The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Building of the month

February 2006 - Broomhill Open Air Pool, Ipswich

Text by Sally Wainman, Secretary of the Broomhill Pool Trust
Pictures courtesy of Jo Edwards (Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects), the East Anglian Daily Times and Paul Beaumont

Broomhill Pool was opened to the public on April 30th 1938 with special souvenir programmes selling for 3d. The Mayor of Ipswich, George Underwood Esq, read a four minute speech and shortly afterwards the very first swimming races took place: Ipswich vs. Leamington, followed by a display of diving by the Lucratics and a water polo match.

This pool is of a type commonly known as a lido, but in the original literature it is referred to simply as a bathing pool. Situated on the northwest side of Ipswich, Broomhill was built partly to match its counterpart on the eastern side of town: Piper’s Vale Swimming Pool, which had opened the previous year, on June 12th 1937.

No effort was spared to make this a pool to be proud of and early black and white photos show a bathing facility of stunning beauty. The main pool was 165′ x 60′ (just over 50m long) and therefore frequently referred to as ‘Olympic’ in size. The depth varied from 3′ to 7’6″, with a wonderful 15′ diving pit: (the pool floor was reinforced underneath with concrete to withstand the upward water pressure). For water polo a minimum depth of 6′ was provided along a 90′ stretch.

The smaller inhabitants of Ipswich had a 60′ wide and 37.5′ long children’s pool with a uniform depth of 2’9″ and the total capacity for both pools was 464,000 gallons. The souvenir programme gave painstaking engineering details: for example, how the walls were cantilevered to resist both earth and water pressure; how a special surround of 2″ ‘foothold’ red and grey paving slabs in draught board pattern were laid to give a special non-slip surface; and the exact thickness of the concrete at all points.

Everything about the pool was on a generous and spacious scale. The spectators’ grandstand on the right of the pool had space for 700 people on five tiers of seating, 70 ladies’ changing cubicles were housed beneath this, whilst men had 108 cubicles on the left hand side of the pool (above ground), and 619 ‘baskets’ could be housed in the basket room. Sunbathing terraces ran along the whole length on this left hand side and a small buffet at the far end of the pool completed the happiness of swimmers and spectators alike. For divers there was a steel-framed diving stage with 5,4,3,and 2-meter boards and a separate 1-meter springboard and, astonishingly, these have survived to this day.

The pool was originally both floodlit and heated, and the filtration plant was considered to be one of the best in the country, capable of dealing with 155,000 gallons an hour. This meant an average turnover of three hours to provide water that would be ‘above suspicion’!

For sixty years this pool was part of the fabric of Ipswich, but in 1998 the borough council considered its future and opted for only a five-year plan. Realising the danger of losing this pool and many others, the Twentieth Century Society were instrumental in getting it listed in 2001. This timely act has enabled campaigners to wage a concerted battle for the pool’s long-term future and for the next nine months Broomhill Pool will be the focus of a full-scale feasibility study. Grateful thanks go to the Twentieth Century Society for their part in saving this pool from demolition: although closed for three years now, there is still hope for its future.

To learn more go to or read Janet Smith’s Liquid Assets: the best of British lidos (with a foreword by Tracey Emin and published by English Heritage). ‘Reviving Lidos: the future of Britain’s lidos and open-air swimming pools’, a one day conference focusing on funding, conservation, design and campaigning issues will be held on 16th March 2006 at The Gallery, 77 Cowcross St, London EC1. For further information please contact Jackie Spreckley at Malavan Media on 020 7794 5509 or e-mail

March 2016: Anthony W Johns, who first brought the plight of Broomhill Pool to our attention (, has advised that the pool is expected to be open to the public again in 2018.

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