Kings Meadow Campaign – Peoples First Peep inside since 1974

Kings Meadow Campaign – Story of the Baths and Campaign 2002 – 2012.
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Kings Meadow Campaign invited people from the The Reading Beer and Cider Festival 29th April 2010 for three days.

Written Comments on Open Days

People here were filmed at  other Heritage Weekends 2010 following the Beer Festival

Many were overwhelmed and some didn’t realise the building was a swimming pool. 

“Wow!” “how wonderful”  ♦”It’s beautiful” ♦ “it’s so pretty” ♦”what a wonderful site” ♦”it’s GOT to restored” ♦”it’s fantastic” ♦”I just didn’t know this was here,  I thought it was a cricket pavilion” ♦”I thought it was an old hall” ♦”I thought it was covered over” ♦”I didn’t know it was an open air pool – it’s fabulous”….

Just some of the words that flowed from the flood of people who had the privilege of a peep inside the Edwardian Baths for the first time.  Silence, facial expressions mixed with emotion said all there was to say.

Beer Festival Winning Comment

One irate visitor stormed in and pushed by and said
“I’ve just come to see what all the fuss is all about in the papers”
Her jaw dropped, and with silence  she looked around. An amazed look coupled with silence followed,  then very slowly… 
“I –now –know– what– all –the– fuss –has– been about — it’s glorious– and has– GOT to be restored. We can’t lose this,”  and marched out.

Beer Festival Patrons saw the Baths in the flesh 

This 108 year old building including 35 years of abandonment still stands solidly, and proud, and with the help of the people of Reading we’ll do all we can to maintain and restore its majesty. On the other hand people comments included they had actually learned to swim here and remember how cold it was but much fun.

Thank you to all those who generously donated to help our endeavours on all our Open Days – you gave us hope.


Pauline’s Story – Swimming Teacher Employee

Memories – Mrs Pauline Wilson – 1996

Pauline with author Anne Jessel

People commentsOne weekend during April 1996, I had the privilege of driving down to the tiny village of Beckley near Rye to meet a lady – Mrs Pauline Wilson – who held so many memories of our town of Reading.
Pauline talked about the Men’s and Ladies Baths at King’s Meadow. To quote Pauline,”

These used river water which came in through a hole at one end and out the other, leaving behind frogs, fishes and good Thames mud. It was possible to dive in one end and slide several yards along the slippery bottom, and the only way to find an object on the bottom was to feel for it in the murky gloom. Sea-gulls and swans were regular visitors.
The Ladies bath was not chlorinated until after the war. There was a springboard in this bath, about three feet above the surface. It was a good board, but with only five feet of water underneath. There were well made wooden changing areas, which were covered with wire mesh which didn’t keep out the bird droppings or the icy blasts.
To swim it cost 2d for adults and 1d for children. Children were allowed in free between 4pm and 6pm. A towel with Reading Corporation printed across them could be hired for 2d together with bathing trunks for an extra 2d.
These were made of strong red twill with tapes either side adjustable to fit all shapes and sizes. They looked really uncomfortable. The baths only opened in the summer.”
By chance Pauline heard of a job which would fill the summer months before she went onto College. As a seasonal job it offered more than twice what she’d been getting in an office, £3 per week!
Pauline applied for the grand sounding “Assistant Superintendent” at the King’s Meadow Ladies Bath. She was successful on account of her Life saving qualifications. She worked 6am-2pm one week, alternating with 1pm – 9pm the next.
The boss Millie Morris and herself worked opposite each other. Millie had a strong voice when inundated with children during the free periods.
Win Somner came in to help with the cleaning. It was rare to get customers in early during the morning so this gave time to discuss or report on visits from the council.
There was no telephone. During the daytime, schoolchildren came along, their teachers being in charge.
Pauline’s duties included throwing a galvanised pail with a length of rope tied to the handle into the water, which was a foot lower than the bath side, and then hauling it up full.
There was a knack to this heavy duty. It then had to be forcefully thrown into each changing room, then brushed out into the drain.
“At intervals we had to scrub the tiles around the water surface which accumulated a greasy scum. Win did the toilets, polished all the brasses, and whitened the floor of the office with hearthstone!”
Pauline had to take the money and issue the tickets, or rent out the towels and costumes. She had to receive council visitors, take the water temperature and keep a temperature chart. It could be as low as 54 degrees.
Leaves were fished out, and other rubbish that blew in through the open roof. A young American boy was sent to the pool once a week to wind up the clock.
The staff room had a gas ring on which to make breakfast and a cup of tea.
During school hours, Miss Francis, clad in blouse and skirt, sometimes with jacket taught the local school children.
She started with her unique land drill by calling out commands for the body positions of the breaststroke.
One lady aged 64 came to swim and felt very proud. Pauline never saw a baby being taught.
“Behaviour was good on the whole, there was no answering back, no graffiti on the walls, but there was the small amount of chewing gum to be scraped off walls. Boys were allowed to come along for Saturday family afternoons.”

Pauline loved the job but left to attend college. To say that she was a water baby was to say the very least. I had spent a few hours listening to her tales and swimming pursuits from when she was a little girl, through her teens and into married life. Pauline, who was born in Kingston-on-Thames spent her very early years in Ripley, Surrey.
A lady of many talents, including folk music composition, and being able to make her own “bathing dress” Pauline described her journey through the swimming world which included her memories of Reading’s King’s Meadow Open-air Baths.
There was not the opportunity and the same encouragement to learn to swim in those days – 70 years ago, and when 11 years old, she regularly wandered over the field to the place where the cows took a drink, and immersed herself into a stream of the River Wey.
She was so excited that she wouldn’t notice the mess the cows made and started by placing her hands in the mud letting her legs trail behind!
Before long she could feel them floating and with simultaneous arm movement was well on the way to becoming a proficient swimmer to eventually being able to share her skills when older (but… not taught in quite the same manner!)
In these early years Pauline and her family moved to Reading, living in the big white house on the corner of Long Lane, Purley. (Now split into apartments).
A pupil of Kendrick School, her swimming activities continued being marched with her friends, crocodile style along to the Arthur Hill Baths. Roped off areas of the River Thames were also sampled on many occasions.
Although not allowed in, she particularly remembers a private swimming area for men, near the Blakes lock, complete with the company of a swan, who nested rearby using the area of water for it’s regular exercise.
Later, Pauline became a proficient swimming teacher around the pools in Reading. When married she lived in Earleigh Road, and she and her husband dug out their own little swimming pool in which her three children learned to swim. Her husband was a weight lifter so they compromised. He learned about swimming and Pauline learned about weightlifting! They both participated in the Swimming programmes for the Youth Group, sharing their skills of swimming, lifesaving and survival. Some people may remember her from school/college days as Pauline Lucas.
I thank Pauline, an octogenarian when the interview took place, for not just allowing me into her home, but allowing me to share her memories of her many “hot pursuits!” and achievements.


Campaigner Observations on Restoration Progress

  • Campaigners Observations on Restoration Progress

Campaigners Observations – latest (most recent first first)

Mr Norman Bullock – 22/05/16

At my last visit to the King’s Meadow baths a couple of weeks ago, they had all but demolished the plant room annex, the walls since reduced to ground level, but still showing the outline footprint where it once stood . The north wall it shared with the substation still stands along with a small section to the east wall adjoining the new north gallery. Much of the brickwork of the west wall has been removed between the hip sections along its entire length up to string course level, supported in full length by lintels underpinned by steel columns, three of which were externally visible. Behind this, was boarding along its full length, a small opening where the service entrance once was, still afforded a view of the baths interior.

At my last visit to the King’s Meadow baths a couple of weeks ago, they had all but demolished the plant room annex, the walls since reduced to ground level, but still showing the outline footprint where it once stood . The north wall it shared with the substation still stands along with a small section to the east wall adjoining the new north gallery. Much of the brickwork of the west wall has been removed between the hip sections along its entire length up to string course level, supported in full length by lintels underpinned by steel columns, three of which were externally visible. Behind this, was boarding along its full length, a small opening where the service entrance once was, still afforded a view of the baths interior.

They had commenced work on the basement, a required depth of around three and a half metres according to the plan, they had excavated a small section to the north-west corner outside the existing tank wall to a depth in excess of two metres, but had evidently paused to take stock of things, not least of because of persistent seepage of water into the works, a pump was busy continuously clearing the excess water. It had been determined previously that the water table sits about two metres below ground surface level, and that some seepage had been noted when last I called, presumably whilst laying in the new drainage system, but nothing too serious.

At my visit this week, I was surprised to find much of the area where the annex once existed churned up to a depth of half a metre or so, more so in other areas, with network drainage pipes was being laid, the work was being carried out by a specialist contractor. What they told me was this was a part of a wider problem with this flood plain, and King’s Meadow in particular, extending westwards beyond, and to an area south of Forbury, where a layer of compacted clay sits on top of a more permeable layer of strata below. It seems that the clay layer had been “punched through” during excavations allowing water under considerable pressure to feed through. No doubt will delay progress until the matter is resolved.

As you may recall looking back more than a century ago a similar situation occurred, a document emerged relating to the construction of the Kings Meadow Baths, uncovered by Bob in his research. It describes the difficulties in excavation of the ground works, both in construction of the tank , and it’s connecting conduits, If I am not mistaken, I believe that you probably have a brief description as such elsewhere on your website describing the event.

In common with all building sites I have visited recently, almost all the work is carried out by cheap foreign labour, both skilled and unskilled, all seem friendly enough, the ones at KMB come from South America and Europe, I am on friendly terms with them, some are contracted until the middle of next year, so that may give us a clue that the project may extend to that time.

Mr Norman Bullock – 19/02/16

I went last week to KMB to see how far they have
got since last time in December. It seems that they have now finish the
construction of the north gallery. The windows have yet to be fitted,
their openings masked by temporary boarding. Additionall, the outside have since been rendered over and painted. Initial work to demolish the annex on the south side now at a standstill.
Before they can do much more they would have remove the roof first to lift out the heavy girders, but no sign of that!.

I talked briefly to the construction manager whom I had never seen before. He invited me in for a quick look from the safety of the inner octagon, which now appears to be the temporally works office/refreshments area.  From there you probably get the best overall view of the pool. It seems a little strange seeing it with all the boarding removed after seeing it for several years,  with the ‘clubs house’ in place. Standing there looking side-to-side it looked more or less as I imagined to be.  The symmetry restored, with unbroken lines of columns matching all sides. Much of the detailed facia has now been put back.  They were busy painting it white, the finished colour. Once hidden, the detailing along the edge of the octagon roof at the pools edge is now visible. The pool construction is nearing its final phase. This is one area where quite a lot of progress has been made. 
My last visit the pool floor looked chaotic, the edge boundaries undefined. Now the form appears finalised, the pool edges are raised up from the ground floor area projecting upwards by around 300 mm. The idea it seems is to provide a visual water feature perhaps with side lighting effects. The water coming up to the top, and overspilling, and cascading over the edges to a collection channel on all sides.

Mr Norman Bullock – 01/02/16

“The frontage now would have looked quite similar to what it would have looked like when it was opened in 1903.  The exception being the canopy which is now approximately 150mm higher than it was originally.  Principally it is to accommodate thermal insulation – whether or not it was originally painted green as it was in the 60s I cannot say.  It was not mentioned in the original specification of works. Looking inside from the service entrance,  the boarding underneath looks much as it did originally,  with the herring bone pattern maintained throughout.

All of the canopy works seem to have been completed,  needing only columns,  brackets,  and facia trim,  some of them waiting to be painted in their finishing colour.
Walking along the front wire fence,  affords tantalising glimpses of
the new layout.  The newly restored sash windows now bathe light into the front rooms as they once did.  The octagon entrance was open when I last visited in December.  A quick peek inside reveals both sides of the lobby walkway are now quite close to the original layout. The wall that once obstructed the right hand side of the lobby has gone, along with the bricked up original entrance to the bicycle room.  The bicycle room can now be viewed directly,  at least in part from inside the front doorway.  However what is noticeably different is the ceiling height which has been lowered substantially to approximate 1 metre perhaps less.  It was hard to judge from the limited perspective I had.  This has been done to accommodate an upper storey.  Looking through the window at a distance,  there are stairs up and appear to have been the toilet room, that used to be to the left looking from the front of the building.

The chimney stack had been taken down earlier in the year and rebuilt,  using blue-grey bricks as a direct replacement to the original red ones.  However it does not look out of place, and surprisingly contrasts quite well with the new roof tiles.  The new tiles overall look quite smart,  as with the new canopy.  It gives us a clue to what it must have looked like at the opening ceremony all those years ago.  The octagon ridges look slightly different from the originals,  having been laid in the continental style without mortar.  The rest look as originally intended. I noted that they took several months to complete the tiling, which should have taken far less time. Perhaps this may have been due to a lack of suitable craftsman.  The work requires a high level of skill for it to look ‘right.’ They appeared to be European.  There never seemed more that two working on it at any given time each time I went. Little seemed to change from week to week,  indeed, there never appeared to be more than 4 or 5 men working on the entire site.

When I spoke to Marcos (the man in charge of works) at the outset,  he
expected the work would take a year and a half perhaps to 2 years at the most.  At the start of December last year it was clear (at least to me) that the works were behind schedule.  They had made a start demolishing the plant room annex but hadn’t got very far with it.  The pace of work had noticeably quickened at that point, with many more workers working on it,  as with the new north gallery and pool construction.

With all those extra workers I expect to see a big difference next time I
visit this February.


The Campaigners had regretfully seen their efforts coming to an end after 12 years.  The campaigners saved the building from being replaced by car parks and International Hotels.  The Meadow would have been lost to the people of Reading – a gift bestowed upon them by George Palmer.

The plus now is that the building is being  restored but not quite as the Campaigners had set out themselves to do – for the Community.  However, the building will be brought back to life  and if it weren’t for the Campaign efforts this would not have been possible.

Update for Donators to the Kings Meadow Campaign

campaigners observations - The Keep Brock Barracks in Reading Grade II Listed
The Keep –  Brock Barracks,  Oxford Road in Reading. Grade II Listed enlarge +

Thank you to all  – whether it be pence,  pounds or pounds plus.

For many years Ingrid Jensen from the Keep has been a keen supporter of our aims and has furthered her project to a stage where they are eligible to get matched funding and secure this last remenant of community culture in Reading.

Bob O’Neill met with her at their Heritage Open Day and looked around and could clearly see that their objects are very much in common with ours.

 As a result of a consultation with the Government Charities solicitors, and no objections from the Kings Meadow Campaigners a donation was given to OHOS at the Keep for protection of that Grade II building.