Learning to swim in the 1950’s

Holbeck BathsI learned to swim in the early 1950’s at Holbeck Baths in Leeds. This was not our local baths but I suppose we went there was because the lady who taught the smallies was the local postmistress Mrs Rough. She had two daughters a little older than me and lived on our street, Blue Hill Lane.

Her method of teaching was to put a rope round your chest under the arms and pull you from one side of the pool to the other. Once you could stay afloat you had your work on your “style”. This involved keeping your head way up with your chin about six inches above the water. Years later at the Olympic Pool in Leeds (which was built too small to be used for anything Olympic – what a blunder!) a life guard laughed at me and my friend Jean “I know who taught you two to swim, Mrs Rough!” he shouted across the pool.

Mrs Rough did teach at Armley Baths later and I often went to Ladies Night there. At seven years we began weekly swimming sessions from Whingate School. We walker in pairs with our cosies rolled in a towel under our arms. My cousin Geoff was in the same class and we found to our shame we had the same affliction. We could both swim and obtained our first 2 certificates but we couldn’t dive! Out of a class of 44 (this was a normal size in the 50’s, with one teacher and no aides!) we were the only two who could not get the brick from the bottom.

After our weekly lesson we would go to the poolside cubicles and stand in a long line drying the back of the person in front of you. I always made sure I had someone clean in front of me. I hated the idea of using my towel on someone else’s back.

Armley Baths had Turkish and steam baths and a wash house. Once in the school holidays I had been swimming with Kenneth Marshall and he dared me to go into the Turkish Baths. I opened a huge door and ran in. There was a row of what looked to me like coal bunkers. One of which had a great big red faced woman sat in it. Only her head was sticking out at the top and her hands at the sides. She must have had a big head and hands as I imagined her as massive. She had a towel round her neck like a boxer going into the ring. She let out a scream and began banging her hands on the sides of the “bunker”. We were chased out by an attendant and could still hear the screaming as we ran up Car Crofts.

Armley Baths has been modernised now in the 1950’s it looked like this pic of Bramley Baths.

Bramley Baths

I never swim now as I hate all the other people around me  but if I won the lottery I would love my own small, heated pool.


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