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An introduction to Into the Blue

A new exhibition is making a splash in the RIBA+V&A Architecture gallery in the V&A, South Kensington.

01 August 2019

A new exhibition is making a splash in the RIBA+V&A Architecture gallery in the V&A, South Kensington. 'Into the Blue: the origin and revival of pools, swimming baths and lidos' (20 July 2019 to 19 April 2020) explores the history of pools and lidos, alongside recent developments in community swimming baths across the United Kingdom. Many historic pools are undergoing restoration and architects are designing inventive new places to swim, responding to the nation’s increasing desire to get active in the water.

Jubilee Pool, Penzance, Cornwall. Courtesy of ScottWhitbyStudio

Using key examples and case studies, the display explores the following five themes:

Ancient baths

The creation of bath complexes throughout the Roman empire, becoming centres for the local community as places to wash, exercise, socialise and study.

Spa towns

The revival of English spa towns during the 18th and 19th centuries such as Royal Tunbridge Wells and Cheltenham Spa.

View of Tunbridge Wells Bath House and Library, Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Drawn by J. T. Groves, 1827

Wash houses and indoor baths

The establishment of public baths through the 1846 Baths and Washhouses Act, providing washing and bathing facilities for people and the laundering of clothes. Many of these washhouses later developed into the first municipal indoor swimming baths.

Lidos and outdoor pools

The growing awareness of physical fitness and the health benefits of the sun and sea led to the building of progressive new outdoor swimming pools during the 1920s and 30s, referred to as lidos. Costly maintenance and dwindling visitor numbers saw the decline of lidos in post-war Britain but a recent resurgence of interest driven by the architectural significance and public nostalgia has seen a lido revival, resulting in restoration and reopening of many outdoor pools.

Saltdean Lido, near Brighton, East Sussex. Photograph by John Maltby, 1938

Innovations in bathing

Increasing importance of physical and mental well-being has prompted a revival of existing baths and the creation of new facilities. Schemes for new high-tech swimming baths, floating lidos and modern spa facilities address the contemporary issues of sustainability, diversity and community enhancement.

Through their research for the exhibition, curators, Fiona Orsini and Susan Pugh, have discovered numerous enthusiastic swimmers within the architecture, culture and museum sectors. They have been struck by the passion held for both indoor and outdoor swimming, and for the desire to preserve historic pools. A big thank you to all who have helped or lent to the show.

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