Built not long before the outbreak of the World War II, Maindee swimming pool is a bit of a grand old dame.
Starting life in 1938, scores of children had found their water wings under its roof.
Sitting between Victoria Avenue and Albert Avenue, the Art Deco design of the building stands out among the Edwardian houses around it.
With a fusion of generous curves and simple lines, the modernist influence of the early 20th century is clearly seen in the building, designed by Newport Borough architect C F Ward. This style was very much in vogue when the doors first opened on July 14, 1938. Its original flair maybe somewhat faded, but the style has certainly endured. Plans to open new swimming baths in Newport were first considered in 1933, and a number of site options were explored before Maindee was chosen.
With good access to and from the town centre and close to local shops, the site was ideal. After tenders were invited for the works in March 1937, Messers E C Jordan & Son are recorded as winning the building contract.
Many innovations have happened on the way from 1938 to the 21st century. While some of its features seem prosaic today, Maindee pool was an exciting addition to the Newport leisure scene. Modern electrical methods were exploited for lighting, with multi-coloured underwater lights installed for competitions and special events. Further ambiance was added with lighting in the main pool, which was focussed up towards the ceiling so its source was hidden.
Three diving stands, with the tallest at five meters, offered the more adventurous diver a challenge and some variety. The gala stands, which could seat an audience of 428 were reached from the Upper Hall, and were designed to give an uninterrupted view as spectators approached their seats. Watching the swimming, as well as doing it, was an important consideration. All this newness was a welcome novelty for local people to enjoy, remembers Mrs Ruth Jones, who regularly visited the pool as a child during the forties.
She said: “It was awe inspiring – as children we considered it to be very posh. “It was new and even had stained glass windows. With the lockers, balcony and high diving boards, it was very modern. I remember it as a very popular pool, as it knocked spots off the old one on Stow Hill.”
And visiting didn’t put too much strain on people’s pockets, Ruth recalls. “It was great for the working class, as it was very cheap!” Between the full-size and the smaller learning pool, or ponds as they were known, was the filtration plant. Although it might be hard to imagine any popular fascination with one today, it was purposely positioned there so swimmers could view it.
The idea behind this can be found in the original opening day brochure. “It is felt,” the programme explains, “that this feature will have a sound psychological value.”
Special attention was also given to the interior furnishings. Warm yellow-coloured cement was used for both inside and outside the building. Fashionable teak tiles were laid on the balcony floor, and the original caf furniture was finished in green leather and chrome. While single-sex changing rooms are the norm, the pool originally included segregated staff rooms for women and men. Time has also introduced other changes, such as the greatly increased use of cars. Although the pool could boast bicycle storage, car parking provision was more of a space-age twinkle in the eye. The doors of Maindee swimming baths were firmly closed on December 23, 2005 and the pool, which gave so much fun for thousands of swimmers has now been drained. But newport swimmers need not dispair as a new state-of-the-art pool has opened at Newport’s International Sports Village, close to the velodrome and athletics stadium at Spytty. A number of improvements have been made on the Maindee pool model, with a range of disabled facilities ensuring enjoyment for more people. A moveable floor is another feature, meaning that new activities like octopushy, which is like underwater hockey, can be played on a level bottom.
There are many benefits of the pool for the community, says Sports Village senior manager, Neil Sargeant. “There are eight lanes at the new pool, so Newport has gained more extra water space. Octopushy wasn’t possible at Maindee pool, as the bottom wasn’t flat. Now the new pool can be moved to two meters deep across. Some other programs will include synchronized swimming and water polo”.
As a free daytime bus service operating from the centre to the site, he is positive that Maindee locals won’t be put off travelling a little further. With the pool drained and the doors locked, Maindee swimming pool is now awaiting its future, only offering nostalgia to passers-by.
Gala weekend for pool opening
The people of Newport got their first chance to make a big splash at the new £5m swimming pool after it was officially opened at a special ceremony attended by guests including the mayor of Newport, Councillor Ken Critchley, the chair of the Sports Council for Wales, Philip Carling and the leader of the council, Councillor Bob Bright.
A host of Newport school children were also present, and making the first splashes in the South East Wales Regional Swimming Pool, as it is officially known. The official opening was followed by an aquatic festival which showcased the range of water-based activities the new pool can offer. Councillor Ron Jones, cabinet member for culture and recreation, said: “Newport has a proud history of providing people with high quality swimming facilities and this excellent new pool certainly continues this tradition. “I would urge as many people as possible to take advantage of the outstanding family leisure facilities available at the Newport International Sports Village.” The new pool has been funded by Newport City Council and the Sports Council for Wales, which has contributed £1.5m of Lottery funding towards the scheme. The chair of the Sports Council for Wales, Philip Carling has high hopes for the Newport development. He said: “The impact that Lottery funding has on the development of sport and physical activity in Wales goes far beyond the simple allocation of grants for capital facilities such as this impressive new pool in Newport. “We have been delighted to work in partnership with Newport City Council and congratulate them on providing this facility. We must continue to work together to maximise the benefits that it has to offer the people of south east Wales as we work towards the creation of a healthier nation.” The gala event included synchronised swimming, scuba, octo-push (underwater hockey), as well as competitive swimming.