Heritage: Memories of Brentwood's open-air swimming pool

Brentwood's open air swimming pool

Brentwood's open air swimming pool in North Road - Credit: Geoffrey Perrior

Our Brentwood history columnist, author and president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent dives deep into the history of the area's former outdoor swimming pool.

With temperatures soaring, many Brentwood residents’ thoughts will turn to relaxation and older folk will remember how, as children, they loved their local outdoor swimming pool.

For memories of the past, I turn to a wonderful group of people who grew up in surrounding towns.  Some have now taken up their pens and have written their own personal accounts of times' past.

Hutton resident Doug Brown is well known to many locals in Billericay and Brentwood, where he spent most of his working life as a bus and coach driver.

Doug Brown

Doug Brown, who spent most of his working life as a bus and coach driver - Credit: Sylvia Kent

Doug is proud of his mother’s well-known family, the Attridges, who many years ago had a road in Billericay named after their dynasty.

Like many people, Doug enjoys writing about his colourful life. Numerous stories have been published in local press, as well as appearing in the Essex Bus Enthusiasts Club Magazine.  He can be relied upon to bring a chuckle to his readers.

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Doug remembers when Brentwood had its own open-air swimming pool. Built in 1935, the pool had been on the council’s agenda since 1919. Although a piece of land - then known as Debtors’ Field - had been earmarked for this project, there had been no funds for what some councillors reckoned was “frivolity”, so the project was shelved for years.

But on Saturday, August 3, 1935, Cllr Daniel Cornish arrived to perform the official opening of the magnificent swimming pool in North Road, close to Brentwood High Street.

The cost was £8,000. Cllr Cornish read out a telegram of congratulations from his vice-chairman, Brentwood School’s headmaster Cllr James Hough, then off the assembled VIPs went to tour the building, including the state-of-the-art pressure filters, pumps and the chlorinating machinery which purified and cleaned the water hourly.

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The excited kids were all ready for the great splash, but because of “respect for the Sabbath”- so prevalent in the 1930s, the children who so desperately wanted to dive into that sparkling Shangri-La had to wait until the Bank Holiday Monday to test the waters.

Local historian and photographer, the late Geoffrey Perrior recalled: “I loved that pool and it meant much to Brentwood children then and later when I was old enough to go alone.

"With my Janzens wrapped in my towel, and clutching my yellow season ticket (a birthday present from dad costing 7/6), I proudly flashed my pass as I sauntered past queues of youngsters.

"I remember the manager Charlie carrying a huge bunch of keys to open the steel clothes lockers. I’m sure everyone remembers the notice that said that you had to paddle through the cold water foot bath before getting into the pool, but we all jumped over it, and always got shouted at if caught.”

Much later, during the hot summers of the 1960s, Doug remembers parking his double decker at the City Coach Garage then adjacent to the pool, before stripping off with some of his fellow drivers and conductors - all ready for some naughty skinny dipping in the locked pool after hours (and never caught)!

Eventually, all good things come to an end and by the late 1970s, the decision had been taken to build a Sainsbury's store on the site of the North Road open air pool. 

Many residents still retain treasured childhood memories of their days by the pool when the weekend and school holidays were often spent in the sun.

I’ve discovered that every building has an interesting back story. Over the last 30 years, via the University of the Third Age (U3A), I’ve been fortunate in meeting some of Brentwood’s best raconteurs, helping them create and publish their own memory books.

Brentwood Writers’ Circle welcomes new members: www.brentwoodwriterscircle.org.uk

To learn more about Brentwood’s past, signed copies of my latest book published by Amberley Publishing, Brentwood in 50 Buildings, are available at Waterstones and WHSmith in Essex bookshops and Amazon.

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