On this day in history : 16th June 1930 – Mixed bathing is permitted for the first time in the Hyde Park Lido – to the delight of some and the outrage of others….
The idea of the Hyde Park Lido had been championed by Labour politician George Lansbury, First Commissioner of Works…. It was he who was responsible for historic buildings and monuments in the royal parks…. He actively did much to improve recreational facilities – and was particularly keen to do so during the Depression years…. As well as being a social reformer he was also a supporter of women’s suffrage….
In 1929 Dr Saleeby, of The Sunlight League, which had been founded in 1924, visited Lansbury to request the establishment of a lido…. The stretch of water in Hyde Park – known as the Serpentine because of its long snake like appearance and created in 1730 – became a magnet in warm weather and so was chosen as the designated site…. An appeal for funds was put out – one benefactor alone, a Mr D’Arcy-Cooper, donated £5,000 in memory of his son…. A rectangular area was built on the Serpentine for bathing and a pavilion added…. It soon became known as ‘Lansbury’s Lido’….
The Lido opened in 1930 and rapidly became the talk of the town…. ‘Men and women swimming together in nothing but skimpy swimsuits! Good Heavens! Whatever next’….
We’ve all seen pictures of the Victorian bathing machines that used to be found at our seasides…. It was thought bathing in the sea water was beneficial to the health – but to be able to swim in male company, even family members was not an option for women…. ‘Exposure of any part of the female body works more erotically than exposure of the corresponding part of the male….There is no activity where the body is so overtly exposed than when bathing in public’….
Growth of swimming as a competitive sport for men and boys increased as public baths began to appear across the country…. For serious female swimmers access to facilities came slowly, with restricted allocated time slots….
Another contributing factor to women’s non-participation was the potentiality of exposure to the sun…. Before the 1920s tanned skin was seen as a sign of being working-class…. Ladies were expected to be pale and interesting! But during the 1920s sun-kissed skin became associated with affluence – as to give the impression that the summer had been spent on the fashionable Riviera….
Kathleen Murphy was the first woman to legally swim in the Serpentine waters…. The Lido became an instant success…. During the heatwave of August 1930 over 30,000 used the paid for facilities which included changing and bathing…. A further 60,000 – men only – used the free section, which provided no changing area…. Both men and women had to wear one piece bathing suits – the men’s generally buttoning at the shoulder…. However, it became the trend for men to roll the top half down to the waist in order to go bare chested…. This would upset the authorities who would patrol around ordering bathers to wear their costumes correctly….
As much as the public loved the Lido, readily adapting to the idea of mixed bathing – it appears the authorities had a monumental issue with it…. Metropolitan Police files uncovered in the archives at Kew paint a picture that the activity was nothing short of providing sexual licence…. ‘Women of doubtful character, who display themselves in flimsy bathing dresses – attracting vulgar men and teenage boys’….’Some upstanding female bathers had complained of their costumes being ripped off on diving boards and in the water by the over-excited male populace’…. On one particularly riotous Sunday afternoon in 1932 eleven officers had to be despatched to restore public order….
In all honestly perhaps the police should have been concentrating on a much bigger problem at the time – an outbreak of bicycle thefts at the Lido….