Parliament Hill Lido at 80: Users look back on pool’s history and tell us why it’s better than ever
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
Parliament Hill Lido is set to reach 80 later this year. As part of its Octogenarian celebrations, Harry Taylor talks to two people who are regular poolside about why the lido is special to them
For many, Parliament Hill Lido on Hampstead Heath is a daily pilgrimage. These early birds will wake up and head to the Heath to experience the tranquil pool in Gospel Oak before heading to work.
One of the Heath’s best known features, the Lido will celebrate its 80th birthday later this year, and two of the regular faces around the pool will certainly be celebrating.
The Grade II-listed lido was opened on August 20, 1938, and was the most expensive of the 13 outdoor pools London County Council built between 1920 and the outbreak of the Second World War.
While diving boards once adorned its sides as well as a slide when it opened, the offering today is more simplistic.
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Eleanor Kennedy, chair of the lido’s user group, is one of the people who is up at the crack of dawn to use the pond, come rain, wind or snow. She usually gets to the pool every day when it opens at 7am, as she has done for the past 15 years.
“There’s a lot to be said for doing some exercise first thing in a morning,” she said. “It feels good, and there’s amazing camaraderie in the pool, and the lifeguards help that hugely.”
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Paul Jeal, a former lifeguard, has spent 31 years working at the lido. He originally started off in the changing rooms for a bit of extra summer cash while at college in the summer of 1987.
Even before working at the lido as a teenager, his life was intertwined with it. His parents took him along when he was a boy, and he went to William Ellis School, a stone’s throw away from the Heath.
One of the things the swimming facilities supervisor enjoys the most is the opportunity to work outside, and the relationship with the customers.
“I love the outdoors, and I get to go all over the Heath with my job.
“You also get good banter with some of the swimmers – they’ll all usually make the same jokes or ask the same questions.
“You get to know the regulars quite quickly, and can time your watch by them.”
Some 20 people, like Eleanor, arrive at the lido for when it opens. Her favourite time to swim at the lido is in the midst of winter, when it snows, but she acknowledges that might not be something everybody will understand.
“It might sound strange, but we’re all getting into the water and laughing. When it snows it’s absolutely stunning, and the lido never takes a bad photo.”
Eleanor has been part of the lido’s user group for several years, and it’s now in rude health with more than 200 members, a huge rise from the mere 40 when she started using the pool a decade and a half ago. They now even have their own branded sportswear, after members lobbied for it.
Paul, who grew up in Dartmouth Park Road, was part of the celebrations when the lido re-opened after months of refurbishment in June 2005. The facility had been losing about 100,000 litres of water a day when it had closed for the work.
When the ribbon was cut to re-open it, the lido’s staff played a friendly match against the British Olympic water polo team.
The work also saw a stainless-steel lining fitted to the pool, the first of its kind in Britain, and one that still pleases users today.
Paul, who has the added perk of being able to swim in the lido as well as work there, said: “We like to pride ourselves on looking after the water in the lido, and especially when the sun’s shining the lining provides a great experience for swimmers.”
As part of this year’s events to mark the lido becoming a watery octogenarian, an exhibition of its history is being held.
There will also be a party on the August Bank Holiday to mark the anniversary.
Eleanor, who lives in Chalk Farm, said she would encourage people to come down and use the lido, and said people’s first time in the pool isn’t as awkward as they may think.
“I think the perception of London as a city being unfriendly is wrong.
“It’s one of the friendliest places I’ve ever lived, and I’ve made some of my best friends in the lido.”
When it’s put to Paul that after three decades he’s now part of the furniture at the pool, he reluctantly agrees.
“I’d like to think I’m part of the fabric,” he said.
And the 52-year-old is sure his life wouldn’t be the same without the lido.
“I’m really grateful for it. When I open up the lido in the morning and think, ‘I could be on the train to work right now, to sit in an office all day,’ I realise I’m lucky.”