Love them or loathe them - who remembers their school trips to the swimming baths?

The Thorney Close swimming team at the High Street baths in the 1960s.
The Thorney Close swimming team at the High Street baths in the 1960s.
0
Have your say

Most people never forget their early years at the swimming baths.

Some loved it. Others loathed it - but it always stuck in the memory.

Swimmers at the High Street baths in 1942.

Swimmers at the High Street baths in 1942.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, looks back on the days when taking a swimming lesson often meant a bus journey to get there.

Today, learning to swim is very much a part of the National Curriculum with Sunderland’s comprehensive schools all having their own pools.

Of course, older generations of Wearsiders did not have the luxury of making just a short journey from the classroom to the swimmings baths.

In the 1950s and 1960s, few schools could boast their own swimming pools and swimming lessons usually meant whole classes making a journey, often by bus, to one of the public baths in the town.

Acclimatisation often didn’t take place until the lesson was almost over. There were no hair dryers to use and the journey back to school was made with wet hair and eyes smarting from chlorine.

Philip Curtis

Those baths could be found in High Street West and Newcastle Road.

Both baths were used regularly by schools with the High Street premises having much the older facilities as it been built in 1890.

By contrast, the Newcastle Road public baths were not built until much later in 1936.

Schools which were situated on the south of the river usually used the High Street premises whereas the schools on the north side had Newcastle Road.

Inside the Newcastle Road baths in 1946.

Inside the Newcastle Road baths in 1946.

Swimming lessons were certainly looked forward to by the children who could already swim.

It was a different story for the many who could not swim and loathed the lessons.

The High Street premises - with its distinctive baroque doorway and clock at the entrance - had facilities that had changed very little since it first opened.

There were originally two pools but only one was in regular use.

Around the pool, there were individual cubicles which were shared by pupils for the purpose of changing.

Once you had changed, there was the compulsory visit to the footbath or ‘feet dip’ as many pupils nicknamed it.

This was deemed necessary to clean feet and to avoid the horror of contracting a verruca or athlete’s foot.

Goodness knows what it contained but pupils’ feet seemed to have an orange tinge on leaving it.

From there, the children were usually segregated into swimmers and non-swimmers with the latter being made to sit, shivering nervously on the poolside at the shallow end.

Their apprehension was quickly justified once they had slowly and timidly entered the pool and discovered that it felt something akin to the Arctic Ocean with the water seemingly at sub-zero temperature.

For most young students, acclimatisation often did not take place until the lesson was almost over.

There were no hair dryers to use and the journey back to school was made with wet hair and eyes smarting from chlorine.

The baths at Newcastle Road were much more modern with the water not quite as cold. There were proper changing rooms too, as the premises having been built almost half a century after High Street.

Both baths were open to the public and were regularly used by Wearsiders.

At Newcastle Road, a few individual baths were also available for public use. At that time, more than half the houses in Sunderland did not have hot water or a bathroom.

As a result, these individual baths were a godsend to anyone who was a member of a large family which had just a tin bath at home. The last in always had to use the dirty water.

But there were some pluses of a visit to the baths, even for the non-swimmer.

The foyer in the Newcastle Road building also sold cups of hot Oxo with crackers and how good they tasted after a morning’s swim.

Both public baths eventually became redundant and closed.

The baroque doorway of High Street was preserved and moved around the corner to be incorporated in the entrance of the tax office while the Newcastle Road premises were demolished to make way for new housing.

But memories still linger on.

What are yours of the two public baths. Did you love them or hate them and what aspects of a visit to the pool do you remember most.

Which school did you go with and are the baths a big miss?

Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk to give us your recollections.