PLANS ARE AFOOT  to close the Lido and replace it with an all-purpose
sports centre more in keeping with twenty-first century needs. The
Lido's history has been troubled in recent years but it is likely
to soldier on for another three years or so before being consigned
to a footnote in Matlock's history of tourism.
The Lido was considered such a major development that the official
opening in May 1938 was regarded as 'the most important day in the
history of Matlock as a health and pleasure resort,' reported a local
newspaper. Another newspaper also note it as 'an important development
- a fine example of the district council's enterprise and progressive
And indeed it was. Throughout the 1930 Matlock worked hard to flourish
as a tourist resort. The local economy and hundreds a jobs relied
on tourism, then an expanding industry, in part based on the local
hydros and more generally because of the introduction of holidays
But hydro facilities for the most part were closed to local people
and to day-trippers
who then, as now, were a key part of the tourist trade. (Interestingly
the New Bath Hotel at Matlock Bath allowed non-residents to use its
splendid thermal water swimming pool but the fees were too high for
most trippers, and the style of contemporary advertisements was less
than welcoming, as if in some way the hotel was nervous that it would
be letting the barbarians through the gates).
Something more had to be on offer than the Hall Leys Park and
boats on the river. The district council hit on the idea to build
not just a routine, run-of-the-mill swimming pool but an ultra-modern
lido with indoor and outdoor pools, terraces for sunbathing, diving
boards, slipper baths and a café and restaurant. Lidos
- prototype leisure centres - were proving hugely successful at
other resorts, and it was time for Matlock to take the plunge
- literally and figuratively.
Keep fit movement
Historically, lidos grew from the keep fit movement which swept across
much of western Europe from the mid-twenties and really came into
its own in the thirties. Originating in Germany, the emphasis was
on keeping fit through relentless exercise
including gymnastics, sun-bathing, fresh air and, the zenith of it
all, swimming. Eventually, the obsession with physical perfection
and strength took a sinister turn in Germany, but the basic philosophy
was widely embraced in a more relaxed manner elsewhere.
It coincided with dramatic new ideas in architecture, also from Germany.
The fussy, the intricate and the highly decorative were swept away
to make way for buildings using modern materials, lightweight steel,
concrete and glass. Combine this with the Hollywood style of art-deco
design, and scores of memorable and distinctive buildings burgeoned
especially lidos, cinemas, theatres and office blocks - many now vanished
or unsympathetically altered.
Matlock Lido embraced the new ideas, and was distinctly art-deco,
to a design by the Sheffield firm of Husband and Clark. Its location
was initially controversial because it involved the loss of a small
park, the Imperial Gardens, in the town centre. The council pressed
ahead, however, and at a cost of £12,000 the Lido opened on
Luxury and comfort
The official opening programme emphasised the luxury and comfort -
a constant water temperature of 72 degrees, a main pool - unusually
large -125 ft long and 50 ft wide, with a shallow end of 2ft 6ins
to a deep end of 9ft 6ins, and painted pale green to give the impression
of swimming in the sea. There was capacity for 500 bathers.
Optimistically, the Lido boasted extensive sun-bathing terraces ('beaches'
according to the opening programme) and spectators' seating. In the
evenings the entire building was floodlit for entertainments which
included keep-fit classes to music, swimming galas, fashion parades
and indoor and outdoor dances, including that quintessential 1930s
activity - crooning contests.
The three diving boards flanked by two fountains -'artistic cascades''
as they were described -were of significant art-deco interest. Even
the changing rooms, according to a contemporary press report, had
a 'gay appearance' and the decorations throughout were an attractive
blend of cream and pale green - a colour scheme incidentally which
remained for more than thirty years.
The indoor pool, too, was well regarded with large windows, a special
air conditioning plant and artificial lighting 'to make it as bright
The official opening ceremony was clearly a five-star event. Brigadier-General
G.M. Jackson of Clay Cross Hall opened the building and, in the style
of the times, there were several formal speeches from local dignitaries,
most of whom stressed how safe and healthy the Lido would be. This
was important because in the months before the opening there had been
alarming cases of contamination in some swimming pools especially
riverside lidos. It was claimed that water in the Matlock pool was
so pure it met drinking water standards.
The opening included a fashion parade displaying 'the full range of
1938 bathing modes', and a diving exhibition by the Scott Brothers,
North of England champions. Interestingly, press coverage reported
'a highly amusing turn by Mr. Remo Tinti which culminated in his immersion
in the pool'. (Older readers may recall the same Remo Tinti, by then
a highly respected local councillor, presenting and leading the community
singing for many years at Matlock Bath Illuminations)
High running costs
Perhaps, inevitably, the euphoria and goodwill did not last. Only
a couple of months later some councillors were in we-told-you-so mode
over the running costs. Although attendances were on target, the Lido
was losing money. Coun. J A Mills complained that no baths could stand
the wages being paid which totalled £8.7s.6d (£8.37p)
a week. The Council, he claimed, was throwing money into the streets.
To pay an attendant £2.10s (£2.50p) a week was a nonsense
when a youth could do the job for much less. That was a minority view,
and if the Lido cost a little on the rates, then that seemed all right
for most people.
The 1939-45 war brought an end to the, by then, ambitious range of
entertainments, but on re-opening business quickly picked up. Much
of the success in the 1950s resulted from the tireless enthusiasm
of the Lido's superintendent, Jack Soppitt, who took Matlock Swimming
Club to heights not scaled by clubs in much larger towns, and persuaded
generations of local schoolchildren that swimming really was enjoyable.
By the summer of 1960, the Lido was attracting around 3,500 people
on sunny Sundays and almost 50,000, not including school sessions,
for the entire season.
Perhaps inevitably, popularity declined as rival leisure facilities
opened in nearby towns: fashions altered and the Lido began to look
tired and feel rather dated. The somewhat spartan approach of earlier
generations to open-air swimming held little attraction. The cafe,
after a few years as a nightclub, was in difficulty and, far from
being a money spinner, was losing money.
In the 1970s the new owners, Derbyshire Dales District Council, decided
to roof over the outdoor swimming pool - a necessary move but, aesthetically,
a major blow to the building's art-deco pedigree involving the demolition
of the main diving board and the two water cascades. The cafe buildings
which also housed the main entrance were demolished to make way for
a Wilkinson's store. Since then major restoration work has been carried
out to the pool, the roof, the heating and purification systems -
all indicating the Lido was reaching the end of its useful life.
A new all-purpose sports and leisure centre is proposed to replace
both the Lido and Sherwood Hall, the former Matlock Drill Hall, which
at present is a far-from-ideal sports centre. The search for a site
is well under way, with four possible locations. One is the Lido site
but, if that were selected, then Matlock could be without swimming
facilities for up to two years from the Lido's demolition to the opening
of a new pool.
The Lido could struggle on for perhaps a further five years but the
hope is that three years will be a realistic target.
Although much altered, expensive to maintain, plagued by closures
for essential repairs and undeniably rather faded, the Lido remains
a popular attraction and, for older generations, nostalgically remembered
as an icon of times and events long gone. Will a new swimming baths
retain the Lido title? That depends on local opinion.
One thing is certain: a new leisure centre could cost between £6m
and £9m. The Lido's cost of £12,000, despite the high
maintenance of recent years, seems remarkably good value over seven