Kings Meadow Baths - Synopsis of a Campaign 2000-2012

Kings Meadow Baths – Synopsis of a Campaign 2000-2012

Kings Meadow Baths Campaign 2002 – 2013

The Campaigners Efforts of Saving an Edwardian Open Air Ladies Swimming Baths  2002
The Fight with Passion

Jump links to sections on this page or scroll down

Historical Background

First peep inside since 1974
Pauline’s Story
Restoration of Kings Meadow Baths
Friends departed
Founder Member Huntley & Palmer Biscuits-George Palmer MP JP for Reading
Councillors and VIPs attend the Opening of Kings Meadow Baths
Swimming Clubs 1902 and First Members at Kings Meadow
Mens Bathing Place
Heritage Listing 2004
Diving Board
Great Engineering of the Baths alongside the Thames
The Lodge
Architects Opinion on the Baths
Archive and Visions of the Kings Meadow Campaign
Raising Money (a summary only)
Developer takes the Baths into a New Chapter.
BBC Flog it!  Paul Martin and team visits the Baths 2013  (still doing the rounds on BBC)
Campaigners Observations on Restoration Progress
A few thumbnails from a large collection.

First Peep

First peep since 1974. Kings Meadow Campaign invited people from the The Reading Beer and Cider Festival 29th April 2010 for three days.
Many were overwhelmed and some didn’t realise the building was a swimming pool.

“Wow!” “how wonderful”  ♦”It’s beautiful” ♦ “it’s so pretty” ♦”what a wonderful site” ♦”it’s GOT to restored” ♦”it’s fantastic” ♦”I just didn’t know this was here,  I thought it was a cricket pavilion” ♦”I thought it was an old hall” ♦”I thought it was covered over” ♦”I didn’t know it was an open air pool – it’s fabulous”….
Lovely video below

Just some of the words that flowed from the flood of people who had the privilege of a peep inside the Edwardian Baths for the first time.  Silence, facial expressions mixed with emotion said all there was to say.

Beer Festival Winning Comment

One irate visitor stormed in and pushed by and said
“I’ve just come to see what all the fuss is all about in the papers”
Her jaw dropped, and with silence  she looked around. An amazed look coupled with silence followed,  then very slowly…
“I –now –know– what– all –the– fuss –has– been about — it’s glorious– and has– GOT to be restored. We can’t lose this,”  and marched out.
Lovely video below

Beer Festival Patrons saw the Baths in the flesh! 

This 108 year old building including 35 years of abandonment still stands solidly, and proud, and with the help of the people of Reading we’ll do all we can to maintain and restore its majesty. On the other hand people comments included they had actually learned to swim here and remember how cold it was but much fun.

*Thank you to all those who generously donated to help our endeavours on all our Open Days – you gave us hope


Pauline’s Story

Pauline’s Story Memories – Mrs Pauline Wilson – 1996 by Anne Green Jessel

One weekend during April 1996, I had the privilege of driving down to the tiny village of Beckley near Rye to meet a lady – Mrs Pauline Wilson – who held so many memories of our town of Reading. Pauline talked about the Men’s and Ladies Baths at King’s Meadow. To quote Pauline,”

These used river water which came in through a hole at one end and out the other, leaving behind frogs, fishes and good Thames mud. It was possible to dive in one end and slide several yards along the slippery bottom, and the only way to find an object on the bottom was to feel for it in the murky gloom. Sea-gulls and swans were regular visitors.
The Ladies bath was not chlorinated until after the war. There was a springboard in this bath, about three feet above the surface. It was a good board, but with only five feet of water underneath. There were well made wooden changing areas, which were covered with wire mesh which didn’t keep out the bird droppings or the icy blasts.
To swim it cost 2d for adults and 1d for children. Children were allowed in free between 4pm and 6pm. A towel with Reading Corporation printed across them could be hired for 2d together with bathing trunks for an extra 2d.
These were made of strong red twill with tapes either side adjustable to fit all shapes and sizes. They looked really uncomfortable. The baths only opened in the summer.”
By chance Pauline heard of a job which would fill the summer months before she went onto College. As a seasonal job it offered more than twice what she’d been getting in an office, £3 per week!
Pauline applied for the grand sounding “Assistant Superintendent” at the King’s Meadow Ladies Bath. She was successful on account of her Life saving qualifications. She worked 6am-2pm one week, alternating with 1pm – 9pm the next.
The boss Millie Morris and herself worked opposite each other. Millie had a strong voice when inundated with children during the free periods.
Win Somner came in to help with the cleaning. It was rare to get customers in early during the morning so this gave time to discuss or report on visits from the council.
There was no telephone. During the daytime, schoolchildren came along, their teachers being in charge.
Pauline’s duties included throwing a galvanised pail with a length of rope tied to the handle into the water, which was a foot lower than the bath side, and then hauling it up full.
There was a knack to this heavy duty. It then had to be forcefully thrown into each changing room, then brushed out into the drain.
“At intervals we had to scrub the tiles around the water surface which accumulated a greasy scum. Win did the toilets, polished all the brasses, and whitened the floor of the office with hearthstone!”
Pauline had to take the money and issue the tickets, or rent out the towels and costumes. She had to receive council visitors, take the water temperature and keep a temperature chart. It could be as low as 54 degrees.
Leaves were fished out, and other rubbish that blew in through the open roof. A young American boy was sent to the pool once a week to wind up the clock.
The staff room had a gas ring on which to make breakfast and a cup of tea.
During school hours, Miss Francis, clad in blouse and skirt, sometimes with jacket taught the local school children.
She started with her unique land drill by calling out commands for the body positions of the breaststroke.

One lady aged 64 came to swim and felt very proud. Pauline never saw a baby being taught.
“Behaviour was good on the whole, there was no answering back, no graffiti on the walls, but there was the small amount of chewing gum to be scraped off walls. Boys were allowed to come along for Saturday family afternoons.”

Pauline loved the job but left to attend college. To say that she was a water baby was to say the very least. I had spent a few hours listening to her tales and swimming pursuits from when she was a little girl, through her teens and into married life. Pauline, who was born in Kingston-on-Thames spent her very early years in Ripley, Surrey.
A lady of many talents, including folk music composition, and being able to make her own “bathing dress” Pauline described her journey through the swimming world which included her memories of Reading’s King’s Meadow Open-air Baths.
There was not the opportunity and the same encouragement to learn to swim in those days – 70 years ago, and when 11 years old, she regularly wandered over the field to the place where the cows took a drink, and immersed herself into a stream of the River Wey.
She was so excited that she wouldn’t notice the mess the cows made and started by placing her hands in the mud letting her legs trail behind!
Before long she could feel them floating and with simultaneous arm movement was well on the way to becoming a proficient swimmer to eventually being able to share her skills when older (but… not taught in quite the same manner!)
In these early years Pauline and her family moved to Reading, living in the big white house on the corner of Long Lane, Purley. (Now split into apartments).
A pupil of Kendrick School, her swimming activities continued being marched with her friends, crocodile style along to the Arthur Hill Baths. Roped off areas of the River Thames were also sampled on many occasions.
Although not allowed in, she particularly remembers a private swimming area for men, near the Blakes lock, complete with the company of a swan, who nested rearby using the area of water for it’s regular exercise.
Later, Pauline became a proficient swimming teacher around the pools in Reading. When married she lived in Earleigh Road, and she and her husband dug out their own little swimming pool in which her three children learned to swim. Her husband was a weight lifter so they compromised. He learned about swimming and Pauline learned about weightlifting! They both participated in the Swimming programmes for the Youth Group, sharing their skills of swimming, lifesaving and survival. Some people may remember her from school/college days as Pauline Lucas.
I thank Pauline, an octogenarian when the interview took place, for not just allowing me into her home, but allowing me to share her memories of her many “hot pursuits!” and achievements.


Restoration of Kings Meadow Baths

Open Air Ladies Baths -1902

Our Mission is
To Preserve Reading’s Heritage
for the
Generations Past – The Memories
Generations Present – The Preservation
Generations Future – The Heritage

Restoration  efforts – Quoted from Reading Post:

After 12 years…

“Credit to the Campaign.
There were now five bidders interested in restoring and developing the Kings Meadow Baths. After years of valiantly trying to raise the cash to renovate the building themselves, the volunteers from the the King’s Meadow Campaign are now joined by four new groups after Reading Borough Council put the site back onto the market in November ’12.
Ideas for the site now variously include a renovated swimming pool, restaurant, cafe, ice rink, function hall, cultural centre, open air theatre and market
Whether the King’s Meadow Campaign ultimately wins 
the bid remains to be seen.
But its volunteers can take credit for fighting so hard since they got the building Grade II listed back in 2004.
From the bids now on the table it looks clear that the baths will be saved as some sort of cultural space for Reading people. That’s what the campaigners wanted from the start.” 
Would it be the “People’s Pool?



Friends departed

Friends departed
Dear All, 

“With great sadness I have to tell you that we now have lost our next champion of the Baths… one who had contributed very  generously from his pension and written some most stirring letters week after week to the papers to support our campaign.  As you will remember, he himself had been crushed in his campaign to save the ABC in Friar St. and had nothing good to say about this RBC.  He had an outstanding 10k petition from residents which the council scorned. I had been out with Roy since his wife died over the last year for cafe snacks and had reminisced with him over the changing face of Reading.  I last saw him on Sunday in the Royal Berks and had tried to boost his spirit with a pair of tickets to go to the cinema but he was looking very weak and had been on strong pain killers. We made plans for another outing to his favourite greasy spoon cafe which he too had written passionately about to stop it closing. He died today.”   Bob O’Neill

Also In Memory…
We saw the passing of Mr Swimming Berkshire on Christmas morning Charlie Burt.  He would have been 99 this month and now rests with his beloved wife Jen.
There are not many schoolchildren who would not have known Charlie.  He was a great stalwart of helping save Kings Meadow Pool and had taught schoolchildren to swim for many seasons here in Kings Meadow Baths.  He featured in the…
BBC “Flog it” programme also featured on this site.
Thank you dear Charlie and Mr Cinema for all your support. You will never be forgotten. Anne G J.



Before the Big Clean Up

Pre 1950s Coat of Arms engraved into the columns


Founder Member

Founder Member George Palmer J.P.;M.P. for Reading

of Huntley & Palmer Biscuit Company presented 14 acres of the Meadow to the People of Reading for Recreational purposes…

Kings Meadow Lane in George Palmers day – the Baths just visible on the right behind the tree

‘The best biscuits in the world!’

Founder Member of Huntley and Palmers Biscuit Company who gave 14 acres of Kings Meadow to the people of Reading.

Quote: Daphne Phillips “The Story of Reading” P.137
“…Reading was in festive mood…Mr George Palmer J. P. M.P. for Reading, and head of the town’s greatest industry- Huntley and Palmer’s Biscuits, had given 14 acres of King’s Meadow, beside the Thames, for use as public recreation ground…”
Ref: Reading Illustrated 1899
“King’s Meadow Recreation Ground is around 24 acres in extent, adjoining the Thames – the Corporation having purchased some thirty years ago.
The late biscuits founder George Palmer generously added the rest as a “free gift by
one of his many benefactions to the town, and not least appreciated, as is shown by the constant use of the site by cricketers, footballers, and other fond out-door exercise. Plans are now before the Town Council for a suitable Caretakers residence, and other buildings for those using the ground.”\

Huntley & Palmer employees enjoying the races

Biscuits entrepreneur Mr Palmer loved healthy outdoor recreational living and provided many facilities for his employees and of course the people of Reading in general.  Not just 14 acres of King’s Meadow,   Palmer Park near Cemetery Junction is a testament to that,  with development over the years many recreational and training facilities for all budding sports people.  A very busy sports stadium today.
The Meadow saw much Horse Racing from 1840 onwards…

Auction on Kings Meadow

Biscuits Manufacturer George and owner of the “best biscuits factory in the World” was born into a Quaker family, and with his two brothers William and Samuel provided Temperance Halls – one especially, and well architecturally designed, can be found next to the present Primark store in West Street.
He sat and served on the Town Council for many years.
Mr George Palmer lived along London Street in a plain bath stone government building  “The Acacias” .  Some believed it wasn’t good enough for him!
He was one of the very few employers that held a “sick fund.” If ever an employee was not able to work because of sickness,  he still gave them a wage.
When he died in 1897 just before his 80th birthday, he was mourned deeply and more than 5000 employees lined London Street as his funeral cortege passed by.

 Huntley and Palmers.  HRH The Prince of Wales Visit


Huntley & Palmers Empire

Other reminiscence quotations pre the building of the Baths on Kings Meadow bequeathed by one of the Founders of the Biscuits Industry
Further Extract pre the Baths
Ref: W.S. Darter- “Reminiscences of Reading” edited by Daphne Phillips P 75/76

“I think it is very likely there is good places for bathing in Reading, and in the days of my boyhood the most popular with us youngsters were the swing bridge (the approach by Blake’s Wharf), the “Little Corner” situated about half-way between the playground at Dr Valpy’s and the Lock Pool in the King’s Meadow, and a place for expert swimmers, a place about a hundred yards from the Pound Keepers until the new bathing house was erected there there was no safe for young people to acquire the art of swimming.
During my boyhood the King’s Meadow was held by Mr Jonathan Tanner, a brewer in Castle Street. he was one of the few I remember to have worn powdered hair with a pig-tail and also hessian Boots.
For many years the King’s Meadow continued in the occupation of Mr Tanner.
Until recently, Reading with an approximate population of 27,000 inhabitants had no baths where Ladies could learn the art of swimming, and it entirely owing to the enterprise spirit of Mr W.H. Simonds, a builder of South Street, that this necessity had been provided. I’m sure he had the hearty good wishes of us all that it may prove a success. if it were not that the Corporation, as a Saniotary Authority, have already too much business on hand, I, for one, should have thought it was the duty of such a body to provide an establishment of this kind, especialy as they have not only control over the supply of water but the price to be paid for it…..”


Councillors and VIPs

attend the Opening of the Kings Meadow Baths 1903

Reading pre 1952 Coat of Arms into Columns

Councillors and VIPs. The Opening of the King’s Meadow Open Air Baths was carried out by the Mayoress Mrs Holland Bull

After many delays, the long desired swimming bath for Ladies at Reading is an accomplished fact; and the highly successful completion of a scheme which presented many difficulties in its carrying out, reflects the greatest credit on the persistant efforts of the Parks and Pleasure Grounds Committee of the Corporation, and particularly on their energetic Chairman Mr Councillor Joseph Milsom, and on the Borough Engineer and Surveyor Mr John Bowen M. Inst. C.E. who designed a most complete and handsome bath, and overcame considerable engineering difficulties.
The new bath is a handsome structure, replete with every convenience.
The water area area measures 120 feet by 45 feet. The depth at the western extremity is 6 feet, and the depth at the opposite end being three feet.

Councillors were entertained by a fine Swimming Gala
The entertainmnet consisted of interesting drill, showing the four methods of saving persons from drowning, “release” drill and methods of resuscitation of the apparently drowned and demonstrations both on land and water were very smartly carried out by the following team under the direction of Mr Bruce Jones.
H.G. Haynes – H.R. Barrs – F.E. Gillier – H.S. Silver – A.H. Cane Jnr.
Demonstrations of a Handicap Swimming Race for the “Keyser Challenge Vase” took place with the following results:
1st Heat 1 Silver (5 secs) 2 Knight (scratch) 3 A.H. Cane (4 secs)
2nd Heat 1 L.O. Cane (5 secs) 2 C. Morris (6 secs) 3 H.R Barr (1 sec)
Final Heat 1st Silver 2nd Barrs 3rd Knight 4th L.O. Cane
At the close Mr Stanley Hayward proposed a toast of thanks to the members of the Reading and Y.M.C.A. Swimming Clubs, which was heartily accorded and acknowledged by Mr Henry Creed (President R.S.C.) and the host, hostess then entertained their guests to tea and coffee.

Councillors and eminent  Citizens of the Town

  • Alderman Monck – Alderman Field – Alderman and Mrs Eurby – Cllr and Mrs Ridley – Cllr and Miss Cox – Cllr and Mrs Philbrick – Cllr EH and Miss Simmonds – Cllr and Mrs G.W Webb – Cllr and Mrs Jackson – Cllr and Miss Mosdel – Cllr and Miss Waite – Cllr and Misses Eighteen – Cllrs Brinn, Clark, J.H. Walters, Pidler and Connolly – R.P. Newhouse – Dr J Hurry – Captain Henderson – Mr and Mrs Creed – Mr W. M. Ferguson – Misses Ferguson and Bird – Mr R Bird – Mr H.P. Milsom – Mrs Radcliffe – Mr Henry Day – Mrs C.S. Smith – Mr JohnMr and Mrs Bowen – Mr and Mrs Lund – Miss White – Misses Esser – Miss Mausson – Miss Reudal – Misses Lacey – Mr Barnard Messer – Mr C.H. Keyner – Mr and Mrs Slade – Mr and Mrs Clutterbuck – Mr and Mrs Cooper – Mr John Eccrington
  • – Messrs Charles Slaughter – Mr and Mrs Bradley – Mr John Powell – Haslam jnr – Henry Read.
    Councillors Presided over the Ceremony 1903Mr Milsom began the proceedings by making a short introductory statement in which he outlined the the Bath.
    The Corporation and Parks Committee were proud of their Engineer and Surveyor who designed the bath and saw it carried through so successfully.
    Very great credit was due to Mr Bowen for the magnificent bath which he maintained was second to none in the country.Mr Milsom expressed the hope that someone would kindly provide a clock for the tower and concluded by asking the Mayoress to declare the Bath open, and in congratulating the Corporation on having provided it for the use of the women and children of Reading.

“I think such a bath has been a long felt want and I hope they will all appreciate it, and also that it may be the means of developing the useful and healthy recreation of swimming. I trust it will be fully appreciated by all who use it”(Cheers)

The Mayor who was greeted by cheers said on behalf of his wife he had to thank the company very sincerely for the welcome they had given her that day.
“During the past two and half years it had been a great pleasure to take part in a great many functions in the town but none, could he assure them would she remember better than that. ” (Applause)
It was his duty to congratulate the Parks and Pleasure Grounds Committee on having at least finished the baths, and in doing so, must say that they owed a great deal to the Chairman of that Committee, not only the trouble he had in connection with those baths but also for the work he put in for the Recreation Grounds throughout the town.
Fortunately, through a recent Act of Parliament, the Corporate body were able to spend from the rates for providing swimming baths, cycle tracks, and other forms of useful and healthy recreation for people, and for the money spent in that way they got ample and good return.
“Nothing was more important than the present generation, who should have healthy and good recreation which would enable them, combined with good to take part in the battle of life in future years, and the Corporation of Reading had not been behind handling and studying the requirements of the people in that direction”  (Hear hear)
He hoped that day was not far distant – and he was glad to see the Chairman of the late School Board, Cllr Collier there because he knew he agreed on the point – when swimming would be part of National education. (Hear hear) He assured them that his wife had great pleasure in being present.(Applause)

Councillors and other attendees
Mayor Albert Holland Bull
Cllr Thomas Waite (Business at 5 Duke Street, residence “Park View” 25 Alexander Road, Reading – Elected Church Ward – 1887) – Retires in 1903 – Highways Lighting, Sanitary Committee, Library Sub-Committee, Estates Survey Committee (Waite and Pugh)
Cllr Henry Thomas Pugh (81 London Road, 1902 University College, Reading.) – Governor Reading School Board, Waite and Pugh , Drainage Building Committee.
The 1902 Park’s and Leisure Ground Committee:
Messrs Chairman Milsom, Palmer, Clarke, Collier, Connolly,Frame, Eighteen, Hayward, Jackson, Mosdel, Simmonds, Philbrick

Swimming Clubs

1903 and First Members at Kings Meadow Baths

Red outlines indicate Ladies and Mens Baths

Britain v. Germany Polo Match 1910

 Swimming Clubs of Reading  and a Lifesaving Club was established in 1885 and had its headquarters at the open air Corporation Baths – Coley Avenue (one of the largest pools ever to be in Reading) and then onto a pool close to King’s Meadow Recreation Ground,  prior to the building of the Swimming Baths.
The Secretary’s were:  Mr Henry Creed and Mr Bruce Jones A.S.A ; L.S.S. (official Handicapper to the A.S.A)
Further reference indicates that the Y.M.C. A. met there. Ref. Reading Mercury 1885

The Winter Bathers

“In connection with notation” we must mention the unique Association of Winter Bathers who daily have their mutinal “dip” in the open river no matter how severe the weather. They number twenty six, ranging in age from the “Commodor” Mr Samuel Hood, who celebrated his ninety second birthday last February and Master Fred Russell aged thirteen!” ref. Reading Illustrated 1899

Reading Swimming Club Committee Members

Top Downwards L to R

Mr S. Earnest Palmer – Director of G.W.R’
Mr N. Creed – Chairman of Reading Swimming Club
Alderman Gynningham Field J.P – Past Local Sportsman,
Mr F.W. Holmes-Walker – Hon. Sec of Reading Elementary Schools Swimming Association.
Dr Jameson Hurry – Historian
Mr. George R Jackson – President of Reading Elementary Schools Swimming Association
Mr Lewis J. Lund – Hon. Sec. of Reading Elementary Schools Swimming Association.Mrs.G.R. Jackson – President of the Ladies Section of Reading

Swimming Clubs Reading and District Elementary Schools Swimming Association (Affiliated to the Royal Life Saving Society) This Association was founded in 1904 with the object of encouraging children to swim. It receives the generous support of the Mayor and Corporation of the Borough, the Education Committee, and the Reading Swimming Club.
An Annual Gala is held in July, a general half day holiday being granted to all schools.
The Association holds the following trophies:
The Jackson Shield
R.S.C Shield
J. Milsom Cup
The Teachers Shield
Martin Sutton Cup
and… by courtesy of the R.S.C…
The Albert Palmer Cup swam for at the Schools Gala.
The Officers are:
Chairman Cllr G.R. Jackson J.P. Pretoria Oxford Road
Hon. Treasurer T Hayward, Heathfield , King’s Road
Chairman of the Committee D.G. Thorburn
R.L.S.S. Hon. Secretary F.W. Holmes- Walker 29 Elm Road


The Mens Bath on the opposite corner to the Ladies Bath.  Apartments now stand on the area


Mens Bathing Place

One of the largest in the Country

Mens Bathing Place. The charge for a ticket entitling a person to bathe February, March, April is 2s 6d which includes the use of a dressing box when available.
One shilling tickets are available for one month during the winter season.
No charges are made for bathing at either of the Bathing Places or for the use of the unreserved dressing boxes at the Women’s Bathing Place after one o’clock in the afternoons Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays during the months of May, June, July, August, and September.
Borough of Reading – Public Bathing Places in King’s Meadow Regulations:
The Men’s and Women’s Public Bathing Places in the King’s Meadow are opened at 6 o’clock in the forenoon of every day during the months of May, June, July, August and September, and closed at 10 o’ clock. In the afternoon of every week during the month of May – at 9 o’clock, and in the afternoon of every week day during the month of June or July – at 8.30 o’clock, and in the afternoonof every day week during the month of September. Admission by ticket or payment.
Reading Swimming Club and Lifesaving Society established 1885

Headquarters – Corporation Baths.
Colours – Black and White.
Subscriptions 2s 6d per annum.
President – Mr Henry Creed.
Committee – Messrs H.A. Barrs,F.W. Holmes Walker,G.W. Hawkins, E.T. Chapman, C.A. M. Morris, T.T. Thorpe, H.R. Barrs, J. Lund, H.S. Silver, A.W. Tudor, H.J. Isaacs, H.C. Hopping, and J. Wicks.
Hon. Captain – J.B. Messer.
Deputy Captain – A. Knight,
Hon Treasurer – Mr. T.R. Kent
Hon Secretary – Mr H. Bruce-Jones, S.C.A.S.A, L.S.S. The Nook, Wokingham Road.
Assistant Hon. Secretary – A.S. Pyke – New Road, Southern Hill.
The Swimming Meetings of the Club are held every morning at the Corporation Baths from 8am, and Tuesday and Thursday evenings 7pm to 8.30pm. Life Saving Drills, Monthly Handicaps, Water Polo Matches – Members taught free.
Ladies Section Hon Secretary – Mrs E.M. Hounsell 26 Broad Street

Other Swimming Club Places in Reading, now no longer.

Arthur Hill Memorial Baths
Coley Corporation Baths and Tilehurst Baths
Freebody’s Lido and Cawstons Lido
Kings Meadow Open Air Ladies Baths
Scours Lane Bathing Place
Spring Gardens and South Street Baths
Reading Central Pool


Heritage Listing

of Kings Meadow Baths Reading – 2004

Heritage Listing
A Brilliant Archive at the time of the Heritage Listing August 2004 with comments from the Reading People.

Report Associated with the Heritage Listing
“Women’s Outdoor Swimming Pool, 1902 with minor late C20 alterations. Designed and built by John Bowen, Borough Engineer and Surveyor, at a cost of £4890. Ironwork made byAllan & Kidgell at their Caversham Bridge Engineering Works. Red and white brick with ashlar dressings and plain tile roofs. Canopy roofs replaced with C20 corrugated iron.
INTERIOR has white tiled rectangular swimming pool 120 ft long and 45 ft wide. Pool surrounded by a covered loggia with a timber roof or canopy. This canopy supported on ornate cast iron columns with elaborate brackets above. Octagonal entrance building now marked by C20 temporary boarding. The shallow end retains a large number of original timber changing rooms sited under the surrounding canopy.
EXTERIOR has octagonal entrance building projecting from the centre of the long south side. Octaogon has tall tile roof with four small dormers, each with tile-hung sides and timber brackets supporting the gables. Main entrance has central doorway topped with a bold ashlar pediment containing a shield bearing the date “1902”. Either side two windows to the octagon and seven windows on either side, the chamfered ends have a single window each. All these windows are linked by a molded ashlar cill band, and they are now boarded up. The left end has a single small chimney staff
All the external walls are orange brick with a white brick band above. The three remaining sides are all blind.
This pleasure bathing pool was built to allow Edwardian women to bathe in privacy. It was originally fed from the Thames though it was converted to main supply in the 1950s.
It is an extremely rare and fine example of a complete Edwardian Lido.


Diving Board

Helen stole the show and the manufacturer of board

Helen stole the show at the Schools Swimming Gala

Manufacturer of the board


Great Engineering

of the Kings Meadow Baths alongside the Thames

‘Allens of Reading’  who made the iron columns


1903 (quote)
The great engineering difficulties of constructing a bath of this kind, lying so far below the normal water level is considerable.
Great care is necessary in conducting the excavations to form the concrete bottom.  
Great engineering resulted in a pool bottom of two feet in  thickness.
The construction of the walls of the bath equally so,  which are three feet thick at the base.  Great engineering thought and planning have to be implemented when building a swimming pool so close to the river.
To carry out this and other underground work,  great engineering design led to a large pumping sump which was necessary.   There are duplicate engines and pumps fixed,  in order to guard against breakdown.

Before the Opening
Much discussion took place and delays of the opening of the Bath were minuted by the Corporation.  The negotiations took place between members of the Thames Conservancy,  and the owner of the Lower Caversham Mill Mr Lawes  before the opening of the great engineering fete of the Ladies Bath.
Mr Milsom wanted a 24 inch outlet and inlet pipe for the pool.  Taking off the water,  and the return of it to the river was an issue.The water supply is derived from the Thames. The intake of  water is protected by a grid.  By means of a syphon it is then  carried through the 24 inch culvert underneath the towpath.
This then enters a large filter in the Kings Meadow where it is treated.  After treatment it passes through a second 24 inch  culvert to the bath.

Completing the cycle
From the bath it is  discharged over the weir,  the level of which can be regulated at pleasure into a third culvert.   This communicates with the stream discharging into the river immediatle below the lock.
Absolute control of the water is maintained at all points.
When full,  the bath holds 152.000 gallons. A continuous current of water will be maintained in the bath by the difference in the level between the headwater at Caversham Lock and the tail water at Sonning Reach.
A test of water tightness of the bath was made during the time when the headwater in the Thames was 2 feet 6 inches above the normal water level.
The whole of the work was designed and constructed under the superintendance of the Borough Engineer and Surveyor – Mr John Bowen, Associate Member C.E. – and the Contractor Mr Henry Hill of Reading.
The total cost of the work was £4890.
Concurrently with the construction of the Ladies Bath,  a Caretakers Lodge – to be used for the park Constable – and public sanitary conveniences for males and females have been erected at the same time.


The Lodge

and Meadow

The Lodge

The Lodge consists of a parlour, kitchen, scullery, coal house and W.C. on the ground floor, with three bedrooms on the first floor.Large gatherings take place from time to time in the King Meadow’s recreation ground, and on occasions in the past the Corporation have had to construct temporary latrines at considerable cost. The erection of these buildings will avoid this expenses in the future.Separate accommodation has been provided for the Ladies, access to such accommodation being given from the King’s Meadow and the Recreation Ground.These buildings have been erected, relieved with stone dressings, and in appearance are an ornamental addition to the ground.The plans of the Lodge and conveniences were prepared and the work carried out under the superintendance of the Engineer and Borough Surveyor. The Contractor for these was Mr McCarthy Fitt of Reading and the total costs of the works wa £1240.The work of raising the level of the ground in the neighbourhood of the Ladies Swimming Bath, Lodge etc. is now quickly proceeding, as it is intended to raise  the ground floor around these buildings above flood level. Editor’s note – a great testament to this is the picture below taken in 2014! The work of the general planting and fencing off around the building is also in progress.  The Baths remained High and Dry!



Architects Opinion

on Kings Meadow Ladies Baths in Reading
Architects describe the structure

Extracts from D.R. Bowdler, Inspector – National Heritage Listing 1st April 2004.

Architects Opinion: “Kings Meadow was built in response to the 1846 Baths and Washouse Act, which permitted public expenditure from the rates on such provisions.
This movement reflected the democratic aspect of the Victorian Social Conscience, which earnestly believed in providing access to water for all.
1902 is emphatically stated above the main entrance and appears homonogeous throughout. This is thus an Edwardian open-air riverside pool, on a site rather with rather longer association with public bathing.

This must now be a relatively rare example of an Edwardian riverside open-air pool. Architecturally it is hard to make great claims
to it however.
There were to be no frills at Reading – Kings Meadow pool was never heated then, and the buildings surrounding the pool are very restrained examples of Edwardian municipal design. This is realised in a fairly old fashioned vernacular revival style.
The pool reflects the typical lay-out of the period i.e. a narrow pool with changing facilities along the sides, and a relative ornate roof structure – in this case, partly open.

The cast iron iron brackets supporting the barge boarded roof constitute the only non utilitarian decorative element to the design.
Although it is quite difficult without further research to give Kings Meadow Swimming Pool greater National context, our current understanding of this type of pool is less than complete and this example has claims to some interest as an early example of an outdoor pool.”
Professional View
“On inspection of the iron columns I found a label. It appeared to me that the tag had been added after the column had been made and not molded with it The one I was able to read was Allens * Reading Reading.”
The dot (*) between Allen and Reading appeared to be a screw or rivet and not a blurred ampersand. Replace picture

Professional Opinion of the Outside Structure.

J.W. Ridgett B.A. – Architect 2004.

“I would like to offer my support for the preservation of the King’s Meadow Public Swimming Pool, and to put a plea on behalf of the existing fabric of this building which has many features of real architecture. The building has been well ducumented over the past hundred years or so.

Inside the Octagon – Roof


It is a well-built municipal building for utilitarian use, constructed I would imagine with local bricks, tiles and timber. The brickwork is extremely fine for its type in traditional pattern brickwork, traditional to the Reading street scene, no doubt due to the local brick and tile works at Tilehurst.
The swimming pool fabric is, in the main built in red brickwork with deep frieze band of yellow brickwork. The windows have stone dressing and fine rubbed flat arches with paper thin joints between the voussoirs. The band of yellow brickwork forming the frieze sits upon a molded header string course. (Unfortunately several metres of this string course has been crudely hacked off.) Pictures agj


Above the frieze a cornice is formed by a band of timber dentile molding which gives support for a cast iron box section ogee over-sailing the main brickwork face to give support to the clay machine made clay tile mono pitch roof with its bold sweeping sprocketed eaves. ( Once again vandalism has smashed or removed sections of the gutter and timber eaves detail exposing the eaves and top of the brickwork to the ingress of water.
However, a cheap restoration had been carried out some years ago when corrugated iron was fitted over the rear arcos of the roofing, but this is completely out of character and should be replaced with matching clay tiles. A feature of the roofline over the entrance has been formed by the inclusion of a timber clock turret with tiled roof apex. Unfortunately no clock.”
The building sits on projecting blue Staffordshire brick plinth which circles the whole of the building.  An extension has been added some thirty years ago in the form of a single storey flat roof with well built double oak doors with fine molded panels and framing. Although it is well built, it is not in character with the main building. Furthermore, I feel the preservation of this building is doubly advantageous. Firstly you will provide a much needed leisure activity for there appears very little in the area of Reading for the younger generation, and secondly, retain a good example of Edwardian local architecture.


Archive and Visions

Outline in 2012/3 of efforts to keep the Baths for the Community.

Kings Meadow Campaign (quote)

Archive and Visions. We are a group of campaigners that have been trying to save the baths since 2002 when it was threatened by the bulldozer. We gained Grade II Heritage Listing in 2004. We have stopped the building being knocked down making way for a proposed International high rise hotel and car park. We want to preserve a piece of land that was given to the People of Reading by George Palmer, and maintain a beautiful riverside as well as eventually getting the pool up and running again. To preserve our remaining Heritage for generations past, present and future. To keep this area for the Community.

This will help us involve youths who are not in education,employent or training (NEETS) to learn new skills and help tidy, scrub, paint, restore. To learn metal working, woodwork and carpentry under the tuition and supervision of highly skilled trainers, and the opportunity to meet future employers. To help them feel pride and satisfaction contributing to ou

Campaigners Vision

ALL pictures.
The Pool 120 x 45ft – 3ft 6ins shallow end, 6ft 8ins deep end – Heated to between 24 c and 28 c

The Arena 140x60ft wall to wall floor capable of 5kN/m2 loading. Surface covered in any type of flooring as required. Seating around the sides can provide a viewing area of 12ft 3/4 of the way around.

The Exhibition Centre Size as for the arena, but could be laid out with stalls around sides under canopy roof.

Ice Rink. The Ice Rink Size as for the pool, but with exits on the long sides. Seating provided around long walls. Sized to take 100 people on the ice at any one time. Suitable for public sessions, private parties, ice exhibitions and classes.

Some councillors advised that RBC should give the Campaigners more time but to support them fully and help them achieve Lottery Money

More Vision here

Stop the Sale of King’s Meadow Swimming Baths

Let the Community take over the Kings Meadow Swimming Baths to turn it into a cutting edge cultural venue!

2013 For Posterity Sparrow Hawk Band  donated the first track on Petition Page. We want to thank the chaps for donating a song to the cause! The guys are brilliant. for more info on them head here

Archive – Message from  Lead Campaigner Bob O’ Neill NEWS – 22nd September 2013  Last Efforts.  No link provided agj


Raising money

A summary towards restoration of the Kings Meadow Baths

Impatient swimmers!

Selected events
Raising money. The run down below is for memoir history sake only. We tried… there was much more to the sequence of events than listed below… and that must not be forgotten. There were many obstacles to overcome prior to 2010 in order to raise money.
The first stages began in earnest. The goal was £5000.  The Organisation had Charitable Aims.

Raising money in ♦2010

MONTHLY PICK OUT OF A HAT (ongoing) – FREE meal for 2 at the Crowne Plaza Caversham
CAMRA FESTIVAL- April 2010 first opening of Baths for 35 years.  See Campaigners video (AGJ)

GRAZELEY PAROCHIAL CHURCH SCHOOL – Donated Silver Collection £168.41p – end of Summer Term Concert. Our grateful thanks
“HOW TO RESCUE A RUIN” Readers Digest May 10th 2010
SWIMMERS REUNION at Mapledurham Pavilion July 2010
HERITAGE WEEK The Baths were open Friday 10th September; Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th. Thanks to all who came to have a another peep at the wonderful bath that has stood for 108 years – also for £150+ worth of donations. Thank YOU!
TESCO’S COMMUNITY DAY – 9th September 2010
CHARITY BALL held at Penta Hotel October 2nd 2010

Raising money in ♦2011

Other planned events for December were cancelled due to adverse weather conditions 2011
OPEN DAY at Pool 10.30 – 15.00 6th February 2011
2 CAR BOOT and TABLE TOP SALES – 26th February and March held at Mapledurham Pavilion A joint venture with fundraisers for the replacement of Mapledurham Pavilion.
5 K HERITAGE WALK and QUIZ held 20th March
Schools Together Entertainment PRIVATE SCHOOL EVENT 8th July 17.00 – 19.00. Allowed a stand for KMC to collect funds
THE CAVERSHAM FESTIVAL on 10th July 11.00 – 20.00.
DESIGN A T-SHIRT competition for children under 16 years old. This will be launched at Meadow Madness on Saturday, 14th, May, 2011.
Little Beau’s picture of the Ice Rink

CAR BOOT SALE in aid of KMC and Mapledurham Pavilion Fundraising Saturday August 20th 12-4pm
HERITAGE TRAIL – opened Baths on Friday 9th & Saturday 10th September 2011

Raising money in ♦2012

TABLE TOP SALE- Plant Room Kings Meadow Baths 1st April 2012 10am
BEER FESTIVAL – Plant Room King’s Meadow Baths 2nd May 2012 – 6th May ’12
VOLKWAGON FESTIVAL – Table Stand for the day.
HERITAGE DAYS – Plant Room at Kings Meadow Baths, Friday to Sunday Sept. 7th- 9th 2012
CAKE STALLS Pangbourne – Oct.20th ’12 and Cyclists Exhibition Prospect Park Oct. 21st ’12
MULTI OPEN DAYS Open Days every weekend for 18 months come rain, ice or snow and beautiful balmy weekends.
XMAS INVITATION POSTER– Plant room Sunday 16th Dec.2012 from 2.30pm Mince Pies & Mulled Wine & Photograph

Raising Awareness

Write up:

SWIMMERS HOPEFUL ‘Raising Awareness’ Reading Chronicle

Raising money in ♦2013

Considerable raised funds were used to help the Baths from deteriorating. Unfortunately the bank BALANCE was always the subject persistently quoted in the media. Not actually the amount raised.
But…in any event,  it just wasn’t enough in the end.
The Campaigners wanted the Council’s support

The Kings Meadow Baths were listed here

The Campaigners tried to keep the building for the Community of Reading people. Just as George Palmer did.

“At the very least the building was saved.”


BBC Flog it!

BBC Flog it!

Presenter Paul Martin came to Kings Meadow Baths 2013



takes the baths into a new chapter

At least we saved the baths – for restoration by a developer


Campaigners Observations

(most recent first first)

Mr Norman Bullock – 22/05/16

A Campaigners Observations.  At my last visit to the King’s Meadow baths a couple of weeks ago, they had all but demolished the plant room annex, the walls since reduced to ground level, but still showing the outline footprint where it once stood . The north wall it shared with the substation still stands along with a small section to the east wall adjoining the new north gallery. Much of the brickwork of the west wall has been removed between the hip sections along its entire length up to string course level, supported in full length by lintels underpinned by steel columns, three of which were externally visible. Behind this, was boarding along its full length, a small opening where the service entrance once was, still afforded a view of the baths interior.

At my last visit to the King’s Meadow baths a couple of weeks ago, they had all but demolished the plant room annex, the walls since reduced to ground level, but still showing the outline footprint where it once stood . The north wall it shared with the substation still stands along with a small section to the east wall adjoining the new north gallery. Much of the brickwork of the west wall has been removed between the hip sections along its entire length up to string course level, supported in full length by lintels underpinned by steel columns, three of which were externally visible. Behind this, was boarding along its full length, a small opening where the service entrance once was, still afforded a view of the baths interior.

They had commenced work on the basement, a required depth of around three and a half metres according to the plan, they had excavated a small section to the north-west corner outside the existing tank wall to a depth in excess of two metres, but had evidently paused to take stock of things, not least of because of persistent seepage of water into the works, a pump was busy continuously clearing the excess water. It had been determined previously that the water table sits about two metres below ground surface level, and that some seepage had been noted when last I called, presumably whilst laying in the new drainage system, but nothing too serious.

At my visit this week, I was surprised to find much of the area where the annex once existed churned up to a depth of half a metre or so, more so in other areas, with network drainage pipes was being laid, the work was being carried out by a specialist contractor. What they told me was this was a part of a wider problem with this flood plain, and King’s Meadow in particular, extending westwards beyond, and to an area south of Forbury, where a layer of compacted clay sits on top of a more permeable layer of strata below. It seems that the clay layer had been “punched through” during excavations allowing water under considerable pressure to feed through. No doubt will delay progress until the matter is resolved.

As you may recall looking back more than a century ago a similar situation occurred, a document emerged relating to the construction of the Kings Meadow Baths, uncovered by Bob in his research. It describes the difficulties in excavation of the ground works, both in construction of the tank , and it’s connecting conduits, If I am not mistaken, I believe that you probably have a brief description as such elsewhere on your website describing the event.

In common with all building sites I have visited recently, almost all the work is carried out by cheap foreign labour, both skilled and unskilled, all seem friendly enough, the ones at KMB come from South America and Europe, I am on friendly terms with them, some are contracted until the middle of next year, so that may give us a clue that the project may extend to that time.

Mr Norman Bullock – 19/02/16

I went last week to KMB to see how far they have
got since last time in December. It seems that they have now finish the
construction of the north gallery. The windows have yet to be fitted,
their openings masked by temporary boarding. Additionall, the outside have since been rendered over and painted. Initial work to demolish the annex on the south side now at a standstill.
Before they can do much more they would have remove the roof first to lift out the heavy girders, but no sign of that!.

I talked briefly to the construction manager whom I had never seen before. He invited me in for a quick look from the safety of the inner octagon, which now appears to be the temporally works office/refreshments area.  From there you probably get the best overall view of the pool. It seems a little strange seeing it with all the boarding removed after seeing it for several years,  with the ‘clubs house’ in place. Standing there looking side-to-side it looked more or less as I imagined to be.  The symmetry restored, with unbroken lines of columns matching all sides. Much of the detailed facia has now been put back.  They were busy painting it white, the finished colour. Once hidden, the detailing along the edge of the octagon roof at the pools edge is now visible. The pool construction is nearing its final phase. This is one area where quite a lot of progress has been made. 
My last visit the pool floor looked chaotic, the edge boundaries undefined. Now the form appears finalised, the pool edges are raised up from the ground floor area projecting upwards by around 300 mm. The idea it seems is to provide a visual water feature perhaps with side lighting effects. The water coming up to the top, and overspilling, and cascading over the edges to a collection channel on all sides.

Mr Norman Bullock – 01/02/16

“The frontage now would have looked quite similar to what it would have looked like when it was opened in 1903.  The exception being the canopy which is now approximately 150mm higher than it was originally.  Principally it is to accommodate thermal insulation – whether or not it was originally painted green as it was in the 60s I cannot say.  It was not mentioned in the original specification of works. Looking inside from the service entrance,  the boarding underneath looks much as it did originally,  with the herring bone pattern maintained throughout.

All of the canopy works seem to have been completed,  needing only columns,  brackets,  and facia trim,  some of them waiting to be painted in their finishing colour.
Walking along the front wire fence,  affords tantalising glimpses of
the new layout.  The newly restored sash windows now bathe light into the front rooms as they once did.  The octagon entrance was open when I last visited in December.  A quick peek inside reveals both sides of the lobby walkway are now quite close to the original layout. The wall that once obstructed the right hand side of the lobby has gone, along with the bricked up original entrance to the bicycle room.  The bicycle room can now be viewed directly,  at least in part from inside the front doorway.  However what is noticeably different is the ceiling height which has been lowered substantially to approximate 1 metre perhaps less.  It was hard to judge from the limited perspective I had.  This has been done to accommodate an upper storey.  Looking through the window at a distance,  there are stairs up and appear to have been the toilet room, that used to be to the left looking from the front of the building.

The chimney stack had been taken down earlier in the year and rebuilt,  using blue-grey bricks as a direct replacement to the original red ones.  However it does not look out of place, and surprisingly contrasts quite well with the new roof tiles.  The new tiles overall look quite smart,  as with the new canopy.  It gives us a clue to what it must have looked like at the opening ceremony all those years ago.  The octagon ridges look slightly different from the originals,  having been laid in the continental style without mortar.  The rest look as originally intended. I noted that they took several months to complete the tiling, which should have taken far less time. Perhaps this may have been due to a lack of suitable craftsman.  The work requires a high level of skill for it to look ‘right.’ They appeared to be European.  There never seemed more that two working on it at any given time each time I went. Little seemed to change from week to week,  indeed, there never appeared to be more than 4 or 5 men working on the entire site.

When I spoke to Marcos (the man in charge of works) at the outset,  he
expected the work would take a year and a half perhaps to 2 years at the most.  At the start of December last year it was clear (at least to me) that the works were behind schedule.  They had made a start demolishing the plant room annex but hadn’t got very far with it.  The pace of work had noticeably quickened at that point, with many more workers working on it,  as with the new north gallery and pool construction.

With all those extra workers I expect to see a big difference next time I
visit this February.



A few thumbnails

thumbnails from a large collection…

Children Crayoning the Pool

Childrens Painting Competition

Photo shoot – Volkswagon


Roof and Ridge Tiles repair

General Shots

Reminiscences at Xmas Time – past swimmers

Last Days

The End