Lidos (the Italian word for ‘beach’) rose to popularity in the UK during the 1930s, when Britons flocked to frolic in the cool waters and sunbathe poolside over the summer months. Though many British lidos fell into decline during the 20th century (when air travel and overseas holidays became affordable to the masses) a handful have been lovingly restored by councils and community groups and remain beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture.
On a beautiful sunny day, what could be more refreshing than an invigorating dip in one of Britain’s beautiful historic lidos? You could even pack a picnic and make a day of it! Here are some of our favourites…
Tinside Lido, Devon
You say lee-doh, I say lie-doh but, as one of the country’s most elegant Art Deco lidos, this Devon pool helps to answer that. It’s lee-doh since they took their name from the island in Venice’s lagoon, where locals had been bathing since the 1850s.
These new British pools – which were, crucially, opened without segregated male/female bathing areas – promised a slice of Italian glamour previously unimaginable on our chilly British shores. Opened in 1935, and restored in 2003, Grade II-listed Tinside is a glittering semi-circle of saltwater stripes shimmering above the cliffs at Plymouth Hoe and backed by an ocean liner-like entrance building.
Ilkley Lido, Yorkshire
Another 1935 opening, this much-loved Yorkshire pool is Grade II-listed thanks to its unusual mushroom shape and its rustic-looking timber-framed cafe (originally run by Taylors of Harrogate). With glazed doors opening on to a sun terrace, the cafe neatly illustrates the 1930s zest for outdoor leisure, and hardy locals still swim in the unheated water in the summer. The 1970s dismantling of the diving platform means there’s no longer any trying to replicate the ‘ladies and gents graceful high dive’ competition, held to mark the pool’s original launch. Instead, soak up graceful views of the neighbouring moor as you dip.
Lido Ponty, Wales
Dubbed the National Lido of Wales, in 1927 Pontypridd’s pool was one of the first lidos to open in Britain (Georgian-era Cleveland Pools, in Bath, is currently under restoration and, while Bristol’s refurbished Victorian baths now have lido in their name, they were part of a different drive for public baths).
Partially funded by the Miners’ Welfare Fund, Lido Ponty was built in Arts and Crafts style and extended, with an Art Deco flourish, in the 1930s. Renovated in 2015, in 2020 the site was hit by Storm Dennis. Repair work is almost complete, however, and the lido’s three heated pools should reopen this summer.
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Jubilee Pool, Cornwall
Penzance’s Jubilee Pool opened in 1935, the name a nod to King George V’s Silver Jubilee. The Cornish town was a holiday hotspot and Captain Latham, the borough engineer, designed the largest seawater lido in the country to cater for large numbers. Its elegant triangular shape follows the line of the rock and helps it to withstand winter storms. Like so many British lidos, the pool fell into neglect before a Grade II-listing and social enterprise status helped turn its fortunes around. Reopened in 2017, the unheated main and learner pools (open summer only) were joined last year by a geothermally heated pool for year-round swimming.
Brockwell Lido, London
Londoners are spoilt for choice when it comes to lidos, from Tooting Bec (popular with cold-water swimmers) to Parliament Hill (glimmeringly steel-lined) and London Fields (heated, and handy for post-swim snacks at Broadway Market). If you’re looking for a heritage backdrop to your swim, however, Brockwell is hard to beat. Opened in 1937 but closed in 1990, it was revived in various stages, most significantly following a major renovation in 2007. The Grade II-listed 50m pool is now thriving again – the Art Deco buildings that surround it are home to a natty poolside cafe, as well as studios for yoga and HIIT classes.
Saltdean Lido, East Sussex
Opened in 1938 by Olympic swimmer and Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller, this Grade II*-listed crescent-shaped lido lies just east of Brighton. A member of the campaign group Historic Pools of Britain, it was described by the Twentieth Century Society as ‘the most architecturally significant open-air pool in the country’. Saved by local campaigners just over a decade ago, the pools were reopened in 2017. Until recently, however, the main building, complete with ice-cream kiosk and Art Deco ballroom, remained at risk. Thankfully, its facelift is growing closer; in February the council and National Lottery agreed funding for its restoration.