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