SMALLTHORNE BATHS

By Mervyn Edwards (For The Sentinel’s The Way We Were, February 4, 2016)

Few people today can remember when Potteries folk pulled on their swimming costumes and trunks and plunged, shrieking joyously, into the water at Smallthorne.
 Except we’re not talking about any local canal, but a brand new swimming pool that brought a touch of Blackpool to the city.
 Plans for a new open air baths at the top of Moorland Road were announced in The Sentinel in 1935, only weeks after a similar pool had been launched at Trentham Gardens.
 Opened by the directors of Sneyd Colliery, Burslem, the pool was to have a duel purpose, also being a reserve supply of water for the pit.
 Representatives from the colliery inspected other first-class pools around the country, including one open-air bath at Wembley, as preparation for their venture on Smallthorne Bank.
 The bath opened on Whit Monday, June 6th, 1938 and was the largest in the Midlands, measuring 220 feet long by 92 feet wide, being able to accommodate 1,200 swimmers.
 It incorporated two diving stages, two water chutes and a brace of paddling pools for children. A twelve feet high glass screen protected bathers from cold winds and there was terraced seating for up to 5,000 spectators.
 There was parking for 44 cars, and admission to the baths was 6d for adults and 4d for children.
 At night, it was illuminated by overhead and underwater floodlighting – a venture that clearly impressed Smallthorne-born Arthur Berry, who later recalled the baths in his book, A Three and Sevenpence Halfpenny Man. Berry described how he and family members joined the long queues on the opening day, bunting fluttering and ice cream carts doing a roaring trade.
 “Although we had seen pictures of the pool in the paper,” wrote Arthur, “none of us had any clear idea what it was going to be like, and when we got through the turnstiles we stood amazed.
 “It was like being at the seaside.  The pool looked enormous.  The diving boards were high in the sky.  Everything was more than we could have imagined.
 “The windows were round like portholes.  There was a brass band, then ribbon cutting by the Mayor, and the pool was officially opened.
 “After that, there seemed thousands swimming and splashing in the water.  I sat up on some seats watching.  I had never seen so many people nearly naked.”
 This high-spirited activity took place in the shadow of the louring Sneyd Colliery tip, down which the company’s wagons continually dumped loads of spoil.
 Sadly, it wasn’t long before other shadows fell.  
With the outbreak of World War II, the baths was closed, later being stocked with fish.  They came to be poached and the pool vandalised.
Later in 1939, the pool was taken over by the National Fire Service for an emergency water supply.
 For all the visits made by the directors to other baths, they had failed in one aspect of their preparation, not paying sufficient attention
to the threat of coal mining subsidence.
 If we look at the 1878 Ordnance Survey map, we see an old ironstone shaft on the area later occupied by the baths, showing the unpromising nature of the site.  Other old shafts are indicated on the 1924 map.
 During the War, subsidence from the High Lane fault as well as ongoing coalmining operations created severe cracks in the pool and loss of water.
 There was a brief flirtation with the idea of bringing the “untidy and derelict” baths back into operation in 1960 but it was ultimately
decided that to do so would be wasting money.
 Smallthorne’s exciting venture was dead in the water.






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