Open Air Swimming in London
If I can help it, during July and August I avoid travelling. This is mainly down to two reasons; One is that it is peak season due to school holidays – I am no fan of crowds. The other is that I love London in summer. Sunshine is never guaranteed. Rain almost always is. Still, give us a mild temperature and a few hours of clear skies and we’ll make the best of it.
For a city with a river running through it, London does not have a culture of al fresco swimming. It was however, something that was popular in the 1930s. So much so that local councils built 169 Lidos (unheated outdoor swimming pools) across the UK. As times changed and foreign holidays became more affordable many Lidos were forced to close. Recently, though London has been falling back in love with outdoor swimming and particularly Lidos. Those that remained open now boast communities of passionately loyal regulars.
Parliament Hill Lido
The Parliament Hill Lido is a great example of the modern and fashionable 1930s. It was built in 1938 and cost a mere £34,000; The most expensive Lido in London at the time. It was Grade II listed in 1999.
I dropped by on a visit to Hampstead Heath and was stunned by it. Why oh why hadn’t I done this earlier?! It was as if I had been teleported back to perfectly preserved, simpler times of the inter-war years. Astonishing panoramic view of the surroundings and striking art deco architecture captivates instantly. It’s a real throwback and an art deco classic. The pool measures a grand 61 x 27 metres as Lidos were designed to give the look of an ocean liner at a time when people did not travel abroad so frequently.
The revival of these architectural gems is mostly thanks to the fiercely passionate communities who love them. They stepped in with local campaigns to save them when many were being shut down or abandoned due to a decline in their popularity. The campaigns were backed by heritage bodies who also recognised the architectural value of these stylish buildings.
The Parliament Hill Lido is a stunning example of the preservation efforts of the local community. The pool was lined in stainless steel in 2005 giving the water a sparkling, metallic shimmer. The surrounding buildings perfectly reflect the design of the Lido. On a hotter day, I could have expected to queue to enter the pool. However, as it was a mildly warm day there were only a few regulars to contend with.
Socialising at the Lido
Entrance to the cafe.
As it was in the 1930’s, Lidos are not just places for swimming. They are national institutions for bathing and socialising. You can sunbathe, eat in the cafe, picnic, read a book or simply relax.
So, as the tides turn for these national treasures, not just in terms of their popularity but also in that they are once again in vogue – be sure to step into the art deco terrace of your nearest Lido and be a part of their modern revival.
The nearest station to Parliament Hill Lido is Gospel Oak and an adult day pass costs £7.
For opening hours and more information – https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/swimming/Pages/Swimming-opening-times-and-charges.aspx