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GRAVESEND OPEN AIR POOL was under the management of Sid Downes from its opening in 1938 and his son Ian gave an illustrated talk about his happy memories of the often chilly water! Built to replace Clifton Baths it was used extensively for swimming galas, diving displays and Miss Aqua bathing beauty competitions. Slate paving slabs were laid adjoining the pool and, warmed by the sun, provided welcome hot stones to warm your body. The pool was heated, but if the coke fired heater was left on all day the water temperature rose by only 1 degree. The pool was left full of water during the winter to stop frost damage and subsidence then emptied in April when ten men scrubbed it clean with pumice. It took a week to fill with 500,000 gallons, and the draw on the water resources was such that Sid had to phone the Water Board to warn them before he started filling.

In a normal year 138,000 people would use the pool, but in the record year of 1959 an amazing 207,000 tickets were sold. Annual season tickets were 12/6d each. Swimming lessons were compulsory in most schools and one member recalled how he used to have his weekly lesson at 9am from April in memorably freezing water.

There were also slipper baths at the pool and they were used by the teams to bathe after an F.A. Cup match between Gravesend and Sunderland.

Sid taught life-saving and worked 7 days a week. 27 gate valve wheels had to be shut down to close the filtration plant each night. Each winter once the pool had gone green the police frogmen used it for training and each November the Post Office used the buildings to store their Christmas parcels. By the late 60’s the number of clients had dwindled and in 1977 the pool was drained and used for skateboarding. During the winter the pool cracked in the frost and it was eventually demolished in 1989.


Report written by Polly Chandler.

Last Revised: 25-Jan-2010

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