The Old Baths in Billingham

Billingham “Billy” Baths is where I and many many others were taught to swim by the marvellous Olive Atkinson.

The shot of the building I can date to around 1960, to the right of the picture there can be seen a car on the perimeter road leading to the ICI offices, these were opened in 1959, straight ahead is the roundabout at the junction of Central Avenue and Cowpen Lane, St. Johns church was later built on the corner and it opened in 1961/62.

When facing the baths, to the left were a number of single storey pre-fab buildings, these housed the welfare and medical centre, it is where we went for our Polio jabs in the 1950s, also they supplied the famous National Dried Milk and exceptionally tasty orange juice.

To the right of the baths were some tennis courts surrounded by a high fence, I never saw tennis being played there but I did see the Police running the Cycling Proficiency Examinations during the 1950s.

The shot of the diving board dates from the 1950s, one of our favourite escapades was for a group of lads to gather near to the boards then we would all run up the boards and with a loud yell all jump together and “Bomb” the pool, this led to a lot of whistle blowing and finger pointing by the attendants, we were never thrown out but we did get some ear bashing.

The long shot of the pool is also from the 1950s and was taken from the diving board area looking toward the front of the building, the opening behind the man in the dark suit was the entrance to the lads  changing rooms, the balcony and part glazed roof can be clearly seen.

The pool had underwater lighting along the two long sides, we used to sink under the water and we could see past the bulb and reflector and see the maintenance men going about their business.

The shot of Olive Atkinson and her prize winning team is a newspaper clipping from 1962, my thanks to Ann Martin for the loan of this image.

Before being taught the correct way to swim I used the usual dog paddle method of swimming, neither of my parents could swim so we were very much on our own when messing about in water.

Two of the things I disliked about the baths were the foot trough between the changing rooms and the pool and the huge extractor fan in the changing rooms that caused a near gale, both were freezing cold.

I was very lucky learning to swim as I was a pupil at Billingham South Modern School for one year 1957/58 and we had swimming lessons there, when we were transferred to Stephenson Hall on the Billingham Campus site there were no swimming lessons available.

Swimming was one of the great loves of my life and I continued swimming well into my 50s, I taught two of my younger brothers to swim, both gained the ASA gold badge and one became a professional diver, they in turn taught my two sisters to swim and they in their turn taught my two youngest brothers.

Details courtesy of Bruce Coleman.

26 thoughts on “The Old Baths in Billingham

  1. I remember going to Billingham baths with George Kennedy from Tilery School in the 1950s. Although I did learn to swim, I almost drown there on one occasion. No one saw me struggling in the water and it was just pure luck that I regained my footing and survived. It did leave me with a fear of diving into any swimming pool or deep water.

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  2. I happened to be in the Billingham area visiting Family and as we made a nostalgic detour by the baths where we had met in our teens, the baths was a demolished heap of bricks, I don’t know why but I just expected them to be still there … I did pinch a brick for old times sake, strange though I didn’t like Bovril, but remember the black composite brick you had to recover and the cattle grid of cold water prior to entering the baths.

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  3. I remember going to the baths as a kid (6 or 7). Couldn’t swim I would just hang on to the channel around the edge.
    Did like the cup of Bovril after the session.

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  4. Don’t forget the Brylcreem dispenser to keep your hair in good order before leaving the baths. Also, especially in winter, a cup of hot Bovril to warm you up.

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  5. I also have fond memories of Billingham Baths. I was at Billingham South secondary school between 1955 and 1958. We used to have our school swimming classes once a week at the baths.
    Our instructor was a Mr Moor. I used to go swimming there about two to three nights a week.
    There used to be a lady on reception that would sell you a cup of Oxo or Bovril after you had finished swimming. I lived in Weardale Crescent just a short walk from the baths. Billingham itself was a great place to live in those days. I left England in 1966 and was last in Billingham 2010.
    It was not as I remembered it.

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  6. I worked at the baths in the mid 70s. Lovely place to work, all the staff were like a family. Pity I can’t find any photos of the years when I was there.

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  7. Hi Amy, Can you remember what the building looked like? I don’t. All I remember is the inside which looks pretty much like most 1950 swimming pools.

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  8. I frequented Billingham baths in the 40’s and early 50’s with chums from the South Modern school. I remember we lads used to get a shot of ‘brylcreem’ to oil up our hair American style. I imagine they have long ago been knocked down. Another place I remember well was Charlton’s Pond I wonder if it is still there.

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      • Likewise Bill. We have exchanged thoughts and memories a lot over the years. Happy to see you still around. My family all left for Canada in 1954 but still my happiest memories are from the 15 years I spent in Billingham.

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      • Hi Bill: good to see you are still in the area. I have lots of good memories of Billingham from the 40s and 50s before we left for Canada in 1954

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    • Charlton’s pond is now a thriving nature reserve and fishing complex with both ponds well maintained and stocked by Billingham Angling Club.
      It is hard to believe it is situated next to a chemical complex when all the trees are in leaf at this time of year.

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  9. If I remember correctly the Welfare was run by a Dr. Benham, my nana and my mom used to volunteer there (WVS) giving our dried milk, orange juice concentrate and cod liver oil for babies and growing children. I used to go there for sun ray treatment!!

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  10. It’s nice to view the photographs. Happy days! During my attendance at Grangefield Grammar School [1954-59] we had ‘swimming’ first lesson. I recall coming back in a steamed up double-decker Stockton Corporation bus, especially in the Winter. We had to go to school early those days due to the journey, and getting back for 2nd lesson starting at 1000hrs. We also held our annual Swimming Gala at Billingham Baths ……. cannot remember which year it was, but I won the 100m breast-stroke [?1957 or 58].

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  11. Great photos! Thank you! Memories! My father grew up in Billingham in the 1930s (Imperial Avenue) and I well remember him taking me to swim there every Sunday morning in the early 1970s. I, too, remember the walk through the freezing cold trough of water before entering the pool area. I loved the beautiful wood of the changing rooms with their bar saloon-like doors. I went on to Stockton ‘Old’ then the ‘New’ baths with school lessons where I worked my way up to the 3 hour Bronze Medal (including pyjama swimming – made them into floats – and diving for the rubber brick fully clothed at 6’6″)… which we all completed and then were later told none had passed because our instructor was not qualified to test us! At Old Billy Baths my Dad and I had great fun splashing each other (I was only 10) and my brother used to just jump off the highest diving board, tucking his legs up and dive-bombing the water. Happy times.😄

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  12. As a young child in the late 50″s we used to go to Billingham baths every Sunday morning and to Thornaby with the school . I can’t remember which one had what to me aged about 11 was a high diving board . I still remember climbing up to the very top then was too frightened to jump so had to go all the way bac down again. Much to the annoyance of people trying to get up the quite narrow steps !!

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  13. The Billingham Baths as I remember them. One extra point, I remember, was a a putting green between the baths building and the Tennis court

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  14. Brilliant photos. I learned to swim here in the late 50’s as did my husband. I was bused from our local school (in Norton) once a week. My mother was terrified of the idea of swimming because she’d been pushed under the water (presumably by some joker who assumed she could swim) so she never took me. My dad could swim but he was ‘old school’ who thought it was a woman’s job to look after children. Once I got the hang of it I loved swimming and caught up with the better ones and eventually did the Bronze lifesaving certificate. My grandson will laugh at the ‘posing’ divers as the pool where he swims is Olympic standard (in Sheffield). He hopes one day to enter the Olympics in the diving pool. Times move on and I taught all my children to swim in the toddlers pool at the Forum as soon as they were out of nappies.

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  15. Do you remember the cups of Bovril you could purchase after a fun swimming session especial during the summer holidays when you could spend as much time as you liked in the baths.

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  16. Thanks for the memories Bruce, I lived at Haverton Hill in the 1950’s/1960’s and can remember going to Billingham Baths

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  17. Met my girlfriend at a school swimming regatta in the late 50’s at Billy Baths when George Kennedy for the best part took us there, progressed to the ESSA certificate. We got married and still together.

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    • Josie Wales – George Kennedy was my teacher at Tilery boys school, I got all my swimming certificates at old billy baths, we had the inter house school swimming competition there. The winners got their photograph taken with Brian Clough, I just loved being at the baths, Billingham, Thornaby and Stockton, it was nothing to go to Stockton baths 3 times a day, we took beer bottles, lemonade bottle back to shops, got a couple of coppers for them then off to the baths, we would come out of old Stockton baths with eyes red raw!! And yes I was one of the lads that got their photo taken with Brian Clough and proudly displayed the photo with nearly every lad I grew up with.
      All the best.
      Derek

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      • I could never understand why you got more for an empty LOCKWOODS bottle that had an Orangeade label compared to all the other Lockwoods bottle with screw stoppers, complete with a rubber seal that was ideal for the bike dynamo.
        J.

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