March 4, 2023 7.00 am This story is over 8 months old

Boultham Baths memories: Freezing cold water, long queues, but lots of fun

Boultham Baths was renowned throughout Lincoln and Lincolnshire

The “freezing cold” water and long queues are remembered by many, but Lincoln’s Boultham Baths still hold a lot of fond memories.

Boultham Baths opened in on May 13, 1914 with four separate pools, and a further two used as a paddling pool and sand pit. A purpose-built bath was said to have been constructed to the south in 1938 and upgraded in the 1950s.

It was believed to have been originally built as part of the first water supply operation established in 1846 by Lincoln Waterworks Company.

The Works became redundant after the new supply from Elkesley began in 1911 and the tiled storage tank/filter beds were converted to public swimming baths.

The baths closed in 1978 and was left abandoned for many years, and the site is now used as a care home, Altham Court.

Tony Askew hanging from the diving board with his sister and friends watching amused. | Photo: Tony Askew

‘Great days, great memories’

Tony Askew said that from the late 1950s through the mid 60s him and his friends would “nearly live there”, describing it as a “great meeting place early to mid teens, enjoying ourselves, meeting mates and girls”.

He said: “We all enjoyed swimming, but fun was also key. We also took part in school swimming sports, both competing and cheering on our school.

“Friends would bike from the north of the city to enjoy it, just echoing how much the place was loved. Great days, great memories.”

Tony Askew (right), with his friends Richard Bird (left) and Peter Peter Hawcroft (centre). | Photo: Tony Askew

A programme of the event. | Photo: Tony Askew

Race for the changing rooms and ‘Popeye’ the lifeguard

Steve Ashforth said: “It’s a place me and the ‘gang’ frequented regularly, on sunny warm days and also on dull and not so warm days.

“On a warm sunny day, the small wall along the river would be full of kids, young and old, stretching for what looked like miles waiting to get in to the baths.

“I remember times when the sky was stormy black, the water felt warmer than the ambient air. It was a ‘race’ to get from the changing rooms to the pool and an even quicker race to get back to the changing rooms afterwards.

“When I had the money, 6d I think, I and the others would enjoy a cup of tomato soup, or bovril to warm the cockles. It never seemed to work and the shivers kept coming.”

People waiting to go in Boultham Baths. | Photo: Marion Clawson Staines

He also recalled a lifeguard known as ‘Popeye’ who he remembers wearing a maroon tracksuit. He added: “If we strayed too far up the pool, Popeye would shout out his warning and brandish his long handled net, usually used for skimming off stray leaves and occasionally other less benign objects.

“I also used to see him cycling up and down the High Street. He’d always wave and say hello, or stop for a chat.”

‘Idyllic happy childhood memories’

Helen Bagley described the “incredible feeling of euphoria that my granddad was picking us up and we were spending the day at Boultham Baths” as she recalled her “idyllic happy childhood memories”.

She said: “The excitement of standing in the queue to the turnstiles, the smell of the water in the air, the shrieks of excited children, the highest diving boards in history (it seemed as a small child), and huge envy at those children who had black rubber inflated rings to play on.”

Helen added “the water always seemed frothy and white against the blue paint and tiles” and about enjoying “endless time playing in the fountain”.

People have great memories of being sat on top of the fountain. | Photo: Dave Turner

Freezing cold water

Frances Buckle said: “Like others I remember how cold the water was! Also, they used to sell mugs of a beef OXO cube dissolved in boiling water – we needed a hot drink.

“The boys were a real pain bombing in the pool and spoiling it for us girls who wanted to have a gentle, elegant swim.”

Janet Barrett recalled the long queue and looking at the temperature of the water at the entrance, and said: “The water was always cold, with dead flies etc floating. I went so many times with friends, but I still can’t swim!”

Mike Keal said: “Sunday afternoons after dinner at my nan’s house in Moorland Avenue. I was too young or too chicken to tackle the fountain, although I’m sure I tried it once and lived to tell the tale.

“I remember the changing rooms with the wire hangers and the attendant at the window. The water was freezing but nobody cared. That shade of pale blue has been a lifelong favourite colour.”

Sitting on the tiered wooden seats at Boultham Baths. | Photo: Dave Turner

Ann Wilkinson said: “I remember the first time I ever went, my dad took me. Oh boy, I saw the slide at the shallow end. That was it, off I ran with my dad’s voice not to do it ringing in my ears.

“Too late, up the steps and down the slide to the bottom of the pool. Luckily by that time my dad had got there and lifted me up. What a plonker I was. Mind you, I was only about six at the time and you don’t see danger usually at that age. I still can’t swim.”

Boultham Baths under construction on the old waterworks site. | Photo: Dave Turner

Not everyone remembered it as fondly though.

John Bennett said: “My memories of Boultham Baths aren’t so rose tinted. I’ll admit straight away that I’ve never been a keen swimming, I’d much rather have kicked a football, or hit a cricket ball, round the West Common than freeze my proverbials off at Boultham Baths.

“The queues and tales of freezing cold water full of dead flies and assorted rubbish put me off.

“I think the Baths are a classic case of ‘things were all so much better in my day’ with memories skewed to make everything seem great, when they were far from it.”

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