by Janet Smith
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 29th May 2009The subtitle of "Liquid Assets" is "The lidos and open air swimming pools of Britain" and it's a celebration of the boom in outdoor pools that were built in the first half of the 20th century, their decline from the 60s onwards, and the quiet renaissance that started in the mid-1990s.
As explained in the book, the word "lido" is derived from the name of an island near Venice where people would go to relax - if it were pronounced in the Italian way then it would be "lee-doe", however it seems that most people in Britain pronounce it as "lie-doe". The word gained prominence in the 1930s and seems generally to have been applied to outdoor swimming pools which also incorporated cafés and areas for spectators. The pools themselves were built in many cases by public authorities either somewhat altruistically to provide facilities for local people, and in others by tourist centres wishing to attract more people. In their heyday they could attract thousands of visitors every week.
The decline of the lidos coincided with the advent of cheaper foreign holidays and the ever-rising costs of maintaining and running facilities which suffered from falling attendances alongside increased burdens of repair work and health and safety requirements. Many were closed and a large number were demolished, so only a fraction survive today and - in spite of a renewed enthusiasm by users - many remain under constant and considerable financial pressure. It's clear from the case studies that the story is not finished yet.
This is a great book and one of the major joys is seeing so many evocative pictures of different lidos both from the past and the present - it made me want to dive in! At the same time it seems a little sad that many of the most spectacular no longer exist, and the book features an extensive list in the appendix of defunct lidos. On the plus side there is also a list of those that are still open, and signs of hope for the future. Viva la lido!
See www.lidos.org.uk/ for a great online resource about UK lidos.