The West Beach Swim Pool circa
1947 - Photo © Chris Vernon-Jarvis
Mention 'swimming pool' and thoughts immediately
turn to the current indoor pool at Tower Parade. However, that was
not the first pool to entertain Whitstable Natives. A much earlier
facility adorned West Beach as long ago as the 1940s and, thanks
to pictures kindly forwarded from Canada by Chris Vernon-Jarvis,
we can take a peek.
The pool was located within the borders of a
caravan park. The cover photo above was taken circa 1947 and, as
you can see, it was a substantial 'open air' facility -
set into a paved sun terrace and extending some 20 metres in length.
I bet some of you are still pondering over the precise
location. So, let's help out with a shot from the beach taken in
The caravan site exists to this day. The pool was
wedged behind that sea wall on the far right. Well, I say wedged... but that is, perhaps, the wrong
terminology because there was no sea wall when Chris's
photos were taken. Remember, it was 1947... and we were still awaiting
the flood of '53 with an open beach and little protection. Thus, the
poolside sunbathing area opened directly onto the beach.
The wall was built in the mid-fifties as a way of
bolting the stable door after the horse had drowned. Thus, it was a
"made to measure" protection that paid homage to the pool rather
than determined its size and shape.
The West Beach pool was owned by the caravan site
and, as such, it was used extensively by holidaymakers.
If you study the 1940s scene, you may spot seeds that later
germinated in the minds of entrepreneurs like Billy Butlin and Fred
Pontin. The great British holiday camps of the late 1950s were just a
few years away. In fact, the caravan site had its own club and staff
complement. Chris provides a pen picture of
some of the characters involved....
|"About 1955 or 56 my (maternal) grandmother bought 25
West Beach and, later, my mother bought 26. We had always
spent our Summers there.
My grandparents were, I think, founder members at the
club on the caravan site. The two ladies who ran it were
'Auntie Doris and Auntie Mac.' In those days, cigarettes
were acceptable and the two ladies were never seen without
Many happy Summers, Many happy memories."
Although privately owned , it was open to the public
for a small entrance fee. It was also used by local schools as Stewart
|"Your recent comments about the West
Beach swimming pool brought back memories of it
being used by us lads from the Boys' School in the late
I think we had swimming lessons (that's to say a master
patrolled around the edge whilst us boys thrashed around in
the pool), on a regular weekly basis in the summer. I
believe there is a picture in 'Bell, Book & Boys' of the
school swimming sports day."
Those swimming lessons led to qualifications and, from
Australia, Tony Stroud provides the evidence.....
This one is of the past Oxford Street Boys School from the
old tin trunk - a bit tattered....
Still, it reminds us of the good old days !!! - freezing to
death at the seapool with Nobby Clarke in charge.
Wolfe House For Ever!
I am sure many people will recall Frank Newsome in
charge at the Oxford Street school.
But, it wasn't a case of swimming in clear water
tinged with chlorine. Tony's reference to "seapool" gives us
a clue and Chris provides the background....
|"It was just a plain concrete tub filled with sea
water by a portable pump."
|The pump arrangement continued after the wall was
built and I still recall it being used in 1955. Other facilities were
fairly primitive too. Take a look at Chris's second photo (left)..
This was taken looking south towards the unmade road
and Seasalter Golf Course. It features a very young Chris jumping into
the water under careful supervision from his mother. The hut in the
background provided a changing room. However, compared with writhing
under a towel on the beach, this was sophistication.
Of course, the pool is no longer with us. At one
stage, it was converted to a paddling pool - with shallow water at the
deep "roadway end" and a sandpit at the shallow "beach
end". A year or two later, it was filled-in and occupied by extra
What led to its demise? Well, without further
enquiries, we don't know but Chris gives us a possible clue with the
little memory below....
|"At some stage, the pool started to leak.
We came down one summer and it was not filled. Apparently,
there had been a steady flow of water out onto the beach
from the leak.
Auntie Mac Booth's husband, Jim, was on leave (he was a
merchant seaman) and I remember him trying to locate the
In the end, I guess they just gave up or it was not
worth fixing. I don't know how old the pool was by
then... but it must have been 20 years plus at least."
- Chris Vernon-Jarvis
And so, we moved on without a Whitstable Swimming
Pool.... until, a few years ago, Canterbury City Council built the
"indoor job" behind the Ten Pin Bowling Alley.
But, don't let the "men in white coats" cart
you off when you suggest that the plush Tower Parade facility is not
the town's first. Thanks to Chris, we can now prove that we still have
all our marbles intact and we even have Tony's certificate as official
confirmation... even if we no longer have our pool at West