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Park Road Lido turns 90: Celebrating a long legacy of healthy living

PUBLISHED: 17:56 09 May 2019

A historic postcard featuring the Park Road Lido. Picture: Hornsey Historical Society

A historic postcard featuring the Park Road Lido. Picture: Hornsey Historical Society

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In 1929 public swimming wasn't easily accessible for many.

A historic postcard featuring the Park Road Lido. Picture: Hornsey Historical SocietyA historic postcard featuring the Park Road Lido. Picture: Hornsey Historical Society

But that year, after a three decade fight for leisure facilities in Crouch End, the Park Road Lido opened to great fanfare.

This year it is celebrating its 90th anniversary, and Katy Ferguson from the Park Road Lido User Group (PRLUG) told the Ham&High about how a local gem came to be.

Katy explained that her research had unearthed campaigning for lido in the area in 1891. The calls came from the Stroud Green Swimming Club.

Katy said: "It was about their being somewhere to swim for everyone, not just the people in the posh houses. It was about somewhere kids could learn to swim, even now it serves that purpose."

A historic postcard featuring the Park Road Lido. Picture: Hornsey Historical SocietyA historic postcard featuring the Park Road Lido. Picture: Hornsey Historical Society

Katy quotes the Stroud Green club: "They campaigned for public baths for the 'men in the small houses' not the just the ones with 'sumptuously arranged houses'."

But it took until 1926 for Hornsey Borough Council to pick up the baton, and until 1928 for land to be proposed for facilities which could provide "swimming bath accommodation for public elementary school pupils".

It won't surprise many that, as is often the case in 2019, plans to build on a previously green space didn't pass without a hitch.

Forty complaints were made by local residents in Wood Vale and Cranley Gardens, but by June 1, 1929 - when the lido opened for the first time - these bumps in the road had been surmounted.

The front cover of the opening programme for the Park Road Lido in 1929. Picture: Hornsey Historical SocietyThe front cover of the opening programme for the Park Road Lido in 1929. Picture: Hornsey Historical Society

Katy added: "There was a tearoom and a pavilion, and of course there's the unusual feature of leilandei surrouding the lido, which remains just lovely.

"It's a place that has a lovely ambience about it."

Back in 1929, the Park Road Lido was one of just two open-air pools in London - and its attractions even brought the early news cameras. Britsh Pathé produced a short piece, which is now on Youtube, showing the "water witches" - women - of Hornsey swimming in the pool.

It has seen boom and bust, though, and in 1987 after local government cuts and a series of particularly wet summers, the lido was closed.

Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West joins the Park Road Lido Users Group in the pool during a visit on Saturday. Picture: Katy FergusonHornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West joins the Park Road Lido Users Group in the pool during a visit on Saturday. Picture: Katy Ferguson

Keen swimmers didn't go away though, and by 1992 pressure - including from a man "dressed in a silver space suit" - resulted in a grand reopening.

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Since then, swimmers including 1948 Olympian Susan Halter have frequented the pool as it has been brought up to modern standards.

One local swimmer, Andy Bellasario told this newspaper how things had changed in the years she had been using the lido.

She said: "Back before it was open all year round, me and one man would always compete to be first in the pool in May, and last out in the autumn.

"I have been going for so many years - it's such a beautiful place.

In 2019, after a facelift last year, instigated when a leak appeared, the lido is going from strength to strength, swimmers explain.

Another, local MP Catherine West, will be getting involved in the celebrations.

She told this newspaper: "I love swimming at the Park Road lido, particularly after its facelift.

"As the chair and co-founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Swimming I've long flown the flag for outdoor swimming.

"It's a wonderful activity for all ages and one of my favourite things about Park Road is seeing small children and older swimmers side by side. I'd encourage everyone to go there."

Katy added: "There are just so few lidos left in inner London, but we've still got one. It's was founded as a public pool, and its still our pool."

Susan Bennett, another Crouch End swimmer who has been visiting the lido for decades, spoke of the boon swimming there has been for her health too.

She said: "I love the variety of people I've met there and it's been so good for me. I started swimming on advice of a doctor because of asthma, and have never stopped."

As it heads into its 10th decade, Park Road continues as a place for all manner of people to enjoy swimming. Katy, Andy, Susan and Catherine all spoke of being charmed by watching young and old swim together.

That said, it seems unlikely now that - as one swimmer remarked was common in the 1970s and '80s - you could get the bus to the lido, pay for a swim, and get some chips for the trip home all with a pound.

What are your memories of the lido? Do you remember swimming at Park Road in the 1940s or 1950s? Get in touch with the user group on ParkRoadLUG@gmail.com ahead of the June 1 celebration. More details will be announced in the coming weeks.

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