A Lido Revival

At the height of the Lido culture in Britain, the country had more than 300 outdoor pools. The trend really took off in the 1930s, very much influenced by Germany’s “Volksparks”, that dedicated the spas and sanitariums to healthy outdoor pursuits. Lidos gave coastal communities a sociable, open air place to swim, protected from the rigours of the harsh sea.

Stonehaven on the Scottish East Coast

Lido builders of the era employed in-vogue reinforced concrete to create clean, ultra-modern facades painted in dazzling white. Many were art deco classics, from Jubilee Pool, which stuck out like a ship’s prow from the harbour in Penzance, to Saltdean near Brighton, with its neon signage and large sundecks. Crowds flocked to swim in outdoor pools peppered along the British coast; at Hayle, Barry, Margate, Plymouth, Hastings, Exmouth, Grange-over-Sands, and even Gourock and Stonehaven in Scotland.

Hilsea Lido in Portsmouth was practically a resort, replete with putting green, tennis courts, and miniature railway. At the Super Swimming Stadium in Morecambe, a queue of people a mile long waited to surge through the gates on opening day in 1936. 

In 1999 the public interest in the “Lido” reemerged when author Roger Deakin’s book Waterlog, a chronicled the wildlife writer’s swimming odyssey across Britain, rekindled public interest of the unique beauty of the lidos. Deakin said: “Lidos are to swimming pools as lingerie is to underwear. Their outrageous fountains and curvaceous terraces celebrate the exuberant beauty of the water they frame, so that a special sense of freedom comes over you when you stand poised to plunge in.”

On a recent trip to Scotland’s north East Coast I heard a story from a local about an outdoor pool nearby that had degenerated and fallen into disrepair. The “Lido” was being renovated by locals and the MacDuff /Buckie Council with a view to having the site restored and operating in the near future.

The Councillors are set to approve £300,000 for essential repairs to safeguard the future of a decaying art deco swimming pool complex – granted Category-A listed status because of its outstanding architectural and historic importance.

The large outdoor swimming pool, “Tarlair” with a boating pond and art deco tea pavilion first opened in 1931. John Miller, the architect, who was also the burgh surveyor for Macduff, designed the pool’s outer wall to be fractionally below high-tide level, enabling waves to roll in over the edge, refilling it with clean sea water twice a day. Tarlair was first outdoor baths in Scotland to be granted Category-A listed status when it was recognised for its outstanding architectural and historic importance in 2007.

Those Lido’s like ‘Tarlair’ and I suspect others scattered around the UK deserve some recognition for their heritage and community values. The identification by consultants that review such sites said of Tarlair:

“The place is of outstanding national and international importance for the quality of its architecture, its completeness, the rarity of part of its early concrete structure, its picturesque and dramatic natural setting, its scientifically based interaction with the sea, its role in looking after the wellbeing and health of people, its courage in the use of municipal money, its social history and community benefit.”

So it is with interest, that I see a growing interest in these facilities ounce again surging in popularity, like the Saltdean in Brighton, the magnificent Tinside in Plymouth and Stonehaven in the NE of Scotland to name but a few.

There are more of course, so hopefully ‘Tarlair’ will join the ranks of those Lido’s that are now supported in partnerships by government, heritage organisations and entrepreneurs who see the significance of these type of facilities as an important link to the past and future.

Mike Briggs, Tarlair Macduff, Scotland 2015

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