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Cool 30s pool is still in business

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Justine Sambrook

Parliament Hill Fields Lido London, 1938

The interwar interest in health, exercise and fresh air made outdoor swimming an increasingly popular British pastime, especially in London which boasted 60 open air pools by the outbreak of the Second World War. The London County Council did more than any other local authority to encourage such pools, with its chairman declaring in 1937 the intention of turning London into ‘a city of lidos’. 

The LCC also coined the term lido, believing it would be ‘enriching the English language by a word which may, in time, seem as much at home as earlier Italian introductions, such as concertina, ditto, broccoli …’

Designed in 1938 by Harry Rowbotham and TL Smithson, Parliament Hill Fields is one of only four LCC lidos still in operation. It was the most expensive built by the council, prompting the Mayor of St Pancras to marvel at this ‘aquatic generosity’. It was refurbished in 2005 with a new stainless steel tank and an improved filtration system.

Into the Blue: the origin and revival of pools, swimming baths and lidos is a free display in the V&A + RIBA Architecture Display Gallery, Room 128a, Victoria & Albert Museum, London until 19 April 2020.

Photo credit: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections