The St Leonards Bathing Pool, designed and built by Sid Little, was opened in May 1933. The pool space measured 100m by 27m with a 10m high diving board. Unsurprisingly, given the architect, the bathing pool was an entirely concrete structure and cost approximately £3.5m in today’s money to build. Upon opening it was very popular with residents and visitors, hosting galas and beauty pageants, like this one in 1936. It was an impressive structure, as can be seen in the aerial shot below. Despite the initial popularity, it was a loss making facility after the first year of opening.
The site and surrounding area was used as a holiday camp from 1960, but a gradual decline in use led to the St Leonards bathing pool being closed in 1986. It was eventually demolished in 1992, with parts of it being used to beef up the sea defences.
It is no doubt a great shame that this facility and iconic building has been lost to the town. However some consideration is needed as to why the structure was lost. The main issue was probably the running costs. A modern swimming pool is expensive to run, and many operate at an annual loss. These running costs can be mitigated where the pool is part of a larger facility, but there was little scope for that at the bathing pool.
The numbers of people visiting the pool would have declined over the years. The closure of West Marina train station (which can also be seen in the above photo) in 1967 would have has a significant impact. The increasingly affordable flights to hotter countries changed tourism habits, impacting the revenue coming into the town as a whole. Already continually loss making, any decline would have made the pool unsustainable in the long term. I doubt the council could have made any other decision.
Did they have to demolish the whole structure though? What else could have been done with the site? There was a rumour that a new Shipwreck Heritage museum could be built there, including a Mary Rose style display of the recovered remains of the Amsterdam. And of course there is the West Marina Lido, for which planning permission was granted in 2012, but that development has gone very quiet…
The two photos used to create the first image are below. The two black and white images were obtained from the East Sussex Libraries Service photo archive.