A striking sign for a, sadly, long-gone attraction with an immense history.
“Lido” is a term for an outdoor swimming pool and surrounding area, sometimes at a beach but not necessarily. It is believed to derive from the Italian where “lido” appears in various names of towns known for their beaches, such as Lido di Venezia. It was probably brought back to Britain by tourists visiting Italy in the late nineteenth century.
British lidos enjoyed their heyday in the 1930s. Swimming had been popular as early as 1875, when Captain Webb swam across the Channel, but it took on a new significance when the first woman, Miss Gertrude Ederle, swam across the Channel in 1926, beating the then male record by two hours. Magazines of the time soon extolled the health benefits of the sport.
It may seem strange that many of these pools were close to, or even on, the beach. Look back to the social mores of the times, though, and it is not so hard to understand. Although the infamous bathing machine died out around the time of World War I, it was still generally expected that people use a changing room to don their swimming cozzie. Charges were made for use of cubicles and even for the erection of one’s own tent. The dastardly habit of “mackintosh bathing”, where you changed in your hotel and came to the beach wearing a mackintosh to aid modesty was highly frowned upon and could result in a fine!
The pools here at Margate have a longer history still. Margate was in the forefront of sea bathing as far back as the eighteenth century with bathers taken into the sea in simple carts before a fully developed bathing machine appeared there in around 1753. The initial bathing pools, known then as the Clifton Baths, were constructed between 1824-8, making this one of the earliest surviving seawater bathing establishments in the country. The circular chamber and bathing machine tunnel of the Baths are the only known examples of purpose-built structures built to store bathing machines and convey them to the beach.
In 1927 the Clifton Baths estate , Cliftonville added a swimming pool on the beach and in 1938 the entire complex and swimming pool was renamed the Lido. This complex was a formidable facility, comprising bars, cafes and restaurants over several storeys and a large open air, semi-circular swimming pool built out into the sea. The new buildings were built onto and over the existing Clifton Baths in a Neo-Classical style with Mediterranean influences, laid out over a series of terraces. The original Clifton Baths boiler house chimney was adapted with the addition of a large sphere (probably intended to be a lamp), to be an advertising feature for the new complex – see photo above.
Unfortunately, the original baths and the 1930s lido have suffered from weather, fire and constant renovation, with much of the original detail now lost. The lido itself was damaged by a severe storm in January 1978 and was filled with sand.
Despite the damage over the years, the historical importance of the original Clifton Baths has been recognised and in 2008 English Heritage awarded them Grade II Listed status.