Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The diving board at Coate Water

Richard Jefferies, who his best remembered as a nature essayist but, almost in passing, invented post-apocalyptic science fiction (in After London) and the children's holiday adventure (in Bevis), was the subject (or victim) of my Masters dissertation.

His birthplace near Swindon now houses a museum devoted to his life and works. New readers should start with this guest post on Jefferies and Coate by Rebecca Welshman.

The museum stands next to Coate Water, a reservoir constructed in 1822 to provide water for the Wilts & Berks Canal. In Bevis it features as a boyhood paradise and in After London is transformed into a vast inland sea.

When the canal closed in 1914 Coate Water was turned into a park to serve the town of Swindon. Memory Lane at Coate Water describes its use in the 20th century:
Visitors to the park were charged an entrance fee and a variety of small wooden buildings around the lake provided boating and changing facilities. A wooden diving platform was built in 1921 and there was wooden staging separating the swimming and diving areas of the lake. Later a full size swimming pool and a children's paddling pool were added although today the swimming pool has been filled in and changed to a children's paddling pool and the original paddling pool has been filled with sand and turned into a play area for children. 
By 1935, the 'Art Deco' Diving board provided a nationally renowned platform for diving competitions and the lake was also regularly used for regattas and water polo. 
Although swimming in the lake was stopped due to public health and safety concerns in 1958, the diving board can still be seen today and has become a local landmark associated with the park and its history.
The diving board, occupied by the lake's more daring waterfowl, is indeed the landmark that most strikes visitors to Coate today. The video above describes Sophie Hart's ambitions to see it preserved.

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