From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 18
May - June 1982
Highfields Lido - Sometime after 1936
In 1920 Boots was taken over by the American, Louis K. Liggett of the United Drug Company and Jesse Boot sold his controlling interest for almost £2.5 million. Now aged seventy, he embarked on an 'orgy' of spending and in June 1920 offered £250,000 for a park on the Trent embankment.
In July he gave £50,000 to the Nottingham General Hospital, in September it was £1,650 towards a club for discharged soldiers and sailors, and in October it was £10,000 to endow professorship of sociology at the Congregational College on Forest Road West. Nottingham had long campaigned to get its own university and after the war a fresh campaign began. Boot offered £150,000 towards any future building project.
Boot had been an admirer of the Cadburys at Bourneville and William Lever at Port Sunlight who had housed their workers in decent homes alongside purpose built factories and almost immediately after the end of the First World War, he bought the huge Highfields Estate with the intention of using the splendid wooded site to build another Bourneville. But after the American take-over of the company, it soon became apparent that United Drug were not going to take up Boot's scheme for a new model town on the Highfields Estate, so he offered 35 acres of the Estate as a site for the University.
The remainder of the 220 acres he decided should be laid out as a pleasure park for the benefit of all in Nottingham. The project was also to include the construction of a £200,000 road through the Estate to provide a much-needed new route between Nottingham and Beeston. The road, University Boulevard, was raised above the level of the Trent floods by using spoil made available when the existing lake was much enlarged to create the present fifteen-acre boating lake. In this public park, which was to have boating lake, pavilion and sports fields, Jesse Boot decided to add the largest inland swimming pool in Britain Highfields Lido, the main subject of this article.
Boot engaged a London architect, Percy Morley Horder, to design the Trent Building on the University site and he was given the commission for the swimming pool. Until then, Morley Horder's work for Boot had mainly been confined to designing the reproduction facades that Jesse Boot so favoured on the frontages of his shops. In his design for the Lido, the architect was concerned to ensure that the buildings around the pool should not lack visual interest. Drawing on the Roman style of architecture, he used red brick walling and pantile roofing and incorporated archways in front of the changing cubicles to break up the line of the buildings. The pool, a massive 330 feet by 75 feet, held over 750,000 gallons of water. The architect drew on a close source of water to fill it at minimal cost. A pipe was laid between the boating lake and the Lido and when water was required, it was drawn off from the lake and pumped into the pool. When the pool was emptied the water was pumped out into the nearby Tottle Brook. During the summer season, the water was changed in this way each week on a Sunday when the Lido was closed to the public. The architect's proud boast was that the only water drawn from the town mains was that used for drinking and in the showers, washbasins and toilets.
The Lido first opened in August 1924 and local papers for the 15th of August announced that it was' now open to swimmers who care to take their own costumes and towels'.
Highfields Lido 1924
Most likely the pool's administration was handled by a set of trustees appointed by Jesse Boot. For it was only after his death in 1931 that the pool and parkland were handed over to the City. It wasn't long before the City's Baths Committee decided that the pool should have a filtration plant, as they considered the practice of merely replacing the water once a week was possibly a health hazard and definitely a serious waste of water. So bathers' confidence about the cleanliness of the water was improved as was their comfort, for a heating system was also introduced to raise the temperature of the water during the cold spells. Twenty years later this heating was considered a highly impractical affair. Uncovered, the water was continually losing its heat to the atmosphere and so a considerable expense was involved in maintaining even a modest temperature. So the practice was discontinued in the mid-fifties. In the first three years of their management, the City Council made a healthy profit at Highfields Lido and so in 1935, deciding they were on to a good thing, they commissioned two further Lidos in other parts of the City. These were officially opened in July 1937 at Carrington and Bulwell.
Although the Lido at Highfields was enormous, there was relatively little open space around the pool for those taking a rest or just sunning themselves. On a sunny day the only way to get away from the crowds may well have been in the vast expanse of the pool itself. Matters were made a little better when a sundeck was built across the width of the pool in the late 1930s. As can be seen from the photograph, besides providing extra sunbathing space, the sundeck created a 'small' pool at the shallow end for youngsters. Unfortunately it also interfered with the proper filtration of the pool and was exceedingly difficult to keep clean. After the Second World War there was a proposal to replace the sundeck with a more open structure that would allow both water and swimmers to pass from one side to the other. In the early 1950s the sundeck was indeed removed but nothing was put in its place and so the pool resumed its original shape. By 1967 a small 'kiddies' pool had been opened at Carrington Lido and the success of this prompted the Baths Committee to propose one for Highfields. The plan would have involved the use of the shallow end of the pool again. But this time the pool would have been completely separate from the main pool and it would have had its own filtration unit. Sadly the money for this was never found. Highfields did, however, receive one 'improvement grant' in 1963. The Baths Committee had always wanted to have the back of the Lido taken down so that sunbathers could use that ground at the rear. After seventeen years of pleading their case, the money was found and an extra 2,300 square yards of land was enclosed by a new retaining wall. The opportunity was also taken to erect a new cafe there and turn the old one into storage space.
Spending an afternoon at an outdoor swimming pool an attractive prospect on a summer's day. On those hot sweltering afternoons, the Lido is a veritable magnet to all the youth of the area. But some years the sun is sadly missing and then the Lido holds far less of an appeal (as can be seen from the bar graph). Although the Lidos in Nottingham are open from mid-May to mid-September, the crowds only really come during those very hot spells, which are few in all but the best of summers. But those hot spells tend to move about the calendar and this makes hitting the right staffing levels all the more difficult. In one week back in June 1970, over ten and a half thousand people squeezed into Highfields Lido. In the following year the corresponding week yielded a mere 28 brave souls.
1952-72 from Baths Committee annual Reports.
1973-80 courtesy of Recreation Department
Since the commissioning of Carrington and Bulwell Lidos, the City has confined itself to building indoor swimming pools. Given the capital outlay, these make far more sense than outdoor pools, which as mentioned earlier are popular for only short spells each year. In view of constraints on purse strings, recreation departments all over the country have been closing down their outdoor pools. Initially Nottingham resisted this trend, but after four extremely poor years, the Leisure Services Committee decided to recommend that one of the Lidos should be closed. After considering factors such as age and attendant problems of maintenance, general overheads and location within the city, they decided not to reopen Highfields for the 1981 season. There was a proviso in their decision that the committee should review the situation at the end of the season. They wanted to be sure that Carrington and Bulwell were going to be sufficient for the needs of Nottingham's outdoor bathers. But another poor summer in 1981 didn't really give them a chance to test the market for the two remaining Lidos. They decided, nevertheless, to stick by their decision and so the Highfields Lido was put on the market.
When the car park and surrounding land are added to the Lido itself, the area on offer amounts to almost 2.5 acres. Ordinarily, its size and position would have made it a very attractive proposition for any intending developer. But the Council's task of disposing of the property is made more difficult by the restriction placed on it that any future use of the site should be for recreational purposes or at least should have a strong recreational bias, such that the Council would consider a proposal to use the site for a restaurant but not for a hotel. These limitations are not wholly of the Council's own making, but arise from the covenants agreed to, when the City took over the Lido in 1932.
The obvious candidate for the site ought to be the University. Back in the early 1960s the University did indeed have its eye on the Lido and adjoining parkland. Discussions took place with the City Council about the possibility of building a sports complex there funded jointly by the City and University. But the Council were unhappy with the proposed arrangements for sharing the facilities and so took the matter no further. The University then built their Sports Centre elsewhere on the campus and recently indicated that they have no desire, at present, to take over the Highfields site.
The City's Technical Services Department, who are handling the disposal of the Lido site have received enquiries from a number of interested concerns. But it remains to be seen whether these enquiries will bear fruit. The Department should shortly be drawing together all the proposals they receive and the relevant Committee should be assessing the merits of each one. If none of the plans put forward is considered suitable, then the ball will be back in the Leisure Services Committee's court and they will have to review the situation. It is not inconceivable that they might then consider it better to reopen Highfields and close one of the other Lidos. We must wait and see.