The Local Lido - Brasted Swimming Pool.

Bill Curtis

Did you know that sixty-five years ago, Westerham folk could walk to the local swimming baths? The Darenth Valley open-air Swimming Bath, commonly known as Brasted Swimming Pool, was sited on what is today, Brasted recreation ground, just past the allotments on the A25 heading into the village.

There was a grand Opening Ceremony on June 24 1914, the construction having been paid for by local subscription and fundraising events such as concerts and a dance festival. The President of the managing committee was Earl Stanhope, the contractors were local men being Mr Botting, a landscape gardener, and Messrs. Horton and Son who owned the woodyard by the railway in Westerham. With the threat of war facing the nation, local resident Edwin Dowsing penned a timely song titled ‘Brasted Bathing Pool’ to be sung to the tune of ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me.’

The start was made some months ago by the men and boys of Brasted
Go down there now and you’ll agree their labour wasn’t wasted
Mr Botting’s help was then called on to finish off the pool Sir!
The work now done I think gives proof Mr Botting is no fool Sir!
Lord Stanhope let us have the land and we hope he won’t regret it
To him we owe our hearty thanks and don’t think we’ll forget it
The Bath is near completion now and anyone who wishes
Can go down there and do his best to imitate the fishes

We hope Lloyd George won’t come down now and tax us on the site
Because we won’t grow mangolds there on which poor pheasants bite
But Winston he has no excuse for want of safer docks, oh!
He can go on building Dreadnoughts now and give the Germans socks, oh!
Winston soon may need our help to keep her on the panel,
and if they close the ports my boys we’ll swim the Irish Channel
The Suffragettes they say may soon come down to play the fool here
Well if they do, my word, I guess we’ll duck them in our pool here!

There is a poignancy to the prose bearing in mind that the pool was built and opened in the year that Britain went to war, and there must have been a ‘back-story’ to that final verse, as a young Suffragist did in fact dash past the policeman standing on the gate at the opening ceremony. She ran along the side of the pool shouting ‘Votes for Women’ in a loud voice. An attempt was made to arrest the lady but she retreated to the diving tower, pursued by a member of Tunbridge Wells Swimming Club in his swimming trunks. The entertainment continued on the top diving board with the crowd beside themselves in excitement. The man and the lady protester struggled until they both fell into the pool with a loud splash. The protest became a rescue as the lady was pulled out of the water, given some dry clothes and then arrested by the policeman.

The swimming bath can be seen beside the River Darent above the Recreation Ground on this 1935 map. No evidence of its existence remains today, but the footings of the footbridge are still there, and several older residents remember having cut across the fields and used the footbridge to get to the swimming pool if they did not have the few pennies required to ride the bus from Westerham.
Programme of Dancing Entertainment to fund-raise for Brasted Swimming Bath.
A policeman stands watchful at the entrance to the pool as Earl Stanhope talks 
with Mr Botting

Lord Stanhope has taken his seat in the front row and is having a quiet word with the Master of Ceremonies. We assume the young Suffragette has yet to arrive...
A promotional flyer produced for the opening day described how the bath was filled with fresh, constantly cycling water: “…The water rises from the bottom of the bath from very numerous ‘springs’ through a bed of gravel. There is a perpetual natural overflow into the River Darent, by which the surface of this water is continually being renewed. It is estimated that some 3000 gallons an hour thus passes away. The water is quite pure as the gravel bed forms a natural filtration. No river water is permitted to enter this bath and there is no risk of pollution. The water is not abnormally cold as the ‘springs’ consist really of the surface water from the hills that accumulates at the bottom of the Darent Valley…” Former resident Bob Combley provided an amusing recollection “...bitterly cold with a very rocky bottom, that’s what I remember. I never learned to swim there, I was skinny as a rake and I couldn’t stay in the water long enough, even on a sunny day. We all used to go, but I think it was more for the good of our mortal souls rather than anything else, and I seem to remember we used to walk both ways. It got the sun, but not for long as there was a high wooden fence all around it with the changing rooms up against it. There was a diving board and a chute at the deep-end, and round the edges there was a solid bottom, but near the centre it was pebbles where freezing cold spring water came straight up out of the greensand - it never, ever got warm even on a hot summers day. I’m sure it worked very well as a system and if you were covered in enough fat you could stay in and do some swimming...”
Former resident Enid Parker was an enthusiastic swimmer who clearly didn't mind the temperature “...It was a beautiful pool, you used to walk through the gate at the front and the gentlemen’s changing rooms were on one side and the ladies changing rooms were on the other, sat up on the bank. The toilets were this side of the gate and then down a couple of steps there was a great big lawn and then the concrete path that went round the pool. It had a slide and diving boards and a deep-end and shallow-end. A season ticket was about half a crown (twelve and-a-half pence now) and that would cover you from May until the end of September - you wouldn’t want to use it earlier or later than those dates as it would be too blooming cold, it was cold enough in the middle of a hot summer - she laughs - but it was still lovely. It was the biggest sacrilege when they closed it, they said it was due to river pollution, but that’s nonsense because it was fed by an underground spring. It flowed out into the river Darent by an overflow but that’s all. It must have closed about 1954 I think and we lost a wonderful amenity then…”

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