Swimming Pool in Lea Valley

Public demand for facilities for swimming and bathing

By Susan Hall

Bathing in River Lea, pre swimming pool
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Town map showing site of swimming pool in red. UDC21/77/210
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Plan of Swimming pool showing inlet from the River Lea running into the pool and out to the cattle grazing area UDC21/77/210
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Close up of Swimming pool plans UDC21/77/210
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Plan showing decking and changing sheds UDC21/77/210
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Front elevation of Dressing Sheds UDC21/77/210
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Plan of Gentlemens Lavatory UDC21/77/210 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Plan of Ladies Lavatory UDC21/77/210 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Details of spring intake weir UDC21/77/210 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Details of intake weir UDC21/77/210 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Detail of outlet pipe UDC21/77/210 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Timbering for side of the pool UDC21/77/210 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Details of Diving Stage UDC21/77/210 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Diving Stage at swimming pool c1939
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Swimming Pool c1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Refreshment Shed side elevation UDC21/77/211 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Refreshment Shed side elevation UDC21/77/211
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Refreshment Shed front elevation UDC21/77/211 1933
Refreshment Shed showing sliding window detail UDC21/77/211 1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Swimming pool, showing the Refreshment Shed and Changing Sheds c1933
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Aquatic Mannequins parade for the opening of the pool June 1933
Welwyn Timws 29 June 1933 page 1
Welwyn Garden City Pool facelift April 1965
Welwyn Times and Hatfield Herald 19 March 1965
6.55am The first arrivals at the pool. Left to right are Robert Catt (13) of Peartree Lane, Maureen (12), Trevor (13) and Elaine Gibson (10) of Holwell Road
Denis Williams, Welwyn Times and Hatfield Herald 23 April 1965, page 18
Youngsters from the town were the first to sample the cool water of the Welwyn Garden City pool
Denis Williams, Welwyn Times and Hatfield Herald 23 April 1965, page 18
Swimming Pool complex c1960s
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Water Flumes open August 1987
Welwyn Hatfield District News, page 9
Swimming Pool just before it closed in 1999

On Friday 31 October 1930 in the Britsh Legion Headquarters a public enquiry was held into the building of a swimming pool in Welwyn Garden City.

There were residents present who were for and against the scheme and some of the remarks were of a lively nature.

The loan required for the scheme would be £14,500 which would include a filtration plant. There was a debate concerning the extra charge on the rates that would come from the running and upkeep of the pool, and also the fact that 50 men would be employed over the five months that it would take to build.

The pool itself was “being planned as near as possible in the geographical centre of the town. Its site is sheltered by a stretch of oak woodland in which a suffient clearance will be made to admit full sunshine at all times of the day.

The area of the site is two acres and it has been offered to the council by the Company on a 999 year lease for a nominal ground rent of 10s a year.

The scheme comprises: A shallow paddling pool for small children, and a swimming pool 120 feet by 60 feet, varying in depth from 3 to 7 feet; the whole being set in a paved area surrounded by grass lawns and a sun-bathing beach.

In addition there will be brick buildings comprising a buffet, Entrance Hall, Ticket Office, Superintendents Flat and Sanitary accommodation.

The 200 dressing boxes will be arranged in two separate enclosures and so designed that every bather must pass a shower bath and foot-bath on the way to the swimming pool. No person will be allowed to enter the swimmimg enclosure in boots.

A filtration plant will treat the whole volume of the swimming pool-230,000 gallons-within 6 hours.

At the bottom of the pool lines of dark blue quarry tiles will give direction to the swimmers. There will be a diving stage and spring board and perhaps a water-chute.

Sun bathers will have beaches of screened shingle around the head of the pool.

Admission Charges

Proposed charges for the use of the bath are as follows: week-days, ordinary bathing adults; 4d each: children under 14 2d.

Mixed bathing 6d; children accompanied by adult 4d; Sunday ordinary bathing 6d.

Mixed bathing 1/-; season ticket (not admitting during mixed bathing) adults 15/-; children 7/-6d; to include mixed bathing 25/-.

Local elementary school children in parties accompanied by teachers 1d each scholar. Paddling pool children 2d each.

The details of the enquiry can be found in the Welwyn Times on 6 November 1930 page 1. This swimming pool scheme did not take place, it was abandoned owing to the Government “Unemployment” grant failing to materialise.

In 1931 the council applied for a grant to the Unemployment Grants Committee, to build a swimming pool. This grant was turned down. On a unanimous vote the Council decided that further representations should be made to the responsible Government body.

The Government at that time was urging Local Authorities to put forward schemes for the relief of unemployment and increased the grant in connection with public baths schemes.

The council did not have any exact figures but put forward the case that approximately 100 men were unemployed in the district, mainly with connections to the building trade. The council submitted to the committee “that the scheme would employ 50 men for a 5 month period and would also find permanent employment for two or three persons and be the means of circulating money in trade or business which may possibly be at the present time depressed”. Mr W R Hughes suggested that the clerk also point out to the Grants Committee that two large building schemes were coming to a close and considerable unemployment would result.

In August 1932 a swimming club was formed and in November 1932 the Council agreed to ask Welwyn Garden City Company the terms upon which they would be prepared to let the Council have a lease of the pool.

The Swimming Club had decided to leave the matter of construction in the hands of the Company, who had prepared plans for the swimming pool. It was hoped that construction would start in December or January so that the pool would be ready for use in May next year.

The proposed site of the pool was to be at Stanborough and could be approached by the footpaths in Common Lane (Tinkers Hill) and Stanborough Lane. The site at that time was outside the Urban District of the Garden City, but an appeal for the towns boundaries to be widened to include it was lodged with a Government Committee.

The pool would be visible from The Great North road and would measure 100 feet in length by 40 feet wide and graduate from 3feet to 6 feet 6 inches in depth. It would be bordered by grass and shingle. There would also be ample dressing accommodation.

In December 1932 the Company informed the Council that they had a definate estimate of the cost of the construction of a swimming pool near the River Lea at Stanborough Farm in accordence with the prepared plans by Captain James. (These plans can be viewed at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies reference UDC21/77/210 & 211)

The amount of the estimate was £2,000, and an additional cost of £200 for fencing and sundry extras. The company had also made provisional arrangements with the Farmer, James Throssell, for early possession of the site.

“Subject to agreement, the Company said they were prepared to construct the swimming pool and lease it to the Council on the following terms:

1. The Lease to be for 999 years

2. The rental for the first 10 years to be calculated at 5½ per cent interest on the agreed cost, with a sinking fund to amortise the cost in 10 years. (On a cost of £2,000 the annuity would be about £289 per annum).

3. The Council to be entitled to commute the balance of the 10 years annuity at any time, and to undertake to do so if and as soon as they are able to obtain borrowing powers for this purpose.

4. The Company to make no charge for the site so long as the annuity rental is paid, but at the end of the 10 years, or from the date of commutations of the annuity rental if that occurs earlier, a groung rent of £10 per annum will be payable, instead of the annuity rental as set out above.

5. The council to maintain the swimming pool and fences, including the fencing of the approach path.

6. The council to pay the expenses of the agreement and lease.

On this basis, it is pointed out, the Council would, at the end of 10 years, have in effect paid off the capital cost and the only rental from that date would be the £10 ground rent per annum.”

(The above conditions can be found in the Welwyn Times of 22 December 1932 on page 1)

At a meeting of the Urban District Council it was decided that the offer of Welwyn Garden City Limited should be accepted, subject to a report by the clerk as to the rate of interest set out in the second condition.

In a letter dated 14 January 1933 accompanied with the plans for the construction of the swimming pool in the Lea Valley, it was stated that the Welwyn Garden City Company and the Urban District Concil would come together for the scheme. The Company would construct the pool whilst the council would be responsible for its maintenance and management.

The propsal was “to form a pool in the marsh land north of the river and to feed it from springs which rise further up the river and run through watercress beds near Lemsford to a point west of the proposed pool.

This stream of water formerly continued along a dyke across the proposed site of the pool and turned into the river at right angles after feeding a watering hole for cattle. But within recent years the stream had broken its way into the river and had thus become a nuisance to the fishing interests.

Briefly, it is intended to restore this stream to its former course and to take it through the presently proposed swimming pool. The tail water from the pool would then pass through the cattle watering place to the river as in former times.

It is not proposed to chlorinate or treat the water in any way.”

In the Welwyn Time of 19 January 1933 it was reported that Lord Cranborne and the Lea Conservancy Catchment Board had both approved the scheme for the proposed swimming Pool at Stanborough. The plans were passed on 23 February 1933.

The dressing sheds were to be of timber construction and all timber work was to be Creosoted both inside and out except the roof and seats.

All doors to be made 6 inch X ¾ inch T & G boards tied and braced with 6 inch X 1 inch planed boards and fitted with locks.

Hat and coat hooks at 3 foot intervals for the full length of the shed fixed to 6¾ inch boards attached to studs 5 feet from the floor.

The roof was to be 6 inch X ¾ inch T & G boards with a bitumen felt covering.

In the Welwyn Times on 27 April 1933 the opening times and charges were published.

“Prices for bathing

Swimming Pool plans

Times and charges

Here are the regulations and charges to operate in connection with the Swimming Pool, which it is hoped to have ready for use in the early part of June.

The bath will be open daily 6.30 am to 12 noon; 1pm to 5pm; 5.30pm to sunset

The council will reserve the right to allot periods for club use or for men or women alone. Apart from such specified periods, mixed bathing will be allowed.

Charges for admission will be-all day Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays up to 1pm, Adults 4d, children (up to 14) 2d, parties of children, under the charge of a responsible adult, 1d per child.

Books of ten tickets for adults at a reduced rate of 2s 6d will be availablefor use during the above mentioned hours.

From 1pm on Saturdays to sunset, and all day Sunday and Bank Holidays, the charges will be-Adults 6d, children (up to 14) 3d.

Season tickets – Adults 10s each and children 5s each will be available and will admit at all times except at reserved periods.

applications by advertisement are to be invited for the joint appointment of a man and wife as attendants at the Swimming Pool at a joint wage of £4 per week. A condition of appointment will be that the man is to be a swimmer and have a knowledge of first aid work.

Tenders are to be obtained for the supply and washing of towels

A sub-committee is to be appointed to consider inviting tenders for the provision of refreshments, tea etc.”

In the Welwyn Times on 8 June 1933 it was announced that the Swimming Pool would not be opening until Saturday 24 June when there would be ” an officail ceremony and the the citizens may disport themselves in the fresh, clear waters”

The reason for the delay in opening was given inthat during the early negotiations the parties involved were “unable to reach a settlement without some difficulty.”

There was an interesting comment made by Mr H Storey at a meeting of Hatfield Council, he said “the fact that Welwyn Garden City people had been refused the use of Hatfield’s bathing pool at Mill Green probably had something to do with their providing their own pool.”

Hatfield Council decided, however, to allow  scouts in camp at Hatfield Park to use the Mill Green Pool up to 10am on written permission being given, and provided they are in the charge of a scoutmaster.

The Refreshment Shed plans were drawn seperately to the main plans of the pool and these were passed in June 1933. The shed was to be of timber construction using all weather boarding similar to the existing dressing sheds and Creosoted outside only.

All floor boards, joinsts and plates were to be Crosoted both sides before fixing. All posts rails and studs to be planed.

In the Welwyn Times on 22 June 1933 the announcement of the opening of the Swimming Pool on 24 June was made.

Mrs Froehlich of Walden Place had entered into a contract to supply refreshments which were to be from a hut yet to be erected by the council. So on opening day the refreshment hut was not built.

The Hon.Secretary of the Amateur Swimming Association, Mr County Alderman Fern , JP was to open the pool. Among the attractions were a mannequin parade, exhibitions of ornamental and fancy swimming by lady champions, and a display of life-saving and diving by the first winners of the “Darnell” 100-guinea Trophy.

There was some dicussion as to what was a healthy temperature of the pool. Dr Grattan was “of the opinion that it was undesirable for children under the age of eight years to bathe in an open swimming bath unless the temperature is 65 degrees F. or over”

The council said that “The question as to whether or not a child should or should not bathe is a matter for the parents”.

The average temperature of the pool would be from 50 to 55 degrees F and parents with any doubt as to the fitness of a child were advised to consult their doctor.

On the day of the opening of the pool citizens filed along both field paths, that at the top of Handside Lane and the other in Stanborough Lane. Loud-speakers broadcast music in the spacious surroundings and there was anestimated 1,200 persons present.

Mr G s Lindgren, chairman of the Urban Council, said in his speach, “We look upon the pool as a necessity and not a luxury, and will do everything we can to make the town a home for nurturing the art of swimming. The pool is not so fine a one as we would have liked, but that we have it at all is due to the happy cooperation between the Council and the Company”.

Captain W E James, the designer of the pool made the following comment:

“Three years ago the Council had a very fine scheme for a swimming pool near the centre of the town. The estimated cost was £15,000. The plans were approved by the Ministry of Health but the expected Unemployment Grant which would have made it realisable, failed to materialise, and it had to be abandoned.

The pool we are opening this afternoon has none of the finish and refinement of the previous scheme. Quite frankly, it is an almost desperate attempt to provide, in these very difficult time, the bare essentials for healthy swimming and bathing for our young people at a figure which would not add to our rate burden.

It has been adversely criticised but i am not prepared to apologise for it. It is, i believe, the best that could be done within the narrow financila limits.”

He went on to say “I have been asked how water can be retained in a wooden box with a gravel bottom. The answer is a simple one. If you can charge the surrounding subsoil to a hydrostatic pressure equivalent to that of the water within your wooden box, you can keep it full.

The surfaces of the walls and floor are such as absorb light instead of reflecting it, as tiled and concrete do in the more usual and expensive form of construction. Therefore the water you see before you does not appear to be so clear and bright as in fact it is.

The tail water displaced by the incoming fresh supply is forced out at a point near the bottom of the deep end, being raised by the pressure in the pool to a level that enables it to be drained away to the river by a natural course. The whole process of water change is thus operated automatically by an artificialhead of about 12 inches at no cost whatever to the prospective revenues of the pool.

The dressing accommodation is simple, frank and inexpensive. I do not claim that it is pretty, but it is clean, straightforward and free from meretricious ornament. I will go furthur and suggeat that it has some measure of seemliness in that it fitly fulfils its function and does not pretend to be anything other than it is.

The aim of the general design of the pool has been to preserve the sense and feeling of space and open-air. Hence the open wire fence on all sides.”

Owing to the poor weather on the opening day the mannequin parade that had been arranged by the stores was postponed until Sunday. Many residents came down to the pool on that afternoon to watch the interesting display of local beauty, clad in the latest fashions in bathing dresses, wraps and beach pyjamas.

In 1965 the pool at Stanborough had a facelift and was opened to the public on 15 April 1965. The boiler that had been installed to heat the water over night, did not start, so the water temperature for that morning was a very cool 59 degrees F. But that did not put people off from experiencing the new complex.

In 1987 £85,000 was spent on a “Splashland” scheme and it was due to be opened on 30 May 1987, but this opening had to be scrapped due to the fact that the slides would not fit together.

The opening of “Splashlands” happened in July of 1987 and on July 5 a record breaking 6,056 persons visited the pool and 862 rode on the water slides. The slides were proving to be an exciting attraction at this popular pool.

In 1989 it was reported that the outdoor pool in Welwyn Garden City needed a lot of repairs. A study  was then carried out to see how much it would cost to replace it with an indoor complex.

In July 1999 the swimming pool closed. There were safety concerns and the pool was closed for the summer.

Erosion around the pool was reported to Welwyn Hatfield Council in March of that year and it was announced on Friday 15 July that the pool was unstable and would have to stay closed.

The flumes had been removed as the ground they stood on was of particular concern.

An extensive geological survey revealed that the pool could be sitting on loose sub-soil and there may be holes where the chalk layer below the earth was dissolving. But the voids could not simply be filled, all the concrete around the pool would have to be removed and structures supported, and up to 5m of slushy sub-soil would have to be replaced with gravel.

Also there was other work needed before the pool would be able to open, the boiler and the chlorinating plant needed replacing. The cost of repair was at least £1million.

Splashland as it was called, attracted 5,000 people a week during hot weather and school holidays and about 1,700 at other times.

There was some doubt that with all the work that was needed the outdoor facility would ever reopen.

And it never did.



This page was added on 07/05/2013.

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  • Just found this link. We lived in Raymond’s Close in the early 1950s. A few of us (5-7 year olds) walked to Lea Valley, towel tucked under our arm, through the ‘dumps’, on the way home we’d go newt fishing with our jam jars on string. No adults, just us kids enjoying ourselves. ❤️

    By Marion Titt (31/01/2020)
  • I spent much of my childhood and early teens at the Lea Valley pool. I learnt to swim here and also captained the WGC swimming team for 3 years (along with Nick Faldo). I swam a ‘mile a night’ throughout summers in the 1970s and it provided me with a continuing love of swimming (in cold water), a competitive streak and my first paying job – handing out keys to cloak room lockers in between doing my homework – 1970s. Happy memories!

    By Alison Gilchrist (09/07/2018)
  • Oh yes, the Garden City swimming pool! After our two children were born, we used to take them there for an hour’s swim then we’d go home. Oh the happy days!

    By Joseph Peterson (31/03/2015)
  • I learnt to swim at this pool and so did my 4 daughters. We enjoyed many school summer holidays there and in the sand and beach side which isnt mentioned. Mind you I wasnt surprised when the conservative council promised to repair or build WGC an indoor pool never came to light. I dont live there anymore what is such a large town doing without a pool of any kind and lets not fall into the trap of hatfield pool but you need a car or bus fare and entrance money so its not available to welwyn and hatfield as I heard its called now. I can guess whos idea that was.

    By patricia cole (08/07/2013)
  • On Wednesday 19 June 2013 a horror fall at the high ropes at the Closer to the Edge activity course,meant it was closed before it had been offically opened. Paramedics were called out to a woman who is belived to have fallen from a zip line injuring her hip. she was taken to The Royal London Hospital. An inquiry is taken place and the £500,000 activity course will remain closed.

    By Susan Hall (03/07/2013)
  • In the Welwyn Times of 29 May 2013 it was announced that “Closer to the Edge” would be opening on 22 June 2013. This is a £500,000 high ropes course that has been put on the “Splashlands” sight.

    By Susan Hall (29/05/2013)