Beer Festival Comments. First Peep Inside Since 1974
Held at The Reading Beer and Cider Festival 29th April 2010 for three 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
One 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.
To say that she was a water baby was to say the very least. I 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 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.
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.
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.