South Bay Pool Scarborough

South Bay Pool Scarborough; An Exploration and History of Scarborough's Lost South Bathing Pool by Doug Stuart

During the time I lived in Scarborough (1997-2000) I was continuously intrigued by the derelict South Bay Pool. Scarborough's South Bay Bathing Pool had been one of the resorts key tourist attractions, proudly displayed on many contemporary advertising posters. The pool had a haunting atmosphere - it had once been a happy place full of people, now it was silent and falling into decay. Aged 19 and without good photographic equipment, I set out to document this historic site.

I would like to thank Steve Wade for his support in writing this article. Thanks also to former lifeguard Kenneth Blogg, and to regular visitors to the pool, David Collishaw and Richard Beaumont, and the staff of the Yorkshire County Record Office for help with my research. Further thanks are due to Jeremy Harding, Lizz Tuckerman, Jeff Allinson and Wayne Murray for providing pictures. A special thankyou to Mandy Harrow for providing extensive pictures and newspaper cuttings.

The pictures taken by me were taken before I was a professional photographer and are of variable quality. All pictures taken by me are copyright to D Stuart Photography, I am likely to allow usage, so please ask. Other pictures are from my own collection or have been sent to me by contributers. When possible, permission for use has been given but in some cases it is impossible to know who owns their copyright. You can see some great videos of the pool in its heyday here and here.

Do you have any pictures, momentos, stories or information on the South Bay Pool? Did you visit or work there? I would love to hear from you. You can also post to my South Bay Pool Face Book Page.

With dawn breaking behind me, I pose for a picture outside the changing room block after one of my night-time explorations, June 2000. (D Stuart Photography)

Open air swimming pools in Scarborough's south and north bays had been under consideration since the first years of the Twentieth Century. Outdoor sea water pools were in their infancy in Britain, but three small pools had been built at St Andrews, and were proving very popular. Scarborough Borough Engineer Harry Smith was enthusiastic about Scarborough having its own pools, which he began to research in 1900. Newspaper publisher C D Leng ran a story in The Shefield Daily Telegraph in 1908, which advocated Scarborough having its own pools. Shortly afterwards, he sketched ideas for the locations of both pools and sent them to Scarborough's Town Clerk. A few years later, the decision to build the South Bay Pool was made.

Plans were drawn up by Harry Smith in 1913 and work began the following year. The construction was supervised by William Birch. Work was hampered by the start of The First World War, and workers had to shelter behind the half-finished walls during the German bombardment of Scarborough in December 1914. The pool opened on schedule in the summer of 1915, but the site was still significantly unfinished with the changing rooms not yet completed, and early visitors having to sit on stacks of unused bricks. In 1916 the changing rooms, toilets and showers came into operation, and a proper retinue of staff was apointed including male and female swimming instructors. (Yorkshire County Record Office) The pool's cafe was added around 1917. A bathing ticket cost 6p, and towels and costumes could be hired if needed. (Scarborough and District Red guide, 1930)

The pool was intended to have a dual purpose of acting as a sea defence for the coastline, as well as boosting Scarborough's already burgeoning tourist industry. It was highly innovative, being the first of its kind and remaining the largest swimming pool in Europe (330ft wide) for many years afterwards. It went on to set a trend for pools that would soon be followed not only by coastal resorts, but at many other locations around the country. The North Bay pool would follow much later, finally opening in 1938.

The South Bay Pool quickly became immensley popular, and many pictures show huge crowds in and around the pool from its opening, right up until the 1960s. Spectators could listen to the band, watch live shows, or refresh themseves in the cafe. A photographer from The Sun Ray Photo Company would snap bathers by the pool's edge, as well as passers by and spectators, and display the prints for sale the following day. A 32ft high diving board was installed in 1934, making the pool one of the country's premier diving establishments and leading to the diving preliminaries for the 1948 Olympic games beng held there. Also in 1934, the pool was substantially modernised, with fountains and a chlorinated water cycling system being added to improve hygeine. The height of the pool's walls were raised, and tiered seating improved spectator capacity up to 3000 people. Entertainments in the 1950s included dancing girls 'The Aqua Belles', diving from world champion Betty Slade, and stunt diving from a man who would set himself on fire before jumping into the pool. ('Liquid Assets', J Smith, English Heritage 2005).

As the pool was designed to serve as a sea defence, it inevitable came under huge pressure from stormy seas. Severe damage resulted from the great storm of 1953, which destroyed a section of the pool's south east wall. The pool was quickly repaired but was clearly vulnerable to further storms. In around 1959, the last large scale construction occurred on the site when a concrete walkway was built all the way around the seaward side of the pool. This would ensure no further damage from stormy seas.

By the 1980s, the pool's popularity was in steep decline. The pool was unheated and thus freezing cold, and faired badly in competition from the heated North Bay Pool. It was also dependent on large numbers of paying spectators, and the fashion for spectator swimming and related entertainments had passed. Winter storms would cause vast amounts of sand to wash into the pool, which required expensive drainage and removal. As the site was relatively isolated, it became an increasingly attractive target for vandals. Moreover, the pool was old, outdated and crumbling. Visitor Richard Beaumont said that by the late 1960s ; 'the pool was decaying. Each winter it was drained to patch up cracks and put on some paint, but no major work was done.' The pool ran into increasingly serious financial problems, first closing briefly in 1981, before reopening with an injection of cash by Scarborough council. It was not enough, and the pool closed down for good in 1989. 

The pool became derelict and was boarded up to try to impede vandalism. When I happened upon the site for the first time in 1997, the site was in an advanced state of decay. What had been a thriving place full of laughter, was now quiet and still, with no sound but the noise of the sea.


An unknown group of girls swimming in the pool, 1920's. (D Stuart Collection)

The South Bay Pool Scarborough- The Pool

The original pool (1915-1934) had had shallow walls, allowing the sea water to come over the top of the wall when the tide was in. The early pool itself was six feet deep at the deep end, which was on the side beneath the water chute. In 1934, a huge boom in interest in outdoor activities and improvements in hygiene led to substantial re-development of the pool. This included raising the height of the walls to make the pool more independant from the sea, increasing the depth to 15 feet, increasing seating capacity, and chlorinating the water. As well as building an extension to the changing rooms to house the machinery, this also led to the appearance of the three distinctive fountains which were part of the water cycling system. Further changes included the introduction of the two semi circular shallow areas for children, each with its own fountain, and also the addition of a high diving board. (1934 Scarborough Holiday Brochure)

Pic 1;0. An artist's impression of the pool complex, based on the builders model, c.1914. This picture shows a good overview of the pool's original layout, but many changes had been made to the design by the time the pool was actually built. In the middle of the picture can be seen the entrances to the men's and women's tunnels, leading from the pool into the changing rooms behind. Also seen here are two entrances in the pool wall at the left and right, these were additional tunnels connecting to the changing rooms, which were sealed off in the 1930's. On top of the changing rooms is the cafe, and above that, beach huts. Although part of the original design, the cafe and beach huts were not constructed at the same time as the pool, but followed on a few years later. The pool did not actually have the long platform sticking out from the entrance tunnels, (although a similar temporary structure was installed much later see pic 2;1) and did have a bandstand canopy over the entrance instead. This picture does not feature the water chutes or diving boards, and there are several differences with the design of the central part of the changing room block. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1;1. The pool in its first season, summer 1915. The original picture is captioned on the back 'watching water polo at the new pool'. The changing rooms are still under construction, their foundations can be seen on the left, and spectators are standing on unused building blocks. The pool's water slide is also not yet installed. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1;2. The bathing pool c.1917. The changing room block has now been built, and at the back centre can be seen the water chute (slide) and diving platform. Makeshift fences can be seen around the crowd on the nearest side of the pool, these would soon be replaced with walls and railings. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1.3. The Bathing Pool, c.1926. By this time the concrete ramps and walkways approaching the pool had been put in place and a wall has been built around the landward side of the pool. A large re-enforcing column has been constructed (centre). The round wooden object nestling in the corner of the wall and column is a circular raft, one of several flotation devices in use during this period. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1.4. The pool in its later form, in a 1944 dated post card, showing the many new additions of the 1934 refit. By this point the pool had reached almost its full development, except for the addition of low diving boards and alterations to the high diving board (see pic 1;8), and a walkway around the sea-facing side of the pool. In this picture we can see the new high pool walls, allowing for increased spectator seating, the fountains and the new semi- circular shallow areas, and the newly added high diving board. The beach huts (with red roof) are now present and the building underneath has been extended, both of which had happened a few years before the 1934 refit. The large water chute has also been removed, and replaced with a smaller one on the near side, to the left of the flag (see 1;13). As the newly re-built pool had an extremely deep end, flotation markers were used to indicate depth in different areas (coloured pink in this picture and indicating depths of up to 15ft at the diving board end). In the bottom right hand corner, a large pile of earth can be seen heaped up against the pool's wall. This is to provide extra protection from the sea, but proved inadequate to prevent damage (see 2;12) By this time, 'South Bay' appears in the title to differentiate it from the North Bay Pool which had opened in 1938. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1.5. A similar view of the pool, now derelict, in 1999. Apart from the diving board, all the major pieces of the original structure still stood. The walkway and re-enforced wall which ran all the way round the seaward side of the pool can be seen on the right of the picture, with a large concrete expanse in the bottom right corner to protect against the sea. This had been constructed c.1959. (D Stuart Photography)

The Gates

Pic 1;6. The pool's main gate. This is where spectators and swimmers who were not using the changing rooms, entered the pool, and went up the steps shown at the right and left, having bought tickets from an attendant who stood here. Straight in front of the entrance is the band stand. (D Stuart Photography)
Pic 1;7. A view across the pool c.1961, showing spectators coming into the pool and standing on the band stand area. In the bottom left hand corner, wearing a white cap, can be seen the pool's ticket seller, issuing tickets as people come in via the central gate. Also notable on the left hand side can be seen a floating stage where electronic organist H Robinson Cleaver played. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1;8. The pool's other gate on a wintry day in 1999. It faced towards the end of the men's changing room block and and can also be seen in pic 2;12. It was not generally used by the public, but by the pool's engineer and for removal of injured persons to the first aid room. (D Stuart Photography)

The Diving Boards

Pic 1.9. The original water chute and diving platform, in place between 1915 and 1934. In the 1934 refit, this water chute was removed and replaced with a slightly smaller one on the other side of the pool. The original shallow walls of the pool can be seen here. These walls were potentially dangerous because of the sheer drop into the open sea (or beach if the tide was out) on the other side, and one of the reasons for the pool's re-design. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1.10. The distinctive high diving board in 1937, which was painted grey, yellow and then white during various points in its history. Made of re-enforced concrete, it had been installed as part of the refit in 1934, and the pool had to be significantly deepened at this end to allow its safe use. The sign at the top reads 'Height 32ft For Experienced Divers Only'. Visitor David Collishaw said that when standing on the top of the board, 'you could feel it swaying in the wind.' (D Stuart Collection)
Pic. 1.11. The diving board in the late 1960's showing additions made c.1950. The top platform had been extended and a ladder added to access it. A new middle platform has been installed on the right hand side of the steps, and scaffolding poles have been put in to support the new platforms. These extensions were removed again during the 1970's, with the extended top platform going first. Also clearly seen here is the free standing low diving board (centre) which was mounted on the curved wall of the shallow section, and another low diving board beneath the high one. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1.12. The South Bay Pool in 1998, photographed from the roof of the changing rooms. The diving platform was taken down when the pool closed in 1989. At the right hand side can be seen a gap in the tiered seating, with a hand rail, which is where the diving platform once stood. In the very centre of the picture, jutting out from the semi circular shallow section, can be seen the fixing points installed c.1980 for the newer low diving board (see picture 1;15). (D Stuart Photography)
Pic 1;13 The pool c.1936. This shot shows many interesting features, including a sign hanging on the building in the background which reads 'News Chronicle Learn to Swim Campaign' This building is the newly built extension to the changing rooms, designed to house the plant operation (chlorination) machinery. At the end of the block, the windows and doors of the plant operator's office can be seen. On top of the plant building is a sheltered area with canopy for spectators. A small clock can be seen fitted to the front of the diving board. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic. 1;14 The same end of the pool as above, in 1997. The only part of the diving board structure that remained in the late 1990's was the small flight of steps seen here. This flight of steps can be seen in pic 1;13 above, to the left of the top of the fountain. A secondary flight of steps had once branched off to the left, leading to the main steps up to the diving board. (photo by Lizz Tuckerman- click on the picture to see her other pictures)
Pic 1;15. The new water chute. When the old water chute was taken away in the 1934 refit, a new, smaller chute was installed along the back wall of the pool. This slide was built on top of an existing platform with steps, to help people get out of the pool. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic.1.16 Shallow section c.1983. Here you can see the second, simplified low diving board which was installed around 1980. In the foreground can be seen a floating orange depth marker, indicating a nearly sheer drop of 15ft at this point. (picture courtesy Jeremy Harding)
Pic 1.17. A closer view showing the shallow section, fountain, and the small platform with fixing points for the low diving board, 1998. (D Stuart Photography)

The Fountains

The three fountains were installed in 1934 as part of the chlorination system. The left and right fountains underwent only minor changes during the pool's lifetime, but the middle fountain was completely re-built.


Pic 1;18. Two views c.1938 of the original middle fountain installed in 1934. This fountain was extremely large (more than ten feet judging by the people next to it). During the 1950's and early 60's the fountain was completely encased in a pile of rocks, before finally being replaced with a different, smaller design c1962. Presumably this encasement, followed by a re-design, implies some design or safety problem. (D Stuart collection)
At left, 12 year old Mandy Harrow with the pool's northern fountain in 1973. At right, myself with the newer, re-designed middle fountain in 1999. (photos courtesy Mandy Harrow and J Peters)
Pic 1;20. A view across the pool in the 1950's. This view shows the southern fountain in the foreground and the middle fountain, encased in rocks, towards the back. (D Stuart Collection)
Pic 1;21. The middle and southern fountain in 1999. (D Stuart Photography)
Pic 1.22. The northern and middle fountains, with one of the shallow areas in the foreground. (D Stuart Photography)