Swimming is in the news in Witham at the moment, with the opening of the new pool and the closure of Bramston Sports Centre, its predecessor.
I wrote three years ago about the history of Bramston, noting how very wonderful its facilities had seemed when it was opened in 1974.
So now I’ll discuss its predecessor, the outdoor swimming pool behind the Swan. This was first proposed in 1913, in a petition from the inhabitants asking the Urban District Council for ‘Bathing facilities’.
There were delays during the First World War and because of financial problems, but a pool was finally opened in 1933, the work being done by “several unemployed Witham men”. It was situated in two metal “reservoirs” joined together. They had been part of Witham’s first waterworks, which were built in 1869 but replaced in 1905 by new boreholes north of the town.
There were many preparations to be made. Turf was obtained from a meadow in Highfields Road, and a spring board was purchased for diving.
The charges were fixed (e.g. Adults 6d., Children’s costumes 1d., Towels 2d.). The Co-op was chosen to supply the costumes and towels. A male attendant was appointed, and provided with a mangle and tub.
Tuesday evenings from 7 p.m. till dusk were to be reserved for members of the Witham Ladies Swimming Club, and also for a gentleman’s club if and when it was formed. The opportunities for women to swim were amongst the most liberating features of the new pool; they had been very limited previously.
Meanwhile, Mr Green next door was preparing to “carry on a seasonal catering business for persons requiring refreshments”.
The pool was eventually opened on 27 May 1933 by Sir Valentine Crittall before an admiring crowd. He said that when he had opened a pool in Maldon, he fell in. Also that it would be a good thing if everyone learned to swim, and that the Council had done very well to provide the pool.
When Crittall’s metal window factory had arrived in Witham in 1920, some residents had objected. So Sir Valentine must have been pleased to hear one of the speechmakers say that they could only have this pool because of the increased population and income created by Crittall’s.
The speeches were followed by a gala which included an exhibition of water polo between Witham and Maldon, an Obstacle race for men, and the Greasy Pole. Swimming clubs from elsewhere took part.
A few weeks after the opening, the Council were told that “43½ yards of sheeting” had been purchased “for making emergency cubicles at Whitsun week-end on account of the rush of bathers, who were being prevented from using the Pool on account of shortage of ordinary cubicle accommodation”.
The local paper soon reported that “Witham and Braintree swimming baths” were proving immensely popular”.
In view of all this excitement and success, it’s very sad that the next few years were troublesome. The coldness of the water, its quantity, and especially its cleanliness were all complained of. Indeed the Council decided to close the pool in 1936, but relented and kept it open after offers of help from the Witham Swimming Club. The Club had a successful coach outing to swim in St Lawrence Bay soon afterwards.
However, the beginning of the Second World War in 1939 led to final closure, and the pool did not re-open after the War.
A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in September 2014