Tonbridge Town Swimming Pool was officially opened by Colonel Herbert Spender-Clay, MP for Tonbridge, on Saturday 9 July 1910 to an Edwardian audience to whom mixed bathing was a very new and fascinating concept.

Official opening of Tonbridge Town Swimming Pool by Colonel Herbert Spender-Clay MP for Tonbridge - photograph courtesy of Tonbridge Historical Societ

At the opening of this, the country's first heated outdoor pool, a first class 'single bath' cost 3d (that's 1p in today's money) and a second class bath was 1d (just half a penny). There were also very strict regulations on how the pool could be used as the rules and regulations stated:

  • Bathers paying first-class charges will be allowed on both sides of the Bath and will be entitled to use the Dressing Boxes and Sheds on the North Side and West End.
  • Bathers paying second-class charges will only be allowed to bathe from the South Side and use the diving board and stage at the East End and the shed at the West End. They will not be allowed to land on the first-class side, nor make use of the facilities reserved for first-class bathers.
  • Every Bather must wear drawers or a bathing costume.
  • Soap will not be allowed to be used in the Bath .
  • Dogs will not be admitted.


Thankfully, soap and dogs are still not allowed in the pool but how times have changed!

Tonbridge Swimming Club 1910 - image courtesy of Frank Chapman

Tonbridge Swimming Club 1910 - image courtesy of Frank Chapman

1913 Polo Gala - photographs courtesy of Tonbridge Historical Society

1913 Polo Gala - photographs courtesy of Tonbridge Historical Society

The Daily Mail brought the pool to the attention of the nation in the 1920s after a councillor objected to Tonbridge Swimming Club's request for men and women to be allowed to swim together from 6am to 10am on Sundays, thus breaching the council's rule to keep the sexes apart.

A speech by Councillor Donald Clark of Tonbridge, a former Scots Guard officer, which was reported in the local newspaper, caught the eye of the Daily Mail - especially his explanation that he objected "not because I am a Puritan, but in the interests of ladies looking for husbands."

He said that "By making girls look like wet terriers, mixed bathing stops more marriages than any other cause and much unrest in the country due to the barbarous license in woman's dress". Clark was subsequently hired by the Daily Mail to travel around coastal resorts to comment on beach behaviour.

This whole episode lead to a mixed bathing protest by a local Tonbridge resident. An elderly woman carrying an umbrella mounted the pool's high diving-stage and began a shrill denunciation of mixed bathing and the spectators who encouraged it by their presence. She was pushed into the pool by an indignant bather and had to be rescued!

Mr Clark declared that, from what he had seen, strict Government supervision of bathing places was needed, because mixed bathing "must always have a debasing influence by lowering the respect that should remain between the sexes."

It all came to nothing when the swimming club's request was approved by the council, and the sexes swam together for the first time in July 1920. 

Tonbridge swimmers still revel in their memories of the original baths which were used by borough residents for 80 years!  Local resident Christina Lawrence's mother Gladys Lawrence, nee Larkin, was a pupil at the Girls Technical Institute, Avebury Avenue in the late 1920s and spent many cold hours learning to swim at the pool. The pictures below show Gladys lying out on the 6ft diving board - very brave as, as the time, she couldn't swim a stroke! They also depict teacher Miss Cherry in the white hat and dress, who later, as Mrs Cobell, taught at Tonbridge Secondary Modern now Hillview.    

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Gladys Lawrence, nee Larkin, relaxes on the diving stage - courtesy of Christina Lawrence

 

A press cutting from the 1996 May 10 issue of The Courier entitled 'Sharing a swim with frogs' gives such a great insight of the joys of learning to swim at the pool - and the water conditions!

Retired schoolmaster Reg Philpott, of Welland Road, a keen swimmer in the murky green of the old pool in the 1920s, questions whether the 1910 pool was ever heated. It actually was - pipes under the adjacent Baths Field carried surplus heat from the municipal electricity works. Here is what Mr Philpott had to say:

press cutting

 

Pool in the 1950

Pool in the 1950s with the four-level diving stage - image courtesy of Frank Chapman

Happy Days 1980

Tonbridge Pool 'Happy Day' 1980s - courtesy of General Manager at the time Lydia Millis

 

On Saturday 4 April 1996 the indoor pool complex that we see today, along with a brand new outdoor pool, opened to the public. Olympic champion, Duncan Goodhew, led the celebrations at the time by officially opening the new indoor and outdoor pools, toddler pool and health suite and since then thousands of people have enjoyed the facilities.

Opening of the new pool complex

Mayor Pat Barnes and Duncan Goodhew MBE at opening of the new pool complex

 

Throughout the Pool's long history, many improvements have been made to create a modern and welcoming centre for the local community. In April last year, a new disabled changing room was built in consultation with the Tonbridge and Malling Access Group and, most recently, a major refurbishment included the installation of rubber safety flooring and the reconfiguration of the changing village to divide it into 'family only', 'male' and 'female' areas.

Robert Styles, the Borough Council's Chief Leisure Officer, says: "Over the years, Tonbridge Swimming Pool has had an enduring appeal and has always been held in great affection by the generations of people who have swum there. It has been, and continues to be, used by people of all ages and swimming abilities and I hope people will join us in celebrating our centenary this year."

The main centenary celebration event, a family pool party, took place on Saturday 10 July. Special guest Duncan Goodhew MBE, together with the Mayor of Tonbridge and Malling, Cllr Sue Murray, unveiled a commemorative plaque and presented the centenary colouring competition winners with their prizes. Mr Goodhew then kick-started the celebrations with a host of relay races in the outdoor pool and mingled with guests. See more photos of the event below.

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Mayor of Tonbridge & Malling Cllr Sue Murray unveils commemorative plaque

 

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Pool Staff make a real effort with their historic costumes

 

Other celebratory events included a colouring competition with a host of prizes for primary age children, a range of discounted swimming promotions and a display of historical photographs and information about the pool's history.

If you have any memories or photographs of Tonbridge Swimming Pool that you would like to share with us, please email them to leisurecentres@tmbc.gov.uk. We look forward to hearing from you.  Take a look at some more historic photos

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1913 Pool Gala

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Spectators in their Sunday best

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Tonbridge Pool Gala September 1911 - Umbrella Race

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History repeating itself!

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Let the fun and game commence

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Duncan shows his Olympic gold medal to former TSP employee Lydia Millis

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A great evening was had by all

 

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