It is funny how someone reminiscing about a distant past event can trigger all sorts of memories and feelings. That is what happened a short while ago after seeing a post about Westcliff swimming pool on a “memories” Facebook page relating to old Southend and, given the number of commentators chipping in with their recollections, I see I am not alone. My problem is my memories were between 1962 and 1966, when I was aged between 11 and 15, and I struggle to distinguish fact from fiction. Even so memories of lots of specific incidents have come flooding back, realising I am not the only one.
The sad memory is that it was an escape haunt for me because I didn’t have many friends and more often than not I traveled to the pool by bike, usually alone. I spent many hours at the pool, especially during my summer holidays, sometimes visiting the pool every day, and at least once a week in term time. This chlorine laden water, which stung the eyes, and Leigh salt water open air pools, were the only two decent sized pools in in the town – there was a smaller indoor pool at Valkyrie Road, which was hot as Westcliff was cold, but I don’t recall any other pool at that time. The pool hosted clubs and galas. It closed soon after (as did the one in Leigh) I stopped being a regular. After various other uses, like hosting dolphins and a leisure centre, a casino was built on the site, which is what is there now. As I understand it, it is built on top of the old pool. Warrior Square took over from Westciff as the main serious swimming pool in the town, hosting a heated indoor swimming pool and diving area. When it closed a couple of years back, it was taken over by one built at the Garons centre and there are now lots of other smaller pools, many linked to schools, built in the interim. These days I swim at Garons, grateful I still can, and without frills, but Westcliff gave me more pleasure despite having less amenities.
I recall that is where we did our school swimming lessons. While I was not a sporty boy, swimming was one sport I was a bit decent at and where I surpassed most of my peers in terms of speed and endurance. I can recall swimming a long way underwater, doing various tricks, diving off all the boards (there three of varying heights and a spring board and a slide, as I recall) and from off the balcony, ducking and pushing among peers, the changing rooms, the balcony, a place to buy ice cream etc. Especially do I remember the annual excursion to Pier Hill to buy my season ticket for ten shillings and six pence, taking particular pride getting it soon after tickets came and sale and having one with a low number – the ticket was a rectangular round edged coloured card with each day of the season, from May to September, marked out on it that got ticked off by the cashier (if visiting morning and afternoon, it became a cross) – and there was a matted bridge in the middle of the pool (not shown in the top photo), and it was fairly spartan when I think about it. There was no heating – but it did have a special charm. There was the thought out of season the pool looked yukky, greeny, only to spring back to life as the new season approached. I recall most of those using the pool were sociable. I even got to talk to girls.
In the main, I can reflect on happy memories there. While I was an oft time distraught loner, I did have some friends and recall many enjoyable occasions with no time constraint where we interacted and generally had fun at the pool. One memory that occurs is the brass numbered tags we were given, we needed to present to get back our clothes – the game was to throw these into the pool and we had to swim under water to find and retrieve these. During those years Westcliff open air swimming pool was likely my main means of escape from a not particularly happy period in my life, when I could be myself, be at peace and feel in control of my own destiny.