Health Hydro, Swindon

What an amazing thing the Swindon Health Hydro is. And it’s a hidden gem: passing it on Faringdon Road you get no sense that the building is open, and it looks more like a railway works than a swimming baths.

Photo: Health Hydro, Swindon

Photo: Health Hydro, Swindon.

The main entrance to the swimming pool was on this front, sheltered by an iron and glass canopy which is thought to have been removed sometime in WW2. It’s all in red brick, in a stripped down Queen Anne style, and was designed by local architect JJ Smith, and opened in 1891. It’s an enormous complex: not just two swimming baths, there were washing and Turkish baths, a dispensary, all sorts of other medical facilities (mainly surgical) including dentistry and at one time even a hairdressing salon! It was one of the most modern facilities of its time, pre-dating integrated health centres.

And all was paid for by the workers of the Great Western Railway through their Medical Friendly Society. Compulsory deductions were made from their wages, but in return they were well looked-after. It was like the NHS on a mini-scale so no wonder it was taken over by the NHS after the war. It is now run by Swindon Borough Council and still provides a number of facilities in addition to the two pools, both of which still survive.

Most remarkably, the large pool is still its full 33 metres in length, meaning that I approached the task of swimming here with some trepidation: in total I was meant to swim 3861m. In the end I was so taken with the pool I did 120 lengths, a total of 3960m : a little under two and a half miles!

The pool and changing rooms were modernised in 1963, and again in the 1980s. But the 1963 modernisation was done with some quality materials: there are nice granolithic cubicles in the changing rooms, and the poolside walls were lined with granolithic when the poolside changing cubicles were removed. It’s pleasingly solid.

Perhaps the pool gets busy outside of school holidays. I was there from 3 to 6 on an August Wednesday afternoon, but it was rather quiet! I can’t help thinking that improving the Faringdon Road front, replacing the railings which were removed in the war, would make everyone notice it a lot more, and perhaps come in for a dip!

Opened 1891. 117 lengths swum on 27 August 2008.


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