They took the plunge: Saddleworth’s history of open water swimming

THE Independent’s exclusive story in our January 2021 paper revealing the aims of outdoor swimming enthusiasts Katy Boulton and Erica Ryan to open Saddleworth’s first lido in more than 85 years drew plenty of reaction.

It prompted Saddleworth Museum curator Peter Fox to write this piece on Saddleworth’s history of ‘opening swimming’.

Peter writes: “The scheme to promote an outdoor bathing area is an interesting one but outdoor bathing in Saddleworth is nothing new.

Grotton Lido by Kenneth Leech
Henry Taylor at Walk Mill Dobcross

“In the 1890s, various events were held to raise funds for a public baths in the area. These included a number of swimming galas held in the local mill dams; a good example being in August 1892 at Bentfield Mill, Greenfield.

“In Greenfield, there was also ‘Jabez Baths’ at Chew Brook. It was nicknamed after one gentleman – Jabez Sykes – who regularly bathed in the flowing waters. The location is now long gone under the waters of Dovestone Reservoir.

“In the 1920s, a number of swimming galas were held in Platt Lane Dam which served Walk Mill, Dobcross.

Swimming gala Walk Mill Dam platform diving

“One event in 1921 included Henry Taylor, the then long-distance swimming champion of the world, his brother, William Taylor, Charles Lees, a north of England polo team and a number of ladies, including Miss Howcroft who swam Morecombe Bay in 3 hours 37 minutes.

“In 1922, another gala held at Platt Lane witnessed Henry in training for his attempt to swim the Channel.

“A description at the time noted: ‘He will enter the water with the first of the swimmers and will remain swimming until the end of the gala, which will occupy from two to three hours’.

Jabez Baths

“Henry’s record of three gold medals at the 1908 Olympic Games in London was the most by any Briton for 100 years until it was equalled by cyclist Sir Chris Hoy at Beijing in 2008.

“He was landlord for a time during the 1920’s of the now demolished Nudger inn in Dobcross but died practically penniless in February 1951.

“In May 1935, the opening of a Lido in Grotton was a new facility. It was built on the site of the former Brookside Mill and replaced the mill dam.

“It was acclaimed at the opening that ‘not even the pool at Grosvenor House, London could better it’.

“The water used was filtered, chlorinated, sterilised and heated – the latter a necessity in the local climate.

Gala Walk Mill Dam, Dobcross

“The lido boasted changing facilities and a water slide and if you weren’t swimming crowds could watch from the tiered seating.

“A bandstand also provided a place for the White Start Dance Band on Tuesday and Saturday evenings.

“The lido had a relatively short life not always attracting the number of visitors it was designed for, especially with the local weather.

“Just four years after opening war was declared prompting a general demise of the site. The whole area that the lido occupied is now covered with housing and shops.”

One Reply to “They took the plunge: Saddleworth’s history of open water swimming”

  1. There’s a reason open water swimming sank without a trace for the last 80 years in the area — IT’S FREEZING!!! Get a grip folks!

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