Words by Lowenna Merritt
An art deco sea water lido run by and for the community, Penzance’s Jubilee Pool is a treasure both locally and nationally.
Image courtesy of Mike Newman
Known as the jewel in the crown of Penzance, the Jubilee Pool is an important site of cultural heritage. Being the UK’s largest and most celebrated sea water pool, it is famous for its stunning features and seaside location.
The Jubilee was unique from its very opening in 1935. Opened on the year of King George V’s Silver Jubilee, it embodied a sense of celebration and community which has stuck to this day. Designed in the 1930s by Captain F Latham, the pool sits upon the Battery Rocks near Penzance Harbour. Being on the sea front, the pool was built with the ocean waves in mind, its triangular walls streamlined to protect the picturesque curved pool inside.
The Grade II listed structure is marked by its striking Cubist style of geometric steps, the pattern of white walls contrasting the dazzling blue of the seawater pool. The Art Deco serenity shines through, its blend of futuristic and traditional architecture making it a vision to behold.
As a seafront pool, it has no mechanical filtration and minimal chemical treatment, allowing for a natural seawater swimming experience. The quality of water is maintained with a careful regime of cleaning and water replacement that is timed with the incoming tides, meaning the water is always fresh.
The main pool is not heated and sits at just a couple of degrees warmer than the ocean, making the first dive in slightly bracing! However, the high walls act as a sun trap, turning the pool into a sheltered haven –perfect for a spot of sunbathing.
The history of the pool, however, has not always been so picturesque. Due to its location, it is still at the mercy of the unpredictable Cornish coast, and despite its protective design, disaster struck on Valentine’s Day 2014 when large storms caused great damage to the pool. Its serene architecture was torn apart and the pool was forced to close for two years.
The 1935 Opening Ceremony; Professor Hicks, aged 86, takes ‘The first plunge’
Yet what has always remained at the heart of the lido, and what got it through those trying times, was the sense of community spirit that Jubilee Pool embodies. Community owned and funded, the pool runs as a social enterprise with all funding going back into its upkeep. It has a special place in the hearts of Penzance locals, some of whom have visited year upon year. When the pool hosted its Grand Reopening in 2016, it was greatly celebrated; visitors included Arthur Meadows, a long-time pool user who had even attended the original opening ceremony back in 1935.
Images courtesy of Mike Newman / Leon Foggitt
Images courtesy of Mike Newman
The pool’s longevity has solidified it as a cultural hub, a sanctuary of memories for visitors across the years. It now has its own cultural archive, a vast collection of photographs and artefacts from across the decades all centred around people’s memories of the pool. And soon to be on display in the newly open Community Space you’ll find some interpretation boards – samples from the collection – which are accessible for free when the space is not reserved for an event or meeting. The distinct design and location of the pool make visits memorable for anyone who attends, and the archive allows an insight into the wide array of people from all walks of life who have enjoyed an afternoon of bathing from decades before – it is truly a place of heritage.
At the end of August, the new geothermal pool opened, situated in one corner of the main pool. An exciting addition to the sea water pool, the geothermal pool was funded by generous community donations and revolutionises the idea of eco-friendly swimming. Nicola Murdoch, the Interim COO of the Jubilee Pool, gives some more insight ahead of the pool’s opening. The project has taken longer than intended but Nicola insists “we are really excited to finally be able to open the facility to the public”. Clever and sustainable engineering allows the geothermal pool to operate – warm water will be extracted from a 410m deep geothermal well and distributed into the pool whilst the colder water is re-injected into the ground. This sustains the temperature of the pool with a very low carbon footprint and is the first system like this in the UK. Hopefully, as Nicola asserts, it will act as a “showcase for geothermal, low carbon heat supply” bathing.
The pool will be heated to a temperature of 30-35 degrees, a delight after the invigorating coolness of the main pool. Cleaning will be done through a state-of-the-art UV filtration system which does not disrupt the natural sea water. Knowing that all heat and water in the pool is natural makes the experience all the more enjoyable. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of al fresco sustainable bathing?
Nicola also reveals a range of packages linked to the geothermal pool. Guests will be able to book a “dip and dine” package and enjoy a freshly cooked meal after their swim, a “sundowner package” for evening bathing or an “indulgence package” which includes a massage or relaxation treatment alongside the geothermal session.
The latest Covid-19 guidelines mean that the pool must operate on a reduced capacity, but technically this allows for more space to enjoy a truly tranquil experience.
Visitors can also dine during their trip to the lido. The poolside café offers freshly made breakfast rolls and cakes, lunches of sandwiches and salads and exciting specials such as whitebait with tartare and lemon. It caters to vegetarian and vegan diets too, leaving nobody hungry.
The Jubilee Pool has always had community, wellbeing and authenticity as its core and the opportunities the new geothermal pool brings only adds to this. From next spring, a new Health Care Referral scheme launches, in which, Nicola explains, key target groups will be able to access the geothermal pool for free as part of treatment or rehabilitation plans. “Participants will be referred to the scheme by their doctor or specialist practitioner,” she tells us, explaining that sessions will be led by qualified instructors. The pool does not only have the health of the planet in mind, but the health of its community as well.
Environmentally friendly, community driven and visually beautiful, it is no wonder Penzance’s Jubilee Pool is loved by so many. Its five million litre sea water pool offers a safe haven for visitors to enjoy the delights that the Cornish ocean has to offer, and is accessible to everyone.
The lido has a fascinating history, and fortunately, its future looks just as promising.