The site of a popular lido had a chequered history since it closed. Reporter NATALIE GLANVILL finds out more...

Larkswood Lido, once described as “one of the finest in the country” by Chingford Urban District Council (CUDC) chairwoman M. L. Mathieson, lived up to this

reputation according to many with very fond memories.

Conceived as more than just a pool, it was a place where couples, youngsters and families in their droves would set up picnics on the grassy slopes and take a dip or a dive during the summer months.

At a cost to the public of £31,000, the open air pool in New Road, Chingford, was opened on July 28, 1936, by minister of health Sir Kinglsey Wood.

Its unique crucifix shape included a splash pool and footbath area, as well as competitive swimming and polo, water chutes and a diving pool  with 1m, 3m and 5m boards. 

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Aerial view of the cruciform lido in 1966 

As well as hosting numerous  bathing beauty competitions it was the location for the It’s a Knockout TV show and Colgate’s 1960s ‘Ring of Confidence’ toothpaste advertisement.

It is thought it still holds the record for the best-ever attendance record at a lido, with more than 290,400 visitors in the summer of 1959.

By April 1965, more than 3.8m people had visited the site, bringing in over £3m in today’s money.

The fondest childhood memories of 44-year-old Emily Leadbetter,  of Hall Gardens, Chingford, were spent at the lido.

"We used to get so excited whenever there was a sunny day as it meant one thing...Larkswood Lido," she said.

"A group of us would meet up, sometimes with a packed lunch but always with some music. Then we would pick our spot on the hill, put our towels down and that was it for the rest of the day.

"When we got too hot, we would brave the freezing cold showers which led to the even colder pool beyond. Those were carefree, happy days and I for one, really miss that place."

Historian Bill Bayliss first discovered Larkswood Lido in 1954, aged 16 and living in Islington.

"I had cycled to and swam at most of the north London open air pools. Up until then, my favourite swimming places were Hampstead and Finchley Lido. 

"This changed the moment that I found Larkswood.

"Of course the attraction wasn’t just the swimming. It was the girls.

"Unlike, the chlorine fumed public baths where you scuttled from the changing rooms into the water; the pool had a large cruciform shaped pool with a high diving board where you could demonstrate your aquatic prowess.

"Best of all, it was framed by grassy banks that on a hot summer’s day would be covered by girls sunbathing and posing for the boys.

"What I didn’t know then was that my future wife was almost certainly one of the girls sunbathing up on the grassy slopes."

The facilities outweighed anything close to what is available at today’s few remaining lidos with a laundry room, towel store, ‘tuck’ shop, 160 changing rooms and a grand pavilion-style cafe.

It was no wonder that by 1981, the pool was running at a loss and needed £75,000 from Waltham Forest council.

The pool closed in September 1987 and was replaced in August 1990 with the controversial FantaSeas – a futuristic indoor waterpark considered by residents to be "tacky, unsightly and expensive" as recalled by chairman of Chingford Historical Society, David Young. 

After a series of serious accidents, Fantaseas closed in January 1992 with debts of six million.

It briefly re-opened as The Hydropark but then laid derelict for a decade before opening as Larkshall Leisure Centre in 2002.

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Photo showing how incredibly busy the lido would get on a hot summer's day