This is a picture of the outdoor swimming pool at Rhyl which opened in the 1930’s and was a central part of any Rhyl, or holidaymaker childhood. If you are thinking it was a fair size, you are only looking at the first quarter of it – it was 25 yards wide and 100 yds long. By the time I was swimming there in the sixties, that fountain had been removed to the other end of the pool and additional seating put in. It was possible to sit on the tiered seating to the right of the picture and roast in the sun as you were sheltered from the wind and facing south. I know a few families who, amongst the picnic they would bring for their day at the baths, would be a bottle of cooking oil which acted as a suntan browning agent!
The doors to the left of the picture led into the changing rooms which, in their cold dampness, mould and heady mixture of urine and chlorine were as welcome as a goblin’s grotto.
You entered the baths by the side of the building with the sloped roof. Only once in, and having paid was the board giving the water temperature displayed. If it was touching 70F then it was comfortable. Below that it was decidedly chill, and a north wind blowing completed the freezing misery.
All primary school children in Rhyl were invited to learn to swim at the baths for free. We would all make our way up through the town in a crocodile and enter past the turnstile to be greeted with the horror of the April temperature – I think the coldest I was ever made to swim in was 47F! We would be lined up and pushed in the water if we were reluctant, by well wrapped up[ teachers who told us to stop complaining as we’d warm up when we had been in for a while! We were meant to be doing our 25 yard swimming badge. I cheated and put one foot down so as to get across the pool as quickly as possible and back into the changing rooms.
There was tarmac around the poolside and unfortunately this had broken up with constant use so that it was agony making your way to the far end where most of the locals congregated.
The baths closed in the mid seventies when the pier and the Pavilion Theatre were also demolished. It can be difficult today to remember where exactly the baths were sited, but if you stand outside the Pier Hotel and look across at the Events Arena the metal tower at the highest point of the arena represents the position of the diving boards in the baths.
The coldness of the water in the baths served as ample warning never to venture too far out, or to be too adventurous in the sea. As my cousin Gerald, who served on the Rhyl Lifeboat and could not swim, reminded me, where the sea is concerned, it does not matter how good a swimmer you are, you are never stronger than the sea!
Read a whole chapter on the baths in The Reso!