Swimming was part of the first modern Olympic games in 1896 in Athens
In earlier days any swimming undertaken in the area was in the river, but Victorian moral sensibilities were apt to be offended and public opinion turned toward the construction of swimming baths. In 1891 a floating swimming bath in the river at Hampton was proposed, but progress was slow and in 1900 the Thames Conservancy refused to grant a UDC application for a lease on part of the river.
By 1914 several sites had been rejected, and when a corner of Bushy Park was finally approved World War 1 intervened, delaying opening of the baths until 1922.
There was greater initial success in Twickenham. Events in the 1890s were recalled: “Twickenham Council had a beautiful bathing place made by the river down there at the top of Mereway Road - put a man in charge and built the sheds there and hundreds and hundreds of kids in Twickenham learnt to swim where they wouldn’t have done otherwise. In fact the majority of us were known as ‘water rats’ – we practically lived there when we were on holiday. But through the pollution of the river they had to shut it up, though it was there for several years. The river got badly polluted, all the fish died – there was some lovely fish in the river too.”
In 1924 Twickenham Council bought Richmond House and its riverside land in order to widen King Street and for other purposes including the building of a swimming bath. The demolition of Richmond House allowed an open-air pool on The Embankment to be opened in 1935, but despite its great popularity it was closed in 1980, ostensibly for financial reasons. From then until the present day there has been disagreement as to the best use of this important land.
The swimming baths in Teddington opened in 1931, the era of the ‘lido’. In 1976 they were closed, reopening in 1978 in an enclosed building.
Hampton open-air pool closed in 1981 and the council’s plan to demolish it in 1983 gave rise to a huge popular backlash. Ensuing community efforts resulted in the opening of a heated open-air pool in 1985 and in recent years it has been open 365 days a year