Saturday, January 24, 2009
A breath of fresh air
I was slightly baffled when I came across this building. Approaching from what turned out to be the back, I found a low-slung, green-tiled structure around a courtyard, with some concrete detailing that seemed to date from the 1930s. It had clearly been altered quite a bit, but some of the original metal-framed windows were still there. And those green tiles. Weren't they reminiscent of white-walled thirties houses and big cafés on trunk roads? As the wind howled across the courtyard I made my way around the building.
I kicked myself when I got to the front and saw the large sign: ‘BATHS’. Of course. The courtyard was once filled with water, and Tamworthians swam to and fro, or tried not to drop their ice-creams in the pool. As Peter Ashley of Unmitigated England remarked to me recently, Tamworth is probably as far away from the sea as any place in England. So it deserved a lido as much as anywhere. But lidos were all the fashion everywhere between the world wars, when the people began to appreciate anew the health-giving properties of fresh air, exercise, and sunshine. While the enlightened middle classes longed for snow-white modernist houses with big windows, terraces, and ‘sleeping porches’, the rest of the population got more real, and headed down to the lido.
I’m not sure when Tamworth’s baths closed, but many towns, mindful of the English climate, built new indoor pools in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the demise of many a lido. It’s a shame, but at least we have some bits of concrete decoration, a few Crittall windows, and cherished memories.