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Minehead’s seafront lido

Minehead Swimming Pool From The Air c 1936 Copyright The Francis Frith Collection
Minehead Swimming Pool From The Air c 1936 Copyright The Francis Frith Collection

Image: Minehead, Swimming Pool From The Air c.1936. Copyright The Francis Frith Collection

Hardly a week goes by without someone bemoaning the loss of either the Aquasplash swimming pool or the seafront lido. So I thought it would be good to remind readers of a valuable leisure facility the town once had, and has lost.

In the 1930s the Urban District Council opened up the opportunity to acquire the Eastern part of the seafront. The Luttrells who were keen to foster development in Minehead saw the great potential this offered for various initiatives. Mr Geoffrey Luttrell came up with a number of schemes which came to nothing, except one his idea for a fine swimming pool. As far back as May 1894 The Minehead Baths Company was formed in which Robert Hole Solicitor, William Tarr Ironmonger, George Thristle Hotel Keeper, Thomas Ponsford Rtd Solicitor, Anna Ponsford Spinster and George Brown Jeweller, being desirous of it being formed agreed to take five shares each in the capital of the company.

Despite some doubts when the Luttrell proposal was put to the Council – one Councillor scathingly asking what was wrong with bathing in the Bristol Channel –
it was approved.

It is interesting to note that in 1935 there was a great furore in the national press about bathing at Minehead because Somerset County Council had conducted a revision of all the by-laws and they had resurrected one made in the 1890s, which stated that all persons over 10yrs could only bathe from a bathing machine,
tent or other screen.

All other Somerset bathers were only asked to wear a costume. Minehead considered this as a deliberate slight which inferred that indecent bathing was the practice in the town. They feared it would deter holiday makers. Fortunately an appeal to the Home Office led to the quashing of this by-law. It was hoped that a new swimming pool would rectify things.

Minehead’s privately owned Lido opened in 1936 and was built to Olympic specifications.It hosted the International Swimming Trials on several occasions. Both ends of the pool had 3ft of water, sloping to 4ft 6” then 6ft 6”, in the middle it was 15ft. One lane on the far side was 6ft 6” thus all bathers were accommodated.  

Over the 15ft depth was a diving tower with high diving boards of 10 and 5 metres. There were also numerous springboards of 1 and 3 metres. The late Cecily Corner told me  that she remembered watching a gala when John Leach swallow dived from the 10 metre board into flames on the water.

Although not covered it had a covered seating area for spectators on the Western end.It was one of only very few Lidos to have heated seawater. Although one Minehead resident whose school was taken there for swimming lessons records it as being icy cold! Many schools used it in the mornings and from then on it was open to the public.

During the Summer local children spent much of their time there. A popular and successful swimming club was formed and many galas were organised by it as well as by the Scouts, Guides and schools. It also had a water polo team. The landlord of the ‘Plume of Feathers; in Wellington Square, Mr Paul Radmilovic, was a former Olympic champion and he gave swimming demonstrations. Mrs Helen Barton nee Orr, a professional perfomed diving displays. Even log rolling events were held in it.

During WW2 the pool became a gas de-contamination centre in case the Germans used mustard gas which fortunately they didn’t. In the early days of the war the Royal Engineers trained in Gas Warfare on Exmoor.

After the war Mr Luttrell decided to sell the pool and grounds. Some residents believed that the Council made an error of judgement by not stepping in to buy the site for the town. However a consortium of businessmen purchased it and began to make improvements. They converted the stand to the Crystal Pool Restaurant and added a further building at the front which became an amusement arcade.

Bob Light was the engineer and Cecily Corner’s father, Arthur Bull was his assistant. They attended to the pumps and filters and together with temporary assistants had to scrape the algae from the sides and bottom of the pool. This was done with scrapers pulled by rope by a man at each side and drawn into the middle then into the sump where it was pumped away.

It took eight tides to fill the pool from empty which was done via a pipe line leading into the pool. In the summer time Arthur would start at 5 – 6 am to clean the pool and then when the tide was right, go the box on the sands which housed the pump to let more water in, which was filtered through two tanks to get it crystal clear.

Minehead lido poster

For the first few years under the new ownership the Lido continued to be well patronised and busy but once schools began to build their own pools, package holidays to sunnier climes became popular and there was a series of poor summer seasons it began to lose money, so a decision was made that it should be sold. 

In the 1960s it was bought by Butlins which ran it until the early 1980s. They also bought another popular attraction Mr Pugson’s model village next door. Once the pool was closed it sat derelict for a number of years. Both sites were demolished in 1991 and the land was sold for a large development of flats and houses. Dennis Corner once cynically said ‘Butlins basically bought the opposition, after all they had a pool themselves anyway.’ 

Sadly this is all history but it shows just how important it is to fight to retain what you have got rather than just reading about something you wish you had not lost. There are those who are currently campaigning for Minehead to have a swimming pool once more. Good for them I say !

If you agree do give them your support.


Watch British Pathé’s newsreel: Aquatic Champions at Minehead 1939

Compiled by Sally Bainbridge on behalf of Minehead Conservation Society.

Buy the book! Minehead & Beyond

minehead and beyond buy the book

This book is a compilation of articles written for this magazine by Sally Bainbridge on behalf of Minehead Conservation Society. It contains information about the richness of West Somerset’s history; culture; people; heritage; traditions and beautiful and varied landscape. The book costs just £5 and all profits go to Minehead Conservation Society. 

Available to buy from AR Computing, Park Lane Home Furnishing (in their Park Lane shop), Minehead Tourist Information Centre and Townsend House (Monday am).

Office: Townsend House, Townsend Road, Minehead TA24 5RG (01643 706258)  E-mail:  [email protected]

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