This was the pool throughout my schooldays at Holt in Norfolk. Like the Gresham’s school theatre, this took place in the open air, and as the pool was unheated swimming was restricted to the summer term. We were not allowed into it until it had reached 60 degrees; 60 degrees Fahrenheit that is, or just under 16 degrees Celsius as we would say nowadays. Back then we knew there was another way of measuring temperature but we called it centigrade. Either way it is pretty chilly.
My first experience of the pool was as a eleven year old in April or early May 1960. Of course I couldn’t swim then but I soon learnt. Colonel Williams took us for PE, and in the summer term that meant swimming. The shallow end was 3 ft deep and was the end nearest to you in the picture above. All of us who could not swim were lined up either side of the shallow end holding the chain around the edge with our legs thrashing about behind us. As we got more confident we would push of from the chain and begin to swim.
The system sounds simple enough and it must have worked, because I was soon a swimmer and doing lengths. This meant venturing to the deep end which was 6 ft, and so well out of my depth. The next stage was to go beyond the doggy paddle to the breast stroke and the crawl. The butterfly I hardly ever tried; I still regard it a silly stroke which is exhausting and not even fast.
You can see the three levels of diving board. The top board seemed vertiginously high when you got up there, although it wasn’t really very high at all. If you did a ‘honey pot’ jump off the top board you made a tremendous splash which soaked the onlookers and this sort of thing was reserved for when there were no teachers about. (A “honey pot” was when you jumped in with your arms around your legs.) You were meant to dive properly, head first with you arms in front. You can see the springboard to the left of the high board.
You can see that the changing rooms were pretty basic, but adequate. There were of course no showers; hygiene was restricted to a daily dose of chlorine in the water and a wire netting paddle with which the groundsman removed leaves and the odd frog who got in overnight. At least it was bit cleaner than Lakenham pool in Norwich. The water there was merely the river Yare of which a part was diverted to flow through the pool, complete with the odd fish. This was so from 1908 when it was built and did not change until the 1950s when chlorination was introduced. At 80 yards long it was a bit bigger than Gresham’s pool. St Augustine’s indoor pool was built in 1961, but its life was short. High alumina cement had been used for roof beams which became unsafe. There has been a row of shops where it once stood for many years now. Lakenham baths outlasted St Augustine’s, closing in 1992.
During swimming sports the spectators sat on benches along the left side and cheered on the swimmers. Ropes divided the pool into four lanes which rather ruled out house competitions, because after Tallis was opened there were 5 senior school houses. The ropes had to be removed for the diving competition. Water polo was another competitive water sport that some of us played.
The new indoor pool at Gresham’s was built soon after I left school, and the days of swimming in an unheated pool were over. With an indoor pool swimming became a year round activity. It had been a bracing outdoor life, but on a sunny Sunday afternoon it was a glorious thing to go down to the pool and splash about in the open air.