all cleared up I used to spend hours pulling his skin off, I used to love that.”
Brenda stopped going to the pool when she began working but her children continued to use it and learnt how to swim at the pool.

Joan Brown’s memories go even further back as she first went to the pool at the age of 12 in the year it opened, in 1939.

Joan said: “I went that year and I was very excited and I enjoyed it and we were looking forward to it.
“We used to go regularly after that as there wasn’t the set times like there is now, it was open most of the day and it was just evenings that it was adults only.
“Today I’m looking forward to reminiscing about what it was like, how enjoyable it was and useful it was to your health as well. It kept me going. I would still swim now if I could get there but I can’t get transport for the times I require.”

The event featured old black and white photos and the participants memories of the pool will be recorded as part of town’s social history.

Believe it or not Banbury’s first pool dated back to 1855 and was built in Swan Close. Roughly contemporary was a bath close to the new municipal facility and named after Bath Road.

The next milestone was the establishment of the Banbury Recreation Company in 1867.
They purchased a site close to the railway and within what was known as Spiceball Park. This subsequent bath was acquired by Banbury Corporation in 1888 and then improved a year later.

Sadly this had been the extent of improvements despite a 1933 petition signed by 2,544 people who wanted new baths.

One response to this petition was some work by the borough surveyor who drew up several possible plans, one of which was for baths at Easington.

Despite support from Alderman Theo Clark the site was rejected on grounds of cost and general unsuitability.

This proved the catalyst for the Park Road initiative, which moved forward very rapidly under the guidance of Alderman Mascord and with the approval of the Ministry of Health who held an inquiry in December 1937 and sanctioned arrangements the following August.

A start to the construction was possible in October of 1938. It was not long before people realised just how important had been the contribution of the Borough surveyor.
He managed to keep down the cost of the new baths to 18s 6d (92½p) per square foot of water surface.
This compared very favourably with baths elsewhere, where the comparable figure was about £1 5s (£1.25).

The pool is now run by Legacy Leisure on behalf of Cherwell District Council and will celebrate the birthday with a 1930s pricing event from May 23 to 25. Staff will also dress in period bathing appareal on Saturday, May 25.
The cost for access to the pool will be just 8 pence .