National List of Most Important Historic Buildings!

by Fabia Garau

National List of Most Important Historic Buildings!
We are delighted to announce Sandford Parks Lido is now on the National List of Our Most Important Historic Buildings!

historicengland.org.uk

We have long known that Sandford Parks Lido is one of the most important outdoor swimming resorts in Britain. Our buildings have now been designated at grade II on Historic England’s National Heritage List. This recognises their importance as a complete ensemble of lido buildings, together with a plant room that is uniquely important for its original compressors and filtration plant supplied by Bell Brothers of Manchester. We also recognise that it is so much more than a collection of buildings, one of 19 such groupings out of 203 built in England:

• It was laid out as a whole landscape linked to Sandford Park by a well-known landscape architect, Edward White, leaving the details of the design to the Borough Engineer, G. Gould Marsland

• Its design is fundamental to how it is used and valued – for swimming, for getting together, for enjoying the open air and as a place where memories are made and treasured.

• Its design also expresses a social revolution that was repeated across Europe, America and other parts of the world in the 1920s-1930s. Lidos were designed – in response to public demand and the initiatives of national and local government - as new kinds of places for men, women and children to exercise, enjoy sunshine and relax. They mark an important place in social history, telling us how recreation was developing into a distinctly new form of activity for individuals and families, providing facilities for children and enabling new forms of expression for women in contrast to the more restrictive and segregated access to earlier pools and bathing areas.

• The lido is a safe and wonderful environment in which children and adults can play, keep fit, relax, learn new skills, have fun and gain a sense of physical and emotional well-being. It is a perfect venue for community sport, and its development as a concept in parallel with the enhanced role of communities in national government and the planning system. A fundamental reason for this is that the pool, buildings, walls and landscape were all designed from the outset as an integrated whole, inter-locked with the landscape of the park.

We have more information to hand should you need it and also a detailed Conservation Plan on our website: sandfordparkslido.org.uk

HISTORIC BACKGROUND

Introduction

Sandford Parks Lido expresses the historic function and importance of lidos, and their distinctive quality as places created in the inter-war period, through its setting, planning, landscape and design. It was built to the designs of the Borough Engineer, G. Gould Marsland, with the advice of Mr Edward White, President of the Landscape Architects Association. This was clearly intended to ensure a successful approach to the landscaping of the site, as Edward White was a renowned landscape architect and horticulturalist (1887-1952). He held the presidency of the newly-formed Landscape

Architects Association between 1931 and 1933 and, as part of the nationally renowned Milner White & Partners, had designed gardens for public parks and private houses. White had designed Sandford Park, opened in 1928 and added to Cheltenham’s fine series of parks, which had been saved from dereliction and development through the intervention of a progressive and enterprising council which had acquired the existing water company, lowered the levels of the Chelt through the purchase of Sandford Mill and other sites and engaged in a wide-ranging programme of improvement from the 1880s including road widening, the library, the town hall and electric lighting. Cheltenham Corporation also extended the recreational area of the town into the surrounding Cotswolds at Leckhampton Hill from the 1880s and Cleeve Hill in the 1920s. By the 1930s the Borough was actively promoting Cheltenham as an inland resort, provision for car parking being considered an essential part of Sandford Parks Lido’s offer to the public from the outset.

The lido

Overall planning and design

Sandford Parks Lido was designed as an enclosed landscape linked to Sandford Park, focused on providing beautiful surroundings to swimming and relaxation. The collaboration of White and the borough engineer explains much about the character of the lido, and in particular how it links to the adjoining Sandford Park, also designed by White and opened in 1928, and its use of Arts and Crafts garden design within an overall geometric framework, based on Beaux Arts principles. Visitors, upon entering the site, were greeted by the sight and sound of a fountain, made from reconstructed Portland stone, and a sense of landscaped gardens set around the pool with the café pavilion at the other end.

The planting of the lido was designed to complement that of the park. This large park acted as a ‘green wedge’ affording views of the Cotswolds hills and continuing eastwards into meadows and rising ground which were then being used (as now) for public access, playing fields and private sports clubs. The lido was planned and set out so that it could take advantage of the passage of the sun – in this respect little different from the open air schools and hospitals, also orientated to face south west, which were built before and after the First World War.

Buildings, walls, the pool and the planned landscape contribute to the site’s individual character and provide a strong sense of enclosure to the visitor. Lawns to the south and west and sun decks to the north and east of the main pool were designed to meet the needs of sun worship and activities alike. The sun decks are elevated above the ground with drystone retaining walls. They were originally filled with shingle which – after the first and second seasons of being thrown around the pool by children - was replaced with concrete paving and flower beds. The terraces either side of the fountain were then provided with exercise equipment. 

Considerable thought was given to the patterns of circulation and movement around the pool, and originally to the segregation of swimmers and non-swimmers. Low stone walls separated the swimmers from a pedestrian area, which flows from the main entrance to the café. All visitors pass through turnstiles, originally flanked by two ticket offices with first aid and superintendent’s rooms to the rear, and then have the option of either passing into the lido itself or proceeding into the changing cubicles either side. The original intention was for bathers to then move into the changing cubicles, put their clothing into a wire basket left by the previous occupant, and then take their clothing for safe-keeping in the basket stores, now the heated changing rooms. Bathers would then move towards the toilet and shower block at either end of these semi-circular sections, and walk through the foot troughs to the pool. After their swim, they would walk around the rear of the toilet blocks to a hatch for the return of their clothing and then proceed back to the changing cubicles. 

The choice of style for the overall planning, landscape and design of the lido borrows heavily from the Arts and Crafts tradition that had developed in England in the late 19th century. This was based on the idea of a return to traditional craft skills and good building materials, and the combination of the geometric planting of the site and the use of picturesque planting to provide varied colour, form and shape. At the lido, this is enshrined in:

• The rectilinear and formal planning of the main pool in relationship to the crescents of buildings placed at either end.

• The gradation of shapes and colours provided by the perimeter planting of trees and shrubs, and the contribution of Lombardy poplar and trimmed yew hedges to the sculptural and architectural character of the site.

• The way in which the buildings embrace the site, heightening its sense of enclosure and the beauty of its overall concept and setting.

• The style of the buildings. They are classical in their overall concept and detail (such as the fanlights over the café doors) with the occasional Art Deco detail (in the surrounds to the café doors for example). Their choice of materials, in particular the white roughcast walls and tile copings and roofs, harks back to the late Victorian and Edwardian Domestic Revival. This echoed in the drystone walls to the promenade walks and sun decks, a craft technique that was typical of the Arts and Crafts approach to garden design and that also links the lido to the Cotswolds region.

Pools, fountain and engineering

The focal point of the overall design is the main pool, its length (165 feet, just over 50 metres) conforming to the standards then promoted by the Amateur Swimming Association. The original 5-metre diving boards were removed in 1973, in order to conform to the new recommended minimal height of 3.8 metres. The main pool was refurbished in 2006-7, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This was a major engineering project, the pool being strengthened through installation of a new reinforcement grid and driving piles that extend 8-9 metres to reach solid ground. The pool was restored with white glazed tiles and a surrounding bathers’ deck laid to the original colouring and pattern. New ceramic scum channels, especially made to be profiled to the original design, were also supplied.

The engineering of the whole pool was designed to recycle, heat and cleanse water taken from the main pool - via a main sump and surface scum channels - to be strained, filtered and then sterilised in the plant room, which is sited to the south east of the lido and also housed the boiler for heating the pool. The water was aerated through the fountain, and mixed with heated water at a junction of pipes underneath it, before being returned to the main pool. The main pool was restored in 2006-7. 

The children’s pool was part of the original plans drawn up in August 1934, but it was not built until 1936. A small filter room was added in the late 1940s, when the filtration to the children’s pool was disconnected from the main system as it needed needed more regular recycling. New pipes for dirty and cleaned water were connected to the plant room. Hot water was still supplied from the plant room, but the children’s fountain was rendered redundant. It was replaced in 2001 with a play fountain when the pool was refurbished and the poolside was replaced with soft decking. The play area to its east was built in 1998.

Walkways and Landscaping

Around the pool is a bathers’ area bounded by a low stone wall, surmounted by a wide artificial stone coping, which separates it from a promenade for spectators. Similar walling bounds the raised sun decks to the north of the main pool, originally filled with shingle and replaced by concrete slabs in 1937. The concrete slabs were relaid to the original colouring and pattern in 2006/7, although for safety reasons the ‘crazy paving’ walkways that provided access to the east pavilions were not replicated and this same pattern of concrete slabs has been replicated in the outer walkways. The low ramp to allow wheelchair access into the site likewise replaced a step.

The relationship of the planting to the overall form and architecture is fundamental to the character and importance of Sandford Parks Lido. The informal planting, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, was intended to complement the traditional craft techniques employed in building the drystone walls and geometric plan of the whole site and its architecture. At the lido, this is enshrined in:

• Extensive lawns, including a small children’s play area, for relaxation and games.

• The gradation of shapes and colours provided by the perimeter planting, and the contribution of Lombardy poplar and trimmed yew hedges to the sculptural and architectural character of the site.

Main buildings

The exterior elevations of the lido buildings are generally plain, the principal exceptions being to the east entrance block, the café facing Sandford Park and to a lesser extent the rear block of the café facing the west hospital car park. The buildings are all built of brick, with white-painted roughcast walls (in ‘Snowcrete’) having tall brick plinths and dressings to the openings. These bricks, manufactured by the Stonehouse Brick Co., were given hand-made facings to enhance the crafted look. The roofs and the copings to the changing room walls are in plain Brosely tiles made by Messrs. George Legge and Son of Madeley, Shropshire. Most of the ‘Crittal’-type metal-framed windows remain; those to the front and rear of the central entrance/office block were replaced in uPVC in 1999.

The South Range is dominated at the centre by the taller entrance block, which retains its original 1930s Bailey turnstiles flanked by ticket booths. These are flanked by ticket offices to each side, the south ticket office now serving as the office for the lido. The south ticket booth is original, and has side-hung wooden casements set in an Art Deco surround, that to the south being a c.1980 replacement of the original. The interiors retain original panelled doors and moulded architraves. 

Visitors pass through the turnstiles into a vestibule area, and can then either pass through round arches into the main pool complex or turn into the changing areas and then into the pool via the footbaths placed outside each of the pavilion blocks at either end. The hatches to the original basket stores for the deposit and retrieval of clothes were blocked in the 1970s, after the original means for swimmers to walk around an outer passage to retrieve their clothes were replaced by the present system.The east wall of each of the changing rooms was rebuilt in 1979 when the present cubicles were installed. The basket stores were converted into heated changing rooms in 2002.

The North Range (Café and Terraces) was part of the original designs but not constructed until 1936. The whole of this range is prominent the moment any visitor walks through the lido, and the taller central café block is dominated by its hipped roof and arched entries and is flanked by open-fronted loggias with cast-iron railings. The main café space, originally subdivided between the cafe and kitchen area, was opened up c.1980 and retains 1930s coved ceiling cornicing, skirtings and Art Deco surrounds to doors and serving hatches. It also has an entrance onto Sandford Park.

Plant room and pump house

The plant room is built of brick, with a hipped tile roof and metal-framed windows. It retains its original compressors and filtration plant supplied by Bell Brothers of Manchester, major suppliers of filtration and chlorination plant for swimming pools, and pumps supplied by Worthington Simpson of Newark. These were fully refurbished at a cost of £35,000 in 2001. The coal-fired boiler was replaced with an oil-fired boiler in 1967, and then gas which provides he current means of heating the pool. The small filter house to the south-east of the children’s pool, built in the late 1940s, is consistent in architectural style with the main 1930s buildings around the lido.