Swimming in the trees

MXBoil

Believe it or not, this photograph was taken in Wensum Park. About 20 foot to the left is the River Wensum as it meanders it’s way towards Heigham and just beyond these oddly-shaped lumps of concrete is the duck pond. You can just about make out one of the newer townhouses that have sprung up on the old shoe factory site through the foliage.

The area I’m stood in taking the photograph was in fact a full-sized outdoor swimming pool. The curved bit of concrete seen in the image here (there are 3 in total) would have held a massive boiler. I’m no swimming pool expert so I couldn’t actually tell you what the massive boiler would have been used for, but it lived here in a building next to the pool. They stand as the only real clue that this used to be a pool apart from a small section of exposed pool edge (minus its tiles) close to the riverbank. The pool is still there though, buried back when they used to dredge the Wensum and now lost under the wealth of nature that has since grown out of all that nutrient-rich river sludge. Maybe one day somebody crazy enough (The Vintage Swimming Pool Appreciation Group of 2120?) will be silly enough to dig it out and make an exhibit out of it. Who knows…

As far as I can work out this swimming pool was being built in the late 1930’s and was never properly finished. The onset of World War 2 meant that the funding was either stopped or cut; and to make matters worse the site was damaged by bombs during an air raid. This must have been the final nail in the coffin and the project was abandoned for good.

You can see the newly-built pool in bottom-left hand corner of this following aerial shot:MXpool

And again looking rather neglected and overgrown in the center of this 1946 Britain From Above image:

pool

It’s a shame that this Pool was never completed, it looked well-equipped and would have no-doubt pulled in massive crowds from the North part of the City, who would be lacking such amenities for another 15 years or so.

If you fancied a swim you’d either have to make your way all the way over to Lakenham, or take your chances in one of the nearby fenced-off Wensum bathing spots. I can’t imagine either option being much fun apart from in the warmest of summer months. I’ve heard many stories of people sending somebody off ahead to Lakenham to check on the pool temperature before dragging the whole family along, and as a youth I’d often venture into the nearby fenced-off section of the Wensum, which was hardly what I’d call a relaxing experience; slipping about on the algae-coated concrete and suspiciously-eyeing the deeper water of the Wensum on the other side of that weed-entangled fence. That said, you can see how popular these fenced-off bays were back in the day by looking at how busy it was in first aerial picture above.

Back in the 1980’s this small section of wood now growing on top of the former pool was fenced off to the general public, but us kids being kids; our inquisitive side would get the better of us and we often climbed over to explore the area. Basically, it was just a massive pile of mud that had young trees sprouting out of the top, but, scattered throughout the area were countless bones. We found jaws, horns, teeth, allsorts. One day I decided to collect a few of these items and take them to the Castle Museum for Identification. It turned out that they were most likely Victorian in date and would have come from one of the many nearby tanneries or slaughterhouses that bordered the river along this stretch heading into New Mills. It seems that when the animal carcasses had reached the end of their usefulness, the workers would often just throw the remains into the river. Out of site, out of mind! Fast forward to the early 1980’s when the Wensum was last properly dredged they resurfaced (in their thousands) here in Wensum Park, which was probably one of the areas designated for emptying the dredging barge (along with the old Norwich City Station site).

It wan’t until 1961 that a proper swimming pool made its timely appearance in the form of the well-known and much-missed St Augustine’s Swimming Pool. I spent a lot of my spare time in here with my friends; swimming, diving, bombing, annoying the lifeguards and then consuming 10p Wham Bars from the vending machine whilst walking back home down Drayton or Aylsham Road. I do consider myself quite lucky that I had access to this pool when I did. It was cheap, well-run, mostly clean and gave us Mile Cross kids something to do. The current children of Mile Cross (and the city in general) don’t have this option and I think it’s a scandal that we still don’t have a Council-run Leisure Pool on offer.

Sadly, due to cited structural issues with its roof, St Augustine’s was demolished by Norwich City Council at around the turn of the century and it’s hole was soon filled in and topped off with a collection of uninteresting shops and flats. I still fondly remember diving off the ‘top’ board whenever I’m desperate enough to venture into the Spar shop that takes up the space where the deep end used to be.

I’ll leave this blog entry with another ‘Ghost’ image I created a while back of a courting couple who had just emerged from the Pool after meeting on a swimming date. They went on to be happily married:

MXcouple

Thanks for reading,

Stu

18 thoughts on “Swimming in the trees

  1. I remember wesum slippery steps, it used to be packed in its day, with the barrier full of algie, and the excitement of crossing the barrier, that’s where the big fish where with teeth!! Happy happy days

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  2. We used to come into town from Newton Flotman to use St Augustine’s and used to love it, a shame replacing it was not a priority for the council

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  3. This is a bit of a bone of contension for me. Your article is amazing. As a child I swam at the Lakenham open air pool. I swam a lot in the river too! But we used St Augustines the most. I remember, if we could find enough money, we would grab 1/2 a pint of prawns from the fish monger just by the pool. So why a bone of contension.? I’ve moved out of the City and have Children who love mucking about in water like me. At the moment we use Splash a in Sherrinham. It’s not the most amazing leisure pool in the world but my youngest daughter absolutely loves it. Sadly it’s earmarked to be closed and replaced with a Hotel and swimming pool on the site. The pool that replaces it, is a standard laned swimming pool and not a Leisure pool.
    In Norfolk we are surrounded with water, both inland and the sea. It is vital that our children learn to swim. Norfolk, Norwich needs a good public leisure pool that the whole family can enjoy. Please!!!

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    1. Thanks for the memories that came flooding back. We Appleyard crescent boys all learnt to swim in the fenced off area of river. It had an attendant in busy times, he had a hut attached to the toilets centre site. The abandoned pool was just behind a fence and in the mid fifties it was full of dirty water and weeds. and a good source of frogspawn in season. Too tempting for us baby boomers we always found a way in, chucking anything in that would make a splash. Yes I had my lug clipped more than once by the Parkies. All our swimming was done in the river especialy at Hellesdon Mill. Happy carefree days with a bottle of cold tea and stale cheese sandwich, we were out all day.

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      1. Wensum Park was also a firm favourite of mine – my grandmother would take us in her car from Drayton in the late 40’s/early 50’s.
        How well I remember Lakenham as this venue was used for school swimming competitions. The water was always cold and full of chlorine!
        I would also swim from Costessey Mill to Three Trees although never gave any thought that we were trespassing on farmers land! Costessey Mill was notorious for accidents but Health and Safety had not been invented in those days!
        Now I am lucky to have a mile of river running through our land in Wales being well aware of the dangers associated with rivers and children’s curiosity with all things wet.
        I also remember Rodney from my days at LR in Pottergate, Norwich circa 1962/63. They were indeed “happy carefree days”

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  4. I went to Angel Road secondary Modern and weekly a group of us walked to St Augustines for swimming lessons. I never leant to swim there sadly as we only had a few lessons not enough for me to build up my confidence. My other memories are of Waterloo park where i spent many many hours there.

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  5. As a pupil at the old Norman School on Bignold Road back in the late 1940s to the early 1950s I learnt to swim at the Eagle baths on Heigham Back in the late 1940’s to the early 50’s when I was a pupil at the Norman Senior School I learnt to swim at the Eagle bath’s on Heigham Street. There were separate men’s and women’s sections with only the fairer sex’s section fully enclosed but still open to the elements. Swimming lessons at the school were compulsory and despite the sometimes freezing conditions our sadistic teachers would not accept any excuses. Sadistic or not they taught me to be a competent swimmer who was able to undertake the challenge of swimming across the river to the high diving board and diving back into the river. Situated next door was an establishment where rowing boats could be hired and this enabled us boys to spend many a summer’s Sunday rowing up to the Hellesdon bridge and back. Simple pleasures but what else was there to do on a Sunday back in those days.

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  6. The Wensum Park swiming pool shows up on a 1928 Ordnance Survey so it probably was a lot older than imagined here.

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    1. It was listed as baths in 1928 but I doubt it was actually ever finished as a proper pool until much later, if at all. Ordnance Survey maps often show stuff under construction as completed. There are pictures of it in the 1930’s looking very un-swimming pool like and I do suspect that somebody tried to reimagine the project as a full-size pool shortly as a counter to the one in Lakenham. What we do know is that it was never realised because if the onset of WW2.

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    1. There’s detail here https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001346

      “The site of Wensum Park started to develop during the first decade of the C20, following the purchase of land by the City in 1907. Reflecting its locality, on the banks of the River Wensum, it was given a swimming bath, bathing pool, wading pool, and shelter, all of which were completed by 1910. By 1921 however the area around the pools had become used as a unofficial tip so a scheme was put forward to develop the site as a formal public park. The garden was designed by Captain Sandys-Winsch, a protégé of Thomas Mawson, to offer opportunities for passive recreation and was constructed over the next four years using unemployed labour. It was opened in 1925. The park remains (1999) in use as a public amenity.”

      Doesn’t give the date of closure of the open-air pool though…

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  7. Very very interested in this, thank you. i am one of a few year round swimmers regularly swimming from the boat slip on andersons meadow opposite eagle Canoe Club. I would be interested to hear from anyone interested in trying to explore this pool to see if it might be redeemable. Norwich desperately needs a lido.

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      1. from 2018 wensum development plan… Wensum Park
        7.10 Wensum Park is a historic Grade II listed park which was designed to take
        advantage of its sloping site to the River Wensum. It is formally laid out with shrub
        and flower beds, children’s play areas and a paddling pool. The main entrance
        incorporates a viewing platform with long views down to the river. A decked walkway
        runs alongside the river’s edge and there is some access to the river via concrete
        steps which used to lead to paddling pools within the river. An open-air swimming
        pool set back from the river was once a very popular recreational attraction; however
        this has been out of use for a long time and has been left to develop as a natural
        woodland area important for wildlife. There is potential to maximise the potential
        offered by Wensum Park’s location by creating an access point to the river for
        canoes (although this may be restricted due to limited parking provision) and
        potentially by provision of mooring points. In the longer term there may be potential
        to open up the site for swimming, subject to water quality issues being addressed.

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