As Matlock’s long-awaited new leisure centre opens this week we take a look back at one of the town’s “greatest achievements” – the Lido.
The facility opened back in May 1938 in a blaze of publicity with local press reporting it as “the most important day in the history of Matlock as a health and pleasure resort.”
The official opening was performed by Brigadier-General G. M. Jackson and the souvenir programme (pictured) stated it was a “Red-Letter day in the annals of this town; it is an event destined not only to have far-reaching results but unquestionably very beneficial results.”
Matlock Lido was distinctly art-deco, to a design by the Sheffield firm of Husband and Clark. Its location was initially controversial because it involved the loss of a small park, the Imperial Gardens, in the town centre. The council pressed ahead, however, and at a cost of £12,000 the Lido opened on schedule. The official opening programme emphasised the luxury and comfort - a constant water temperature of 72 degrees, a main pool - unusually large -125 ft long and 50 ft wide, with a shallow end of 2ft 6ins to a deep end of 9ft 6ins, and painted pale green to give the impression of swimming in the sea. There was capacity for 500 bathers.
The opening programme included bathing beauty parades by “professional mannequins,” diving displays, water polo matches and an exhibition of “trick and fancy swimming.”
Costumes were available to hire in the “latest fashions and colours for both men and women” supplied by John Smedley of Lea Mills and S Skidmore and Son of Smedley Street, Matlock.
Optimistically, the Lido boasted extensive sun-bathing terraces and spectator seating. In the evenings the entire building was floodlit for entertainments which included keep-fit classes to music, swimming galas, fashion parades and indoor and outdoor dances, including that quintessential 1930s activity - crooning contests.
The Lido’s three diving boards were flanked by two fountains – artistic cascades – as they were described. Even the changing rooms, according to a contemporary press report, had a “gay appearance” and the decorations throughout were an attractive blend of cream and pale green – a colour scheme incidentally which remained for more than thirty years.
After the 1939-45 war much of the success resulted from the tireless enthusiasm of the Lido’s superintendent, Jack Soppitt, who took Matlock Swimming Club to heights not scaled by clubs in much larger towns, and persuaded generations of local schoolchildren that swimming really was enjoyable.
By the summer of 1960, the Lido was attracting around 3,500 people on sunny Sundays and almost 50,000, not including school sessions, for the entire season.
In the 1970s the new owners, Derbyshire Dales District Council, decided to roof over the outdoor swimming pool.
The cafe buildings which also housed the main entrance were demolished to make way for a Wilkinson’s store.
Since then major restoration work has been carried out to the pool, the roof, the heating and purification systems – all indicating the Lido which has served swimmers in the town for the past 73 years was reaching the end of its useful life.