Monday, February 15, 2010

How Market Harborough got a new swimming pool

If you visit Market Harborough's leisure centre, whether to use the gym, hear Spencer Davis or have a swim, you may be disconcerted by an inscribed block that stands outside it. Although the centre is clearly a recent building (in fact it dates from 1991), that inscription reads:

MARKET HARBOROUGH
URBAN DISTRICT COUNCIL
THESE PUBLIC BATHS
WERE OPENED BY
J.W. LOGAN ESQ. M.P.
OCTOBER 1ST. 1896

The explanation is that the block came from the town's original swimming baths, which stood in the Northampton Road. The site is now occupied by a block of retirement flats called Marshall Court.

Mr Logan is, of course, one of the heroes of this blog. The history page on the Market Harborough Swimming Club site records that he donated £1000 towards the cost of those original baths.

It adds, a little churlishly: "no doubt set against his Parliamentary expenses". But that is nonsense, because MPs were not paid a salary until 1911 and Logan was one of many MPs who used their personal wealth to provide facilities in their constituencies. In his case this was, of course, an expression of his Liberal philanthropy and by no means an attempt to buy votes.

I learned to swim in these original baths at evening classes in the 1970s. On the way home I had a spring roll and chips from Frank Taylor's chippy (a shop now occupied by Duncan Murray Wines) and the air was prickly with the smell of soup powder from Symington's factory - probably from the modern block, also in Northampton Road, which has since been demolished.

By the time I was elected to the council in 1986, the baths were even more shabby. But the swimming club were not fools. Because they invited me, as a new councillor, to present the prizes at their junior swimming gala. If I remember rightly, this event took place the day after the close of the Liberal Assembly in Eastbourne, so I had been up selling Liberator songbooks until the small hours of that morning.

It turned out that, though there were a lot of races, the club did not have many members. The result was that the same damp and increasingly tired children came up each time to collect their prizes.

As guest of honour, I was given a seat by the side of the pool. The trouble was that the surround was not that wide, so I was sitting very near the edge. This did not matter when a backstroke or breaststroke race went past, but when it was the butterfly of the crawl I was soaked by the spray. And I had put a suit and tie on for the event.

By the end of the gala I was very open to the club's argument that the club and the town needed a new pool. In fact I later seconded the motion that got it built.

But seriously folks, the town's Liberals had long backed a new leisure centre, and doing the deals (special expenses for the town, a fund for leisure provision in the other parts of the district) that made this possible is one of the things I am most proud of from my time as a councillor.

I also remember that I rang up the officers to suggest we should save the dedication stone from the old baths and set it up outside the new leisure centre, but I think they had already had that idea themselves.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

My Father used to swim there in the thirties when the entrance fee reduced as the week progressed and the water got more filthy.

DC said...

Can that be true? I remember it being said of the (still just-about-open) Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham that the original difference between the first-class and second-class swimming baths was not so much the decor but more the fact that the water from the former was decanted into the latter after one week's use!