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East London's
First Bathing Pool

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The first bathing pool at East London was opened in 1893, at a spot immediately below the Beach Hotel, or what is today the Kennaway Hotel.

It was a tidal pool and cost £1000 to construct, a very tidy sum in those days. The project, as the Mayor explained it, was to create a "perfectly safe and well protected" swimming bath which would be sheltered from the view of passersby and capable of being flushed out by the tides.

The basin would measure 45 feet by 30 feet and was intended for the sole use of women and children. A row of bathing houses would then be erected between it and the Esplanade and revenue would be derived through the sale of tickets.

The new pool went into use in July 1893 but failed to attract patrons, a circumstance which left the Council dumbfounded.

The municipality had gone out of its way to provide amenities, such as towels and a fresh-water shower, the Mayor explained, and entrance had even been left free as a further inducement.

There were, however, major problems with it, the chief of which was that it was situated too far from the sea to be a tidal pool at all and a windmill had eventually to be installed to provide sufficient water.

It was constructed, the Daily Dispatch reported in 1903, "by a good man who didn't know enough about the relationship of the sea and moon to the tides". It also had leaks so that there was seldom enough water to enable people to swim.

It was a white elephant, the Dispatch concluded, and possibly the "first species of this creature placed in the charge of the Town Council".

By November 1895 the pool had fallen into a general state of disrepair and had to be closed for a short period while efforts were made to block major leaks.

By 1897 it was leaking so badly that it could seldom be used and it was estimated that only a further substantial outlay could restore it. The joints needed re-cementing, the Town Engineer reported, and the walls and floor would have to be asphalted if it were to be made really watertight.

Town Councillor Blaine suggested that they simply discharge the caretaker and let the thing "rip" but the Council nevertheless attempted annual repairs and hoped in vain that the pool would grow in popularity.

The public, however, continued to shun it in favour of the open beaches and natural tidal pools and the money spent on alterations was completely wasted.

The yearly hundreds had vanished, the Dispatch stated with due sarcasm, "as completely as though the Mayor dressed up in gorgeous robe, gold chain and cocked hat, attended by his deputy, and the common councillors had walked in procession to the end of the breakwater and deliberately, after the usual speech as to the future of our Beach, thrown the money to the angry surf."

By 1907 the pool had deteriorated to such an extent that it was full of green slime and was described by one of the councillors as "absolutely stinking".

Plans were then drawn up to extend it so as to convert it into a proper tidal pool but after several postponements because of the adverse economic conditions during the post-Boer War depression, the project was eventually scrapped and, in 1910, the pool was partially demolished.

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