Open air swimming pools in Scarborough's south and north bays had been under consideration since the first years of The Twentieth Century. Outdoor sea water pools were in their infancy in Britain, but three small pools had been built at St Andrews, and were proving popular. One significant contributer to the discussions was newspaper publisher C D Leng. In 1908, he ran a story in The Sheffield Daily Telegraph advocating seaside bathing pools, and backing the case for Scarborough to have its own. Shortly afterwards, he wrote to Scarborough's town clerk supporting the construction of a bathing pool in the south bay and north bays, citing similar geological conditions to St Andrews and a lack of bathing facilities in the town. Leng included a sketch of the South Pool, positioned close to its eventual site. A few years later, the decision to build two pools was made.
The south pool was to be the first to be built, and design plans were drawn up in October 1913 by Borough engineer Harry W Smith and the work supervised by William Birch, begining in 1914. Construction was hampered by the diversion of resources caused by The First World War, and workers had to shelter behind its half finished walls during the German bombardment of December 1914. The pool opened on schedule in the summer of 1915, but at the cost of delaying the construction of some features, including the pool cafe. Contemporary letters show that as well as no cafe, the toilets were not yet functioning or key staff yet appointed for the first season. In 1916, male and female swimming instructors were appointed, and the toilets and showers came into operation. The Pool's cafe was installed around 1917. (Yorkshire County Record Office).
The pool was intended to have a dual purpose of acting as a sea defence for the coastline, and helping to boost Scarborough's already burgeoning tourist industry. At the time it was highly innovative, being the first of its kind and remaining the largest open air pool in Europe (330 ft wide) for many years afterwards. It went on to set a trend for open air sea water lidos in other coastal resorts. The North Bay Pool would ultimately follow much later, opening in 1938. (Yorkshire County Record Office).
The pool facilities included baths and hot and cold showers, first aid facilities, and Scarborough Corporation retained a staff of professional instructors to assist the swimmers. In 1930, a bathing ticket cost 6p, and towels and costumes could also be hired if needed. An on-site Laundry was provided to clean these items. ('Scarborough and District', Ward & Lock 'Red Guide' 1930)
During its lifetime, the South Bay Pool had been enormously popular, as is clear from contemporary pictures showing huge crowds, in and around the pool, and even watching from the terraces above. Spectators could listen to the band, watch live shows, or refresh themselves in the cafe. Several different diving boards were provided at different times in the pool's history, including a 32ft high diving board that was installed in 1934. That same year, the pool was substantially modernised, including the introduction of a chlorinated water cycling system, and increasing spectator seating to up to 3000 people. The entertainments included stunt diving (one man would set himself on fire before jumping into the pool) and professional diving from world champion Betty Slade, and dancing girls called the 'Aqua Belles'. The diving preliminaries for the 1948 Olympic games were held at the pool, where they attracted huge crowds. (Smith, J, 'Liquid Assets', English Heritage 2005) and 'Scarborough; The Tonic Holiday', Corporation of Scarborough Brochure, 1949)
As the pool had been designed to serve as a sea defence, it inevitably came under huge pressure during stormy seas, and severe damage resulted from the great storm of 1953. This destroyed a section of the pool's wall on the south east side. This section was initially replaced with sandbags, then the wall was rebuilt and a temporary separate wall extension was built around the damaged area (see pic 2;10). In around 1959, the last major construction work on the site was completed with the addition of a large concrete walkway all the way around the seaward side of the pool. This improved accessibility and provided additional protection.
By the 1980's, the pool's popularity was in steep decline. The pool was unheated and thus freezing cold, and competition from the heated fresh-water North Bay Pool, and affordable foreign holidays, were some of many problems it faced. The pool was reliant on large numbers of paying spectators, and the fashion for spectator swimming and related entertainments had hugely dimminished. Winter storms would cause large amounts of sand to wash over the top of the pool, resulting in the need for annual drainage and expensive and time consuming clearance. The site's relatively issolated location caused it to be a target for vandals. Further more, the pool was old and out-dated. Visitor Richard Beaumont said that by the late 1960's, 'The pool was already decaying. Each winter it was drained to patch up cracks and put on some paint, but no major work was done.' The pool ran into constant serious problems throughout the 1980's, first closing in 1981, before re-opening after a local campaign and an injection of £42,000 by Scarborough council. It was not enough, and The South Bay Pool closed down in 1989. (Smith, J, 'Liquid Assets', English Heritage 2005)
The pool became derelict. The council put up boards to try to stop windows being smashed and the site being vandalised, but they were not successful. When I happened upon the site for the first time in September 1997, the pool and its associated buildings were in a state of decay. What had been a thriving place full of laughter, was now quiet and still, with few visitors and only the sound of the sea.