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Stumbling into history: Marshall Street Leisure Centre (London) - Pool #546

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

2 October 2022

On the way back from Italy recently, my wife and I stopped over in London to visit Maia, our oldest daughter who now lives in England, and our favorite cousins. On Saturday morning, my wife had booked herself into a live Peleton class at the Covent Garden studio, so Maia and I set out for a swim. Armed with my trusty Swimmer's Guide, I noticed that the Marshall Street Leisure Centre and Spa was about a 20 minute walk away, and that they had open lane swimming times for reservation.

I was just happy to find a pool, a bit happy/sad to get the senior citizen discount for me (GBP 4.15 vs GBP 7.30 for Maia), and looking forward to spending time with Maia.

I had no idea I was about to swim in a very storied pool, the current facility which dates to 1931, but located on a spot that had public baths as far back as the 1850s (see this for a brief overview), along with a prior pool that was renovated to create what exists today:

I didn't know any of the history until I walked the halls and read the various posters, placards, and display boards beguiling me with much about the space, including:

  • Its use during WWII for both training and morale-boosting for the troops

  • Numerous aquatic shows, such as one featuring Johnny Weismuller and a then-famous ice skater, Belita- the Ice Maiden

  • And, more recently, a 1997 community effort to restore the facility to its former glory, featuring luminaries like wild swimming guru, Roger Deakin, and Python funnyman Michael Palin

And if the history lesson wasn't cool enough, this 100 foot long pool was pure delight to swim in. On this late September Saturday morning, Maia and I had the very wide "fast lane" to ourselves for most of the hour. When we had to share it, there was only one other swimmer who joined us.

The marble tile all around reminded me of swimming in other older, but well-preserved pools like:

And, like swimming with Monica in Toronto, what made this ultra special was sharing the experience with Maia!

In closing, for any swim fans of historic pools, this is a great article pointing to classic pools in the UK.


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