Celebrating 100 years of Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge
It is one of the few remaining examples of the lidos that were built across the country in the 1920s and 30s and, at 91m long, one of the longest outdoor pools in the country, write Adrian Peel and Paul Brackley.
Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge has been diving into its 100th anniversary celebrations with a busy programme of events that will culminate in a family fun day on August 28 – the date it was opened in 1923.
But when naturally warmer, more comfortable swimming opportunities exist at the city’s leisure facilities, what is it about the lido that gives it enduring appeal?
Tim Bick, a city councillor and regular user of the lido, said: “I joined the community of Lido swimmers during the pandemic and discovered that the Lido experience speaks to people’s wellbeing in many different ways. For me, those long, long lengths are for reflection: the time afterwards in the sauna, for camaraderie.
“I feel it’s a true gem in the heart of our city, which many people have yet to discover – and they don’t need to be especially hardy or strong swimmers. I became one of the voices raised to open the Lido through the winter – having discovered how exhilarating it is to experience cold water even in the coldest months. That has been a great success. What better time for others to try it than the start of its second hundred years?”
Just 14m wide, with a depth of 1.2m (3.9ft) at either end and a maximum depth of 2.5m (8.2ft) in the centre – the only section where diving is allowed – the pool’s unusually long, thin design was created with the nearby River Cam in mind.
Julie Durrant, recreation officer at Cambridge City Council, said: “It mimics the river – that’s why it was built 100 years ago. People were swimming in the river and they wanted somewhere safer for them to swim, hence why they built Jesus Green.”
There have been some failed attempts to close the pool, but it has survived – and undergone a number of key changes.
In 1956, it was converted from being fed with river water to mains. Originally, water was extracted by gravity from above the weir and discharged into the lower river but it now has a closed pumped system.
In the late 1980s, The Friends of Jesus Green Lido group was formed in the late 1980s to help secure the pool’s future.
Then a major upgrade came in 1997, when new shower and toilet facilities were added – not without some controversy over its architecture and issues with the plumbing.
Many original features have been retained, however, although the diving boards and cafe shared with Jesus Green have been removed.
Marking the anniversary, swimmers cannot have failed to notice the new black and gold sign, designed and painted by Carlie Allan of Buck & Bear, Newmarket. Meanwhile, a trio of penguins, created and installed by the Cambridge Yarn Collective, have appeared poolside, complete with swimming costumes, hats and goggles. Visually, the anniversary has also been marked with a series of lamp post banners designed by Anglia Ruskin University’s first-year BA illustration students as part of a project organised by the Friends of Jesus Green Lido. The artwork will be on display until December at the pool and along Victoria Avenue.
Other commemorations have come in the form of Nothing Great is Ever Easy, a one-man play, staged in June and again on Saturday (August 12) by Chris Hudson about Captain Webb, the first person to swim the Channel, a summer soiree, with hundreds of tickets sold. A swimming masterclass was given by former Olympic swimmer Cassie Patten amd a fitness day and a ‘dusk to dawn’ swim on June 24. An Enchanted Cinema event, showing Jaws, was also held at the pool last Wednesday (August 9).
Julie said: “We’ve had lots of activities going on. The one left now is on August 28, which is the 100-year anniversary of the day it was opened.
“It’s going to be a family fun day with a range of children’s activities as well as music and a barbecue. The mayor is going to visit and we’re going to have a cake sale, a baking competition and hopefully some inflatables in the water if the weather’s nice.”
And there is plenty to celebrate, as Julie says the lido is now more popular than ever.
“Since the pandemic, one of the first things to be re-introduced was outdoor swimming,” said Julie, “so we opened Jesus Green earlier than we normally would have, and then kept it open. People really enjoyed it so we’ve kept our membership numbers quite high.”
This is the second year that it will open all year round, following a consultation, instead of closing at the end of the summer. Swimmers can enjoy a swim in the fresh air from 7am to 7pm every day until the end of September, with revised hours in October and then from November 1 it will open for several morning and evening sessions each week for those who don’t let the cooler air put them off their outdoor swim.
Heated only by solar gain, the top water temperature reached at the pool this year has been 23.8C on June 28. In July, temperatures were typically between 20 and 22C, but at some point in November you can expect the temperature to drop below 10C. On December 18 last year, it dropped as low as 1C, although it was back up to a positively balmy 6C by the end of the year…
And in case you’re wondering, the largest freshwater lido is Tooting Bec Lido in London, which is the same length as Jesus Green Lido, but is 30m wide.
Visit jesusgreenlido.org to book your swim.