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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Lee Grimsditch

Huge outdoor Heaton Park swimming pool has been forgotten for decades

A long forgotten open air swimming pool has been found in overgrown woodland.

The remnants of the lost lido were discovered in a wooded area of Heaton Park by Carl Harris, 57. Carl, who works as a field manager for Sky UK, told the Manchester Evening News: "This goes back before lockdown. We just went for a walk in the woods - I knew of the lido but I didn't know exactly where it was.

"[We] kind of discovered it because the perimeter of the lido is huge, it's nearly 50 metres by 23 metres we measured - the size of an Olympic swimming pool, just about. But where it's located in the woods adjacent to the boating lake, people don't know it's there as it's so overgrown with 60-years of growth.

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"It was covered in Himalayan Balsam, which is a real invasive [plant] species in the UK and is taking over the park as well, this stuff grows seven-foot tall."

Carl along with his brother Ken - who is a keen researcher into Manchester's history - discovered the pool was built and open to the public in 1926 but closed in 1939. Open air swimming pools, or lidos, experienced a golden age in the UK in the 1920s and '30s, with 169 such pools built and maintained by local councils.

Later in the 20th century, the lidos started to close as foreign holidays became cheaper and the pools increasingly expensive to maintain. During its short life, Heaton Park's lido was a big attraction to the public, and was especially important to the White Heather camp, a project to give underprivileged local children a camping holiday experience they would never otherwise have.

Heaton Park open air swimming pool opened in 1926 (Courtesy of Ken Harris)

Through Carl's brother Ken's research into the lido, a newspaper clipping from the Manchester Evening News dated September 15, 1939, reported the pool - which had closed a decade earlier - would not be reopening.

It said the pool was "out of date and without facilities for purifying the water or frequently changing it." Also the concrete had become cracked - it was concluded it "would not be worthwhile repairing the pool."

Visitors splash about in Heaton Park's open air swimming pool (Courtesy of Ken Harris)

Since then, the pool has become filled and covered with years of woodland overgrowth, leaving little evidence that it ever existed at all. However, it's now slowly being uncovered by Carl, alongside his team of Sky UK engineers.

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"We have a thing we call Sky Cares which looks to give some help and support back into the community," he said. "We're given volunteer days which allows our engineers to get time off the tools and spend time doing things that help the community.

The swimming pool was used by kids from the White Heather camp (Courtesy of Ken Harris)

"I've always lived in and around the Whitefield and Prestwich area. And for a lot of our engineers, the ones that have helped with the work on the lido, they live around the Greater Manchester area and have grown up with Heaton Park."

He added: "We've been there three times now clearing all this growth, weeds, Himalayan Balsam, bramble, you name it - we've put in a lot of hours to clear it. On our latest visit we managed to expose the original entrance to the lido where, back in 1926 when it first opened, you had to go through a turnstile.

View into the lost lido, towards the payment turnstile where an old penny had to be paid to gain access to the pool (Carl Harris)

"The remnants of the turnstile in the ground we've uncovered. There's an ornate entrance path. The people back in the day then would pay a penny to go and have a swim.

"We've also uncovered all the foundations of the old changing room blocks and everything else, and it's just bringing it back to life now. Some of the old original pictures that are out there show the White Heather children sat on the side of the pool paddling away - we've uncovered all that edging."

Uncovered edge of the lost pool (Carl Harris)

Carl said for him and his brother Ken it was important that "history shouldn't be forgotten" and that they hoped to learn more about the site as they uncover it from the foliage.

The progress they have made so far, Carl said, couldn't have been possible without the help of Heaton Park's staff, particularly Steven Lister and Dave Clegg, who he said had "been absolutely brilliant".

So what's next for newly discovered lido? Carl told the M.E.N. that he had hopes the pool and surrounding area would eventually be re-used.

"When I first had this idea in my head I thought it's going to take a lot of manpower to get this exposed and open to the public for them to see.," he said.

"The long term plan, and I've sowed the seeds with the council, is that this area if it could be cleared and levelled would make an ideal place for an open-air theatre in the woods," Carl said. "Shows, picnic area, any sort of events that need to be away from the main hustle and bustle of the park.

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"The only thing is it's going to be damn expensive, because the pool side of it is just full of trees, broken rubbish, it's just been used as a dumping ground over the years. But that's my long term vision."

Carl Harris and his team of Sky UK engineers who have worked hard to uncover the lost lido in Heaton Park, Manchester. Carl Harris front row wearing red gloves (Carl Harris)

"I just want to raise people's awareness and I'm hoping by this story going out maybe we can get more people interested in it," Carl added. "I'd love for somebody to come along and say let's do a survey on it, free of charge, and see what it would cost. I would love for something like that to happen.

"I'm also working with the park about getting some signage put up as well, because if you don't know where it is, you potentially can walk straight past it. So hopefully a few signs and maybe and information board, possibly the photographs we've got already, just so people can visualise it and reflect on what it was."

What the council says

Regarding the invasive species which had been covering the lido, a spokesperson for Manchester Council said: "There is a presence of Himalayan Balsam within Heaton Park, and the Council has a management plan in place to stop the spread of this invasive species and to reduce the presence year on year."

Regarding the pool, they added: "There is no formal plan in place to bring this area of the park back into use. We are aware that the pool has significance to some visitors, and we will explore options alongside interested parties before agreeing a way forward."

Does this story awaken any memories for you? Let us know in the comments section below.

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