George V’s silver jubilee is the big event of May 1935, and the opening of the already-floodlit Pool three weeks later is to be the central part of Penzance’s celebrations.
The opening of the Penzance Jubilee Pool in 1935 www.jubileepool.com
The event has been well advertised. It’s Friday, so the shops will have closed early and the staff can be there. Time for a spot of lunch, then at precisely 3.00 pm Alderman Meek – whose vision and enthusiasm has carried the whole project - will do the honours, attended by the Mayor. We are promised a dive from Professor Hicks, the Victorian swimming champion and subsequently instructor at the indoor baths, still going strong at the age of 77. There will be “High and Fancy Diving” from Plymouth, water polo and aquatic sports. Then after having a swim yourself, why not warm up with a dance out in the open air of the Promenade: “ices available” should the atmosphere prove steamy.
Today we will forget the town councillor who predicted the new bathing pool would be “the biggest white elephant Penzance has ever had”, and prophesied that “Davy Jones” would enact his revenge. We will forget the public alarm at the use of “old bicycle frames and iron bedsteads” during construction to provide the ferrous component of the ferro-concrete structure. We will forget about the setbacks last autumn - disappointed hopes of a royal visit to commemorate the opening; a spot of bother with the surrounding pathway. Today is all about success, and Alderman Meek stands vindicated.
Captain Latham, the Borough Surveyor and Engineer, cut his teeth on the Italianate Gardens 20 years ago. Now, he has used the natural ridge of the rock – and possibly, according to later anecdote, the inspiration of a seagull in flight – to envision and execute an impressive Art Noveau-styled structure on the best site in the Borough. The “monotony” of straight lines – “the domain of the compass and ruler” - has been banished; all is “graceful curves and pleasing lines” in the modern style. There may be wider and longer pools elsewhere, but focus on the depth - nowhere in the land is there one that contains more water, as the fearless Plymouth team will demonstrate. For Cornishman editor Herbert Thomas, the new Pool is “huge… like a foreign dock or harbour”, and after the speeches he settles down happily to enjoy the Bathing Belles in their backless costumes.
There’s certainly a crowd at the opening. The day may have started dull, but the clouds have blown away, the temperature risen, and the spectators flooded in. Tardy London pressmen will find themselves turned away, and Herbert Thomas will later express surprise that there were no crush injuries at the turnstiles. For Alderman Meek, the Pool is the “crowning glory” of the major redevelopment of the Battery area over the past 15 years, which has included the continuation of the Promenade Road, the creation of St Anthony Gardens, the re-building of the Yacht Inn, and the splendid motor garage. The Mayor comments on the benefits and popularity of swimming, and the attraction the new amenity will offer to swimmers and spectators, residents and visitors. He adds, in a throw-away sentence: “we can hardly expect it to pay its way for the first few years”.
Yes, there may be trouble ahead. But let’s leave aside for now the amount a swim will cost, compared to the time-honoured free bathing spot on the Battery Rocks below, and the worries already being aired about how the sums will work out. Let’s not even get started on the iniquity or otherwise of Sunday opening; use of the space for religious gatherings will surely mollify the Sabbatarians. Heading our way in a few weeks’ time is the loss of two foot of water in eight hours – put down to a defective sluice. Give it 20 years, and we’ll see a diphtheria scare. Fifty? near-dereliction and suggestions about filling in the basin and using it as a skatepark.
At 80 years? A major renovation; heritage and tourism plaudits; plans to exploit geothermal energy. And Penzance Town Council will once more be left – controversially – holding the baby.
The Jubilee Pool today, fresh from a major renovation after the 2014 storm damage (St Ives tourism)
Advertisement Cornishman 29th May 1935 page 1; main story Cornishman June 5th 1935 page 4; critical piece from editor Herbert Thomas providing further details Cornishman 12th June 1935 page 7. References for the allusions to earlier and later events may be had upon request
A video of the Pool opening may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/embed/4NAUu-NZswY (accessed 25th April 2017)