Memories of Rushden Swimming Baths

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Rushden Swimming Baths - date uncertain but thought to be circa 1950s
Rushden Swimming Baths first opened in 1929 and lasted through to the mid 1980s. It was the mid 1960's when I acquired my first personal experience of the Baths when, as part of a class from Alfred Street Junior school, we would be ceremoniously marched from the school, along Duck Street to the Swimming Baths for a weekly swimming lesson. I cannot recall whether the pool was heated at the time and seem to think it was not, those icy waters being something to scar any youngsters mind. The heating was added at the start of the 1968 season, two years before I moved to senior school,  and I do remember the sensation this upgrade caused. So, maybe the school swimming lessons were both before and after the heating arrived.

The class was always under the charge of a certain Mrs Cross Cooke (?? I need confirmation that his was her name as the memory is a little hazy these days). I assume that she was either somehow connected to the Swimming Baths staff or a swimming coach bought in specifically for the school lessons as I certainly have no recollection of her as a school teacher. She was a very strict disciplinarian and would parade along the pool side like a sergeant major with a whistle around her neck and a voice that  brought fear into even the most hardy of pupils.  On one occasion, as the class nervously started descending into the icy depths, one class mate, who shall remain nameless, was rather too hesitant in taking the plunge. In fact he was stubbornly refusing to enter the water. The wrath of Mrs Cooke was soon felt, first a whistle, then the barking voice and the whole ordeal was ended as she gave him a stern push to send him hollering into the depths much to the amusement of the rest of the class. I doubt such comical scenes would ever occur in todays molly coddled, sue me sue you world. Back in those days it was a world of hard knocks that taught you the rigours of life. Mrs Cooke certainly knew all about hard knocks!

Despite all the lessons during junior school, I did not learn the art of swimming until the early years of attending the Wellingborough Technical Grammar School where we would occasionally be taken to the Croyland Park baths. On such occasions non-swimmers were tasked with fake swimming in the toddlers pool. This was a pursuit which enabled those without swimming ability to pretend to swim aided with polystyrene floats. The floats would be grasped between ones oustretched hands leaving ones legs to provide power to move forward. Fake swimming in all its glory and something I was good at. However, on one occasion I somehow managed to lose grip of the board and started chasing after it, kicking with legs and frantically splashing with my arms and hands. The realisation struck me I was swimming unaided. A sort of frantic doggy paddle, but swimming nonetheless. I have distinct memories of waiting for my dad to get home from work to announce my revelations.

This new found skill immediately earned me my own Rushden Swimming Baths season ticket and an inauguration into my Dads early morning swimming rituals. As soon as the swimming pool opened he would be the first person through the gate at 6am for an half hour of swimming, the perfect way to fire ones awareness into a new day. So it was,  despite all weathers, we would roll a towel and trunks and stroll the short distance down the length of Station Road to the baths. The name of the man in charge was commonly known as Ned (I believe this must have been Ned Lines) and my dad and Ned would swap a bit of banter before Ned would announce the current  temperature of the water. It was usually in the low 60s Fahrenheit although on occasion, if there was a problem with the boiler, it would be distinctly lower.
The metal changing box used at Rushden Baths  - Courtesy of the Rushden Research group
Ned would then dispatch each of us with a metal box some 4ft x 2ft in size which was compartmentalised into two unequal half's - one for boots, shoes and sundries, the other for clothes. One would then find a suitable cubicle to change, either one of  the wooden cubicles which lined the right hand side of the pool or a cubicle in the covered brick rooms either side of the entrance. I think these were men on the right, ladies on the left when facing the pool from the entrance but could be wrong. Once changed the boxes were  returned to the reception and courage was built up to dive into the water.

By this time there was usually a least a couple other chaps making ready for an early morning swim. No matter how many stood there looking at the uninviting waters it was always my dad who made the first move and present a perfect dive followed by two lengths of the pool.

Rushden Baths originally had a high diving board which was removed c. 1960s
The photos in this article are all from my dads collection and I am not certain of exactly when they were taken. My guess is that they date from the early 1950s. The high board, which is featured in each shot, I believe was removed in the early 1960's and was replaced by a simple low-level board which I can remember being there during the Alfred Street School swimming lessons. The deep end, from these images, appears to be in excess of 7 feet although I seem to remember a marker at the deep end being only 6' 3". It is quite amazing that high dives were conducted in such shallow waters and I recall my dad saying that they were removed because of the number of injuries sustained by divers hitting the bottom of the pool. The low level diving board was also eventually removed at a later date. It has been suggested that this may have been done as a result of the  Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 coming into force.


A rather haphazard dive of which my dad would be rather critical as he could perform almost acrobatic dives

My dad continued swimming throughout his life, being a regular at Rushden Swiming Baths and Wellingborough's Croyland Park pool, where he encouraged both me and my brother to attain the Bronze medallion for life saving. As a founder member of the Rushden and Higham Canoe Club my dad also undertook evening canoeing lessons at Rushden Baths, where they were able to practice such skills as Eskimo rolls. In later life he continued to swim at the Rushden Splash pool and  eventually, on retirement, took up a part time post as the caretaker/maintenance man for Splash. Despite his age, well into his 70s, he could outclass any youngster in a swimming or diving challenge. He only gave the swimming up when he needed to be moved closer to family due to illness.

References


  • Rushden Heritage Site pages for Rushden Swimming Baths http://www.rushdenheritage.co.uk/leisure/swimming-pool-mainpage.html

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