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.

Stockton Sledging

Since the snow is with us I’d like to show you a picture from the early 1970s. It is of a group of friends from the Newtown area (photo actually taken in Mellor Street with the Rocket public house in the background) sitting on probably the largest sledge in the North East.

There is actually room for six kids on there. I remember once dragging it all the way from Newtown along the black path and on to Newham Grange park. It was an epic journey for us young’un’s as like now the sun beat down from a cloudless sky. When we eventually got there the sun had started to melt the snow and not more than two of us at any one time could ride it otherwise it just sunk. After about half an hour it was a mush fest so we left the park and trudged back home. It only ever came out once more when we persuaded my dad to drive us on the moors Road (A171) to that big hill a couple of miles past the Lockwood Beck Reservoir. That lasted even quicker than the park trip when the farmer came out and politely asked us to leave. So back under my brother’s bed it went never to see any more snow. It went for scrap sometime in the late 1970’s. When I see kid’s with their plastic sledges they don’t know the half of it.

Photo and details courtesy of Michael Bellerby.

Billingham Synthonia Stadium, Central Avenue

Photographs taken in 2019 of the Central Avenue football ground, the home for many years of Billingham Synthonia. As you see the advertising hoarding and the gates are still standing, but no trace of the cantilever stand. When this stand was built in 1957 it was the longest stand of its type in the country. The pitch is a mass of weeds and sadly the goal posts are still standing waiting for a game which will never be played…

Photographs and details courtesy of Martin Birtle.

Yarm Rooftops, April 2017

These sets of pictures were taken from the window of a Grand Central train which runs from Sunderland, through to Kings Cross, via Northallerton. It picks up passengers at Eaglescliffe and Hartlepool but for some reason does not stop at Stockton. Is the platform too short?

The Yarm rooftops show how much new building has gone on behind Yarm High Street. I was surprised to learn this morning that Teesside, unlike other conurbations does not have a formal Greenbelt, protecting the surrounding countryside.

Photographs and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

Stockton & Darlington Railway Brass Plaque, ‘Tittybottle Park’, Eaglescliffe

This small park in Eaglescliffe is bounded by Yarm Road, Albert Road and Victoria Road, the names give a clue to its age and origin as the houses are mostly well established of Edwardian design dating back to the late 19th century with larger and slightly older houses being found in The Avenue nearby. The park will be familiar to many as the Eaglescliffe War Memorial stands within it but also here is another piece of history. A brass plaque explaining the quaint naming of the park mounted on a relic of the original Stockton & Darlington railway. A relic I had walked past many times but had never taken the trouble to read and which should be afforded greater provenance given its historic significance. Taken December 2016.

Photographs and details courtesy of David Thompson.