Harpenden's Open Air Swimming Pool - opened in May 1960

A long campaign, funded by donations and subcriptions

On 20 June 1958 the Harpenden Free Press reported that:

“The history of the Harpenden swimming pool project goes back many years before the second world war, and each time the subject has been raised in local discussion, the price has risen accordingly. The last official verdict was given in late 1953, when Harpenden UDC estimated that about £40,000 would be needed and decided that this could not be found from the rates.

Extract from Minutes of HUDC meeting on 3 November 1953. Credit: LHS archives – HUDC Committee and Council minute books

Batford did get its short-lived pool, fed by springs, on a more modest scale in the 1950s.

The Harpenden Free Press report continued:

“Mr F M Drake, a keen supporter of the idea in the past, wrote to the HFP in September 1955 and estimated that by cutting costs and equipment to an absolute minimum, the price might be brought down to £25,000.

“Mrs K Roberts, who has voluntarily organised the last two Public Hall dances in aid of the swimming pool fund, maintains that, with a real effort, Harpenden could have a swimming pool by next summer. The HFP records on this page the achievement of Bletchley people, who persuaded their Council and, when it came down to action, provided themselves with a pool in about six months’ work – AT A COST OF ABOUT £8,000.

“It should be added that, after considerable debate, Harpenden Council finally decided that the pool should be situated in Rothamsted Park. There should, therefore, be no expensive problem of buying land.”

Harpenden Swimming Pool Committee

Mr R P Ravasio. Credit: Detail from photo in LHS archives BF 24/15-24

Since it was made clear that Harpenden Urban District Council (HUDC) would not fund the project, the Harpenden Swimming Pool Committee was set up with Cllr Leslie T Fowler as Chairman, Mr R P Ravasio (a teacher at Manland School) as Secretary, Mr A L Wright as Hon. Treasurer and, and Mr H Pettingale (HUDC surveyor) as Hon, Engineer.

Much of the finance came from public fundraising, such as a regular weekly lottery, dances at the Public Hall, jumble sales, raffles and contributions gathered through children in the primary schools.

The funding brochure waxed lyrical:

“No setting is more fitting for a swimming pool than Harpenden’s lovely Rothamsted Park. There, on an open greensward which catches the sun throughout the day, children and adults can swim and play in fresh air far away from busy roads [unlike the Silver Cup Pond!] and bricks and mortar. The site is spacious and enables plenty of open grass to be added to the area of the pool itself for picnics and games by those not actually in the water.

“The pool blends well into the character of Rothamsted Park – half sports arena, half green open space – typical of what Harpenden prizes so highly.

Money was raised – initially by a bank loan secured by Harpenden Urban District Council – but the Swimming Pool Committee have accepted responsibility for repaying all of the money, which is being raised by voluntary efforts of all kinds and by subscription.”

Children’s procession on the way to cut the first turf. Credit: Scanned from cutting of Herts Ad article, 1959

In June 1959 there was a carnival procession through the High Street, on the way to the ceremony to cut the first turf in Rothamsted Park.

Joy Smith, aged 11, cutting the first turf, watched by Cllrs F R Putterill and L Fowler; Marjorie Bawden watching. Credit: LHS archives

Opening, 7 May 1960

The Swimming Pool Committee formally invited the clerk, officers and members of Harpenden Council to the opening ceremony on Saturday, 7 May 1960.

The paddling pool in the foreground of the main pool, 1960s. Note that the hedge was not yet established between the pools and the park. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 414

The pool became very popular – in fine weather at least – and was heated from 1962 onwards. The opening period was from mid April to the end of September. Tickets on weekdays, at 1s 6d (7p) for adults and 9d (3.5p) for children and pensioners, allowed bathers to spend the whole day there (from 9am to 8pm) though the hire of a deck chair was for half a day at a time, at 1s 0d (5p). On Saturdays and Sundays there were morning and afternoon sessions. At times the pools became quite crowded.

Swimming lessons were organised. In 1962 the Herts Advertiser reported that attendance had increased by 41% on the previous year, but there was a dispute over preferential treatment being given to private swimming lessons. During the 1970s a learner pool was added at the eastern end of the complex.

In 1964 the pool was used for baptisms by Harpenden Evangelical church (LHS archives cutting from HFP, 12 June 1964, BF26A.6). Schools organised swimming lessons, and we have photos from Manland School swimming galas.

Manland School swimming gala, 1967. Cllr Ernest Ackroyd, judge of the diving competition. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 5022

Manland School swimming gala, 1967 – the relay race. Credit: scan from copy of HFP photo- LHS 5024

Naomi Summers recalled, in 2016, that “I used to spend all summers up there and I learnt to swim in the learner pool in a week of lessons and that was it – I could swim aged 5.” Bronwen Mitchell remembers that “We used to spend hours at the open air pool. Going in the late afternoon when it was raining and we were the only ones there as well as joining everyone else at the height of summer.”

The pool in August 1995, looking eastwards. Credit: LHS archives scan from Watford Observer, 30 August 1995

The pool in August 1995, looking westwards. Credit: LHS archives scan from Watford Observer, 30 August 1995

Campaign for and against a covered pool

From early on there was talk of covering the pool, and by the mid 1990s, when the contract for running the pool was up for renewal, plans were underway. As the Harpenden Advertiser report of 14 December 1994 pointed out, “The facilities are all ageing and are in need of regular capital investment if they are to be maintained in a reasonable condition and continue to provide what people want.”

However, the idea of a covered pool was not welcomed by all, and a Harpenden Pool Campaign – a cross section of the local community from mothers with young children to retired professionals – organised an exhibition in October 1995, pointing out the shortcomings of the plans the St Albans District Council was then consulting on. Objectors pointed to

  • the lack of an indoor learner pool
  • the loss of the outdoor pool
  • the relocation of the creche to the first floor
  • the inadequate changing facilities
  • the inadequate spectator seating

There was heated debate in the local press, and the plans were modified to include a learner pool and fitness centre within the covered pool area, and to maintain the outdoor paddling pool and grassy surrounds for summer use. The brand new pool opened on 2 January 1999.

The new pool being roofed, summer 1998. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 7969, Les Casey

The new pool with outdoor paddling pool, summer 1998. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 7040, Les Casey

Entrance to the new pool, November 2001. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 7919, Les Casey

The new pool, from the Park, November 2001. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 7920, Les Casey

The future?

Ambitious plans for the extension of the Swimming Pool and redevelopment of the Sports Centre have emerged during 2016, once again arousing controversy – and nostalgia for the days of the heated open air pool of 1960.

Comments about this page

  • In the early to mid 60s I walked on an almost daily basis to the swimming pool from Redbourn cutting through Rothamsted Park. The old threepence I saved on the bus fare was spent on buying a Waggon Wheel from the tuck shop.
    The first manager at the pool was a Scotsman who ruled it with an iron rod with us youngsters. Against that he was kind and supportive. Indeed he taught me to swim.
    He left as I can recall in sad circumstances but often wondered what happened to him. Does anyone know?
    Many years later I would take my daughter then aged 8 for an occasional visit to the pool around 1995. Wonderful old place and so many happy memories from my childhood

    By Andy Fuller (30/10/2023)

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