jubilee swimming pool
jubilee swimming pool

History of the pool

Grand opening

In May 1937 Jubilee Pool opened with a day of celebrations including a diving show, children’s swimming and an exhibition of ‘scientific swimming’. Bristol was rightly proud of the latest addition to its public baths. Numbering fourteen, it was reaching its goal to have a pool within one mile of every Bristolian. And Jubilee Road was the perfect spot – the pool would serve the 40,000 people who populated Knowle and Brislington at the time.

Design of the pool

The urban architects and designers in the 1930s had a vision of a utopian world where every citizen could live well in semi-detached homes with gardens big enough to feed the family, inside bathrooms and modern kitchens. CFW Dening, the architect of Jubilee pool, was at the forefront of this movement.

He designed pools, churches, hospitals, zoo enclosures, and even the estates people were leaving the slums for. Shirehampton, Sea Mills, Horfield and Knowle West were designed on his ‘garden city’ style of wide, tree lined avenues, crescent shaped streets and leisure facilities within easy reach.

The background

The Government at the time wanted a ‘Fitter Britain’ and ‘for every child to learn how to swim and to know the principles of life saving… especially in Bristol – a city intersected by water-ways’. They also stated they wanted the population to ‘keep their bodies fit and so enable them to work better and gain more enjoyment from their leisure’.

After the fanfare of opening day, Jubilee Pool was in business, serving people from all over South-East Bristol. Thousands of children learnt to swim and had fun, and thousands of adults stayed healthy and kept their community spirit going, during the dark years of war and the dreary rationing decades which followed.

Neo-classical & Art Deco style

The pool remained virtually unchanged. The design is incredibly functional, whilst being an excellent example of the neo-classical ‘moderne’ art-deco style which Dening favoured, inspired by his travels in Italy, and honed during his years working in Bristol with other architects who were prominent in the Arts and Crafts movement. The building quickly became a local landmark, situated high on the hill, next to the equally impressive water tower.

The 60s, 70s and 80s

Jubilee moved with the times and a removeable rigid floor to cover the water turned the baths into a roller disco. 

The sixties arrived, bringing with it teenagers and courting couples, who used the pool as a place to meet up with friends, go on dates and hang about in swimwear. No petting mind! 

The pool was also ahead of its time with renewable energy – in 1977 an early form of solar panel was added to the roof, with what looks like water heating pipes feeding from them.

The seventies, eighties and nineties bring with them endless tales of school lessons along with terrifying teachers throwing kids in the deep-end and fearsome receptionists who guarded the locker keys like a dragon’s treasure, making shivering wet children call out for them from the changing room doors.

Locals remember the four diving boards and amazing galas and shows, and the feeling of pride when getting your badges and certificates. Vending machine soup and rainbow drops as a treat afterwards.

Recent times

When people think about Jubilee now, they think of floats and fun sessions on Saturdays and birthday parties with giant inflatables. They think of early morning lane swims to get your day started the right way, and the amazing sunrises and sunsets you can see through the beautiful curved windows as you backstroke.

Accessible swimming, coachloads of kids embarking every day to learn with their schools, moonlight swims, hilarity with friends while getting healthier at aquafit, even naked swimming with the naturist club. Jubilee still has the same spirit it was built with all those years ago, when visionaries designed our cities and the people in charge dreamed of a better life for our citizens.

Article written by Meg Spanton