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Lidos Are Making a Comeback!

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Lidos, or open-air swimming pools, have a long and fascinating history in England. From their early origins as Victorian leisure amenities to their more recent resurgence as spaces for health and wellbeing, lidos have remained an important part of the nation's cultural heritage. In this blog, we will explore the history of lidos in England, using Tooting Bec lido as a case study. We will also examine the relevance of lidos in the current day, particularly in terms of their potential to promote wellbeing and reduce energy costs compared to indoor swimming pools.


The History of Lidos in England

The first lidos in England appeared in the late 19th century, during the Victorian era. At this time, there was a growing interest in outdoor recreation and leisure, and open-air ‘bathing lakes’ were seen as a way to provide healthy and invigorating exercise for the masses. One of the first outdoor pools to be built was Cleveland Baths in 1815. This was followed by a number of other lidos across the country, including the Tinside Lido in Plymouth, which opened in 1935, and the Jubilee Pool in Penzance, which opened in 1935.



Cleveland Baths (Anthony Brown, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/)

Tooting Bec lido, which is located in south London, is one of the most significant lidos of this era. It was built in 1906 and was the largest open-air swimming pool in Europe at the time, measuring 91 metres long by 30 metres wide and holding 1 million gallons of unheated water. The pool, commissioned by Reverend JH Anderson, was built in 4 months by local men from the surrounding area. At this time the ‘bathing lake’ was utilised as a local communal bath and it wasn’t until the 1930s, when hygiene and water filtration systems improved, the Tooting Bathing Lake became the Tooting Bec Lido we know today. Further development took place during this era, including the construction of the iconic changing rooms surrounding the pool and the café building. Tooting Bec lido became hugely popular with Londoners during this time when holidays abroad were less common, particularly during the summer months.


Construction of the Lido (Ron Elam)

Opening ceremony in 1906 (London Metropolitan Archives)

During the Second World War, many lidos were closed or used for military purposes, and the popularity of outdoor swimming declined. However, some lidos remained open, and in the post-war period, there was a resurgence of interest in outdoor swimming. The 1950s and 1960s saw the construction of a number of new lidos, including the Brockwell Lido in south London and the Saltdean Lido in Brighton.


However, by the 1970s, the popularity of lidos had once again declined, and many were closed or demolished. Tooting Bec lido was one of the few to survive, thanks to the efforts of a group of local campaigners and the South London Swimming Club (SLSC) who fought to keep it open. In the 1990s it was taken over by Wandsworth Council, which invested in its restoration and renovation.


The Comeback of Lidos in the UK

In recent years, lidos have been making a comeback in the UK, with many new lidos being built and old ones being restored. One such restored Lido is Tooting Bec Lido that WR-AP will soon be submitting for planning.


Tooting Bec Lido, Pool View

Working closely with the South London Swimming Club, we have designed new changing, WC and showers which will provide an increase in facilities to accommodate the growing popularity of the Lido. These facilities will also increase the inclusivity of the pool, through the provision of more accessible changing/WC areas and the design of both gender specific and gender neutral facilities. Meanwhile, the café will be relocated to have a kiosk that faces both Tooting Common and the pool, a decision which seeks to improve revenue and viability. The café, WCs and entrance facilities will be situated within a new building (replacing the circular buildings) which features glazed green bricks which blend into the surrounding Common context. The existing café building will be retained but utilised as a club room/shelter and enhanced through new crittal style glazing which creates views through the pool to the meadow. The original symmetry of the pool is then celebrated by adding 2 shower blocks either side of the café building. A rhythm of timber colonnades is expressed across the proposal, emulating the surrounding woodland and the vertical motifs seen elsewhere across the Lido. Overall, these improvements seek to improve the longevity of the Lido for years to come.



Tooting Bec Lido, Entrance

Through undertaking our work at Tooting Bec Lido, we have found there are several reasons for the resurgence of lidos in the UK, including:


The benefits of outdoor swimming – Outdoor swimming has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including improved mental health and reduced stress levels. Swimming outdoors also provides a different experience to swimming indoors, with many people finding it more enjoyable and invigorating.


The popularity of open-water swimming – Open-water swimming has become increasingly popular in the UK, with many people seeking out natural bodies of water to swim in. Lidos provide a safe and controlled environment for people to swim outdoors, without the dangers associated with open-water swimming.


The desire for sustainable and eco-friendly options – Lidos are often seen as a more sustainable and eco-friendly option than indoor swimming pools. Lidos require less energy to maintain than indoor pools, as they are heated naturally by the sun. They also require less water, as the water can be recycled and treated using natural methods. Our friends at Mstep have been working on the sustainability and energy aspects of our proposal at Tooting Bec Lido. Mstep have developed an innovative method to generate heat for space heating and hot water by utilising the pool filtration system to harvest free heat. By taking a small fraction of the ambient pool water and running it through a heat exchanger, the heat from the pool can then be transferred to the heating system. Mstep have explored how this water source system can have the same efficiency as a ground source heat pump with the added benefit of less embodied carbon due to requiring less pipe work and drilling.


Benefits of Lidos over Indoor Swimming Pools

From our experience of working on the Tooting Bec Lido we believe that lidos offer several benefits over indoor swimming pools, both in terms of wellbeing and environmental impact. The following table summarizes some of the key benefits of lidos:





Overall, the design proposal has been driven by a genuine collaboration with the users of Tooting Bec Lido. Fortnightly meetings with the passionate SLSC team have taken their brief from a short term solution to a long term transformation of the Lido, and we hope our design will add another layer to the rich history of the pool. We feel the proposal is both sensitive to the context whilst providing the much needed uplift in facilities and increasing the viability of failing elements such as the existing café. Post planning, the SLSC will begin exploring funding options to bring the scheme to life, and we look forward to starting on site to truly be able to implement this great improvement to Tooting Bec Lido.


If you’d like to find out more about WR-AP’s knowledge and experience with the evolution of the Lido get in touch with our director Max Rengifo at max.rengifo@wr-ap.com or our Architect Alice Hardy at alice.hardy@wr-ap.com



This blog has been written by Alice, whose main line of architectural curiosity lies with the development of social spaces and resilient homes, and how we can define better and more inclusive places for communities and individuals. You can read more about her here.

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