Yorkshire's pools are stroke of genius

PUBLISHED: 13:27 07 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2013

Bramley Baths in Leeds retains its original Edwardian ironwork, stone pool and delightful arched windows at either end

Bramley Baths in Leeds retains its original Edwardian ironwork, stone pool and delightful arched windows at either end

Yorkshire is home to some of the country's most historic public baths. Jo Haywood dives in to find out more PHOTOGRAPHS FROM ENGLISH HERITAGE. Swimming is Britain's most popular participation sport...

Swimming is Britain's most popular participation sport. Nearly one in five of us swim at least once a month, and we make around 80 million visits to swimming pools every year.

But what of the pools themselves? For some swimmers they bring back goosebump-inducing memories of eye-scorchingly chlorinated water, mouldy cubicles, saggy woollen costumes and UFOs (unidentified floating objects). But for others, historic public baths are aquatic palaces to be preserved at all costs.

The golden era of pool design was between 1880-1914, when more than 600 baths were constructed, many rich in architectural detail and technological innovation.

Among some of the most noteworthy - then and now - were Bramley Baths in Leeds, Ripon Baths, Park Road Public Baths in Halifax, Starbeck Baths in Harrogate (Britain's oldest operational public pool) and Beverley Road Baths in Hull.

These buildings contain a wealth of local and personal history but, perhaps surprisingly, their stories have remained largely untold.

That is all about to change though with the publication of a new book, Great Lengths, which sets out the history of our indoor pools from the earliest Georgian subscription baths to the current generation of leisure complexes.

The book has been written by Dr Ian Gordon, chief medical officer for British Swimming, and Simon Inglis, an architectural historian specialising in sporting and recreational buildings.

It also has a very timely foreword by Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington. 'I suppose I must have swum in at least 40 or 50 swimming pools around the country since I started,' she said. 'And like most swimmers there are some that I like and some that I don't. But if
you have swum in one particular pool all your life then is does mean something to you. You always have a connection to that place.

'Every pool has its own character, and even though we competition swimmers need to have the best possible facilities, it is just as important that children have a pool near them where they can learn and feel part of something, like I did.'

To order a copy of Great Lengths by Dr Ian Gordon and Simon Inglis (19.99, English Heritage), visit www.playinbritain.co.uk

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