My Story from young and how it used to be.
“I was born into a swimming family, the last girl to arrive, my older sisters 8, 14 and 16 years away from me. Poor Dad was hoping for a boy but it wasn’t to be. Mum and Dad were busy members of West Bromwich Swimming Club, sitting on committees and officiating at galas and eventually becoming life members. My sisters were already Midland and club swimming champions. Dad had an ambition that one of my sisters would swim the Channel but, by desire or design, this never happened.
Decisions were made for me
One day I was playing with my bucket and spade and toddling around on the beach…
…I was scooped up into the car when next back at home and driven to the WEST BROMWICH GALA BATHS. But I didn’t know about them then. I remember being carried into this big building and suddenly faced with a HUGE bath of blue water. WHO would have a bath as big as that to wash in?
From that day on, after my first puzzled introduction, I found myself in the arms of my big teaching “sister”, and taken frequently. I eventually got used to the idea. I couldn’t stand up to paddle nor could I swim, so I had to rely on my big teacher “sister” and her boyfriend carrying me around dousing me up and down.
Given the harness.
After a while, I found myself in a sling being carried up and down the bath by someone who, to me, was a very old lady with a loud mouth. I didn’t like it. It was uncouth.
At the galas, I watched my sisters swimming to victory and picking up trophies, their beaux playing water polo, Mum and Dad at opposite ends of the pool with stop watches. I used to watch my middle sister, a schoolteacher “sister” taking her pupils to the top of the Inter-school Sports. It was before my time, but I still “had” to join in the photo group.
Between the galas I was taken to another big pool, but this time it was under a blue sky – the KINGFISHER LIDO near Kingswinford. I remember lovely weekends, playing in the fountains during what seemed to be persistently lovely summers. The lido had a higher-up camping field and my “soon to be” brother-in-law took his youth squad on many camping trips for treats. My sisters and I joined them. It was wonderful.
They apparently thought nothing of me wandering into the shallow end of the pool, where I could stand up, and I tried – oh so tried – to get my feet off the bottom. The old lady hadn’t been a great success with me over the last year, I was about five then. Eventually, I could swim a little and retrieve myself after jumping in. It became the practice to move me slowly into the deeper water with assistance. The goal being that they could plant me on the poolside midway down the length of the bath, stand on the opposite side and beckon me to jump in and swim across.
Milky shake bribes
I didn’t like the idea much and they often had to patiently await my effort, offering bribes of lovely milk shakes on the way home. That usually did the trick, and… I made it to the other side! However, on one occasion, and I can’t forget this, I almost reached the other side , but then started to sink.
Down down I went, waiting to touch the bottom, when I could give a good push up, but as I was making these plans, a body splashed down to my side, and my sister hoisted me up. Amazingly I hadn’t panicked and surprisingly wanted to do it again straight after – then… perhaps I’d get two milk shakes? And I did.
As weeks progressed, I became stronger and confident. I think I’d just swum my first stroke unaided!
Big teaching “sis” started to think that I should tackle a swim of the bath lengthwise. Either she or my brother-in-law would start me off jumping in at the deep end. They were in the water to pluck me to the surface in case I didn’t come up. They swam alongside me and soon I was able to at least get towards the shallow end and stand up if I wanted to cheat. And then carry on.
When I was able to swim the whole length in a kind of dog paddle-breastroke, and with great sighs and gasps, they then walked along the bathside as I swam near the wall. By this stage, my visits to the milk bar were very enjoyable. I was now six years old.
I enjoyed lots of camping visits to the Kingfisher Lido.
Another great Sunday trip, after Sunday school, was to the river – GRIMLEY-UPON-SEVERN , where mum and dad, my sisters and brother-in-laws picnicked and messed about and played in the river. With family assistance, I swam across the river, which seemed an awful long way. In fact visiting in recent years, it was less than the 33.1/3 yards bath.
My beginnings of my plunge into diving! The diving stage at the baths was a four boards “ladder” style up to the fifth board, which was about 4.5 metres. I was perched on the end of the first board, legs dangling over, with head and arms pointing down to the water. I was “helped” off the board and, if lucky, didn’t “splat” on all fours onto the water. I learned to keep my legs out of the way under the board as I toppled in. By the time I was six-and-a-half, I was moved up to to the TOP board. The first time there, I sat…and sat… and sat…on the end of the board.
My sister, bro-in-law and others were shouting, “come on’, “go”, “one-two-three GO”, but I remained stuck on the end of the board and wouldn’t budge. From the fourth board up, it was a gigantic leap and, besides, there was an ugly black drain on the pool bottom directly below. Queues were forming down to the bottom board and, by the time they were actually forming along the poolside, I was called down the steps. Oh dear, NO milkshakes that day. Just a shaky me.
Big teaching “sister” was not to be beaten. On following visits, I carried out the usual routine of diving from the bottom board up to the top board but it was still “no go ” on top. I was encouraged to swim over the horrid black drain, and even surface dive towards it (with my eyes shut tight). I was a tiny wisp of a nearly seven-year-old and I’d never have reached down nine-and-a-half feet of water, not even toppling off the top board.
Over the course of the next few sessions, my confidence grew and again, I found myself “up on top”, There was a moment of hesitation, and…I took a big breath, closed my eyes (tut! tut!) and let myself fall. I waited for the impact into the water, then SPLISH SPLOSH. Upon swimming up towards the light, I heard a muffled roar of “hurrays” across the building, as many had been following my progress. I emerged from the pool a bit shaky and into the arms of big teaching “sis”. This was the start. I was rewarded with an enormous pink iced bun.
My technique had improved, and just before my birthday, I was able to sit on the end of the diving board, roll my stretched legs with pointed toes over my head and swing them back again. This gave me the momentum to leave the board into a streamlined dive into the water. I felt the bee’s knees. The annual gala was coming up soon and this little demonstration to a gasping audience, was included in the programme. It made the newspaper columns. (How times have changed since then!)
My attempted breaststroke had become stronger.
“The gala opening also saw me swimming diagonally across the floodlit pool, floating a big bouquet of flowers with the mayoress awaiting my presentation.”
My sisters won most events, including the diving trophy. But the future was to decide WHO was the best at this diving sport.
Scheming Teaching Sister
During the course of the next few months, my big teaching “sister” and bro-in-law extended my swimming goal to 10 lengths of the pool. It was exhausting and boring but with the gradual increase I managed it. I’m sure my scheming big teaching “sis” added extra lengths, because I had to concentrate on my swimming rather than counting them, and wait until she called out the last length.
Top board, high dive boards, lidos and pillions
I was turning my stroke into some kind of crawl and backstroke. Style was to be introduced later.
Meanwhile my top board diving developed from starting on my bottom to standing up, arms pointing straight out in front, swinging down, up on toes and off. I was very nervous at first, again testing the patience of big teaching “sister”, and the public wanting to get their turn off the board. Standing up, you see, made me feel the board was higher.
As a break from routine, my bro-in-law used to collect a very excited me from primary school on his Aerial motorbike to take me to ROLFE STREET BATHS in Smethwick. I rode pillion – wearing my thick black stockings on Mum’s orders. After a few lengths paying attention to my strokes, it was a playful session. It was FUN.
On odd occasions I was taken to KINGSTANDING BATHS, also to Smethwick THIMBLEMILL BATHS, and NORTHFIELDS BATHS (after which was a pleasant trip to the “Lickies” (Lickey Hills Country Park for anyone not from the Brum area).
The object of this was to try me out on an even higher board – a 5m. All these boards were covered in carpet, (my interpretation.) After much bribing, big teaching “sis” eventually got me off the board – a particularly high achievement for her at Kingstanding baths, where I gave much trouble and caused much hanging around. I did, however, get my chocolate milkshakes and an extra painting book – for the extra half metre.
Lovely days at the Lido and the river continued for me as child to teenage years. My mum and dad and other sisters , nieces and nephews all loved these carefree days .
In for a surprise
But, one day, going back to when I was eight, I was in for another surprise. My big teaching “sister” said we were going on a bus journey to a swimming baths in Birmingham. We arrived at the so-called WOODCOCK STREET BATHS after a walk from Snowhill Station.
We entered the building not too way different to West Brom Gala Baths in size. The first thing I saw was a lady diving from the top board that seemed very high in the curved ceiling. A lady waiting at the door wearing a green overall coat ushered big teaching “sis” and me towards one of the spectator tiers and we sat and waited. We watched the lady doing “swallow” dives from the the top 5m board and the high and low springboards. (West Bromwich Baths didn’t have these facilities.)
The boards were built out from a spectacular balcony behind. She was being taught by someone who appeared to be a very gentle man standing on the side. After their session, they came to big teaching “sister” and I was introduced to them. Alf Jones and Edna Spencer were to be my new diving coaches.
I began catching the bus from West Bromwich to Snowhill. I walked to the baths two or three times a week after school. I passd the general hospital, as it was then, (and was part of the nursing school I attended for fours years in the future), passed the fire station, crossed the road and walked to the top of Woodcock Street. Before I got to this point, I wound a scarf around my nose and mouth because the smell of hops cooking from the nearby brewery made me feel sick. I passed the little back to back houses and the tuck shop and arrived at the baths. Alf used to to arrive on his motorbike and give me a good hour’s session, followed by hot steaming Bovril, Horlick’s or Cow & Gate in the cafe. I always looked forward to this.
As I was good at pillion riding by this time, Alf my coach always saw me safely onto the bus back to West Bromwich. I was eight years old and had become an independent traveller and I remember the bus conductress looking after me on these journeys. It was on the bus I munched away the dripping sandwiches that Mum had prepared.
Getting from under Mum’s feet!
I used to get out of Mum’s way for odd hours begging her to give me a penny to catch the bus to the Gala baths with a friend or two, or on my own…”to practise my high dive!” I had much fun without big teaching “sis’ around, and played games using the steps midway down the bath. I dived down and glided to the top, imagining I’d sky dived from very high mountains. I had fantasies of becoming a famous stunt woman one day.
Meanwhile, the next annual gala was looming before the pool closed to become a grand dance hall during the winter months. I don’t remember entering any of the swimming events but, definitely, I was to make my appearance in the diving.
Hah ha! Who was best at diving?
After my swim across the pool to present the usual bouquet to the mayoress, the diving event came along. My two sisters (including big teaching “sis”!) were my main rivals. They performed their required dives well but I kept up with them. Then came the final round. They cockily performed something like a pike dive from one of the lower boards. This always won the competition for one of them. Then, it was my turn.
“There was much whispering in the packed gallery as I climbed straight to the top board to take a high dive. I took off the board into a one-and-a-half somersault and cut the water.”
I came up and there was silence. What had I done wrong? Then suddenly the place erupted. The jaws of my sisters and other contestants dropped. I was the WINNER at eight years old beating my two big sisters.
A visit to the Gala Baths learner bath was part of my primary schools’ routine. Instead of being the first to get dressed, I was always last. This exasperated my teachers, “considering all the swimming experience you have young lady.”
Chestnuts, chips, and Santa Claus kept me going
Championships training continued at Woodcock Street through the years and through some icy, snowy winters. I loved the jacket potatoes and chestnuts roasting by the bus stop at Snowhill. The lady newspaper seller with the missing teeth, and ciggy hanging from her lips, hair held in a turban shouting “Spatchy Mail! Spat-chy Mail! come and get your Spat-chy Mail!” (The Evening Despatch was the sister paper to The Birmingham Mail).
The real highlight was my coach and his other lady diver taking me to see Father Christmas with a friend at a large store after training, before seeing me onto the bus home.
The Lido and Chocolate Misfits
The seemingly hot summers, I’d arrive for my diving training to find queues all the way up Woodcock Street and around the corner waiting to get in. Alf would beckon me onto his motorbike and take me to Cadbury’s BOURNVILLE OPEN AIR LIDO for my training. I loved it there and managed to practise at least my 1m board dives.
When I achieved anything new the lady diver Edna always rewarded me with chocolate misfits, which I devoured on the bus home. I also had the perks of seeing the mouth watering chocolates whizzing by on moving belts. Edna worked at the Cadbury’s factory.
After she married Alf my coach, Edna became a full-time ASA Teacher and Examiner. She eventually became my main coach but not until after we had given lots of diving exhibitions at the BOURNVILLE INDOOR LADIES BATHS.
My worst moment came when we were synchronising from two boards, and she emitted an awful scream. Her achilles tendon had ruptured.
I was in secondary education at the High School, my middle schoolteacher “sister” was responsible for taking my class to Woodcock Street Baths. During the lovely balmy summers it was a joy…
Dad had driven us to take our bronze medallion lifesaving tests in Woodcock Street Baths and, on the journey home squeezed two more into the boot of his Sunbeam Talbot!
…on those icy winter evenings, we were still put through out lifesaving practices in the second class bath. We craved the chips we bought on the way home.
There were also many visits to the Gala Baths with school teaching “sis”, just 10 minutes walk away from school. This was for the Inter School Town Galas. It was my turn to help receive the Town Swimming Shield along with Pauline at the Inter Schools Swimming Tournament.
About to become an Auntie
My swimming and diving continued through the years. I took part in many competitions, both swimming and diving. One of which I joined my sisters and two others from the West Bromwich Divisional Swimming Team. We travelled all over the region to finally reach the final of the big swim “tournament” and to win the shield. My big teaching “sister” found a perfect solution by holding the shield which hid a seven months baby bump!
More travelling to competitions
Through my very early teens, the Midland Championships were held at TAMWORTH LIDO and QUEEN STREET BATHS Derby. I remember when Dad bribed one of the attendants with a shiny half-crown (12.5p) to allow me extra training time, in time before all the action began. it seemed such a lot of money.
Training for competitions and championships were also at my practise ground Woodcock Street. The morning was set side for training, with the championships in the afternoon. I was always taken to the News Cinema between these times. I also remember diving at the UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL POOL in London, when my lady coach Edna and I travelled up by train. Oh the thought and excitement of the underground! never mind about the southern region championships! We met up with Mum and Dad at my Uncle’s place in Tottenham Court Road. Very handy as it was just round the corner from the pool.
There was also BANBURY LIDO, where my training slots for an eventual Midland Championship were held. My coach Alf now had a sidecar fitted to his bike. Lady coach Edna (now wife) sat inside like a queen while I, wearing my thick black stockings, rode pillion.
Our days at DERBY BATHS Blackpool for the Nationals were wonderful. Dad drove us there along the country roads (no motorway then). I eagerly awaited to spot Blackpool Tower on the skyline. Around this time I was beginning to notice a special “Specie” called “the boy.” Boys in the world of swimming and diving always started by befriending my very wise Dad to ask if they could have a peep under the bonnet of his Rover car!
They also got around Dad not to know the way, and could they follow our car?! This even applied to areas where they were born nearby and they should have known better! A particular memory of this was after we had finished performing our club diving exhibitions in WALSALL BATHS from the 7.5 metre. They would have known the way back backwards!
10 M dive
I did my first 10M dive at the SOUTH SHORE OPEN AIR COLISEUM, Blackpool (opened in 1923). I was feeling particularly on a high as I had just come third in Junior All England (GB) Championship – a whisker between the three of us – (no age groups in those days). I remember marching to the rostrum to the record/tape beating the sounds of “Marching through Georgia” played by a military band.
Going back to THAT first 10M dive I looked down…seeing Mum sitting in the pouring rain and wind with a newspaper over her head. My coach Edna was beckoning me off from the swaying coconut matted board. Eventually I went…… because if I hadn’t I would have been blown off I’m sure. How painful would that have been?
I was eventually to become a lover of 10m diving, becoming a little more fledged at the National Training Centre in the DAWDON PIT POOL, near Sunderland. I was horrified at the thought of jumping into the murky pool, let alone diving head-first. I hated the thought. But remembering I was there based on a selection procedure I had to get over it. I made sure I didn’t go deep enough to find out what was lurking on the bottom of the pool. Stories were going around that something was awaiting to grab you! I had worshipped by diving heros whilst watching them train in previous years, and here I was now, diving amongst them!
An unfortunate diving accident halted my progress and everything I’d trained for. Doctors told my parents I would never dive again. I was devastated, but a couple of years later, I returned to training to regain my Midland crown.
After marrying and living in Sussex, I swam at HORSHAM OUTDOOR LIDO taking my baby for picnics with friends. I had a spell of teaching diving here and also received diving training myself from a coach at CRAWLEY POOL. I was successful in the Sussex Championships covering both springboard and highboard.
Every Monday a group of us were driven to CRYSTAL PALACE DIVING POOL by our coach for training. We dived within the Ladies Diving section of Highgate Diving Club. We gave amateur diving exhibitions at Worthing Lido, and occasionally trained at the KING ALFRED BATHS in Hove.
After realising a “return” to diving following my accident, I then turned to coaching to make up for the big hole left in my progress as a diver…and I did.
My diving coaching is another story!
My haunts no longer
It’s as if these events all happened yesterday but they are dented with the thought that most of these lido and baths which were my other “homes” are now no longer.
But the memories of championships training with the help of chestnuts, lifesaving, boys, and 10M dives are permanently fixed in my mind. Together with boards, lidos, pillions… they live on!
Some of these pools, baths and lidos can actually be found on my other site Lost Lidos