Who remembers Heaton Pool aka Chilli Road Baths?
It was situated on Biddlestone Road, where the doctors’ surgery is now. Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews, has fond memories of the pool and of Heaton Amateur Swimming Club (ASC), which was based there. Arthur takes up the story:
‘After learning to swim at a very cold open air pool at Hawkey’s Lane in North Shields, it was suggested by our swimming teacher, Mrs Richardson, that my brother Michael, sister Moira and I give competitive swimming a try. So every Thursday evening. we all began to catch the Number 11 yellow ‘custard’ bus to Heaton ASC at Chilli Road Baths. Moira, although a competent swimmer, eventually decided that being competitive was not for her. But Michael and I stuck with it.
Dave Smith was our coach and taskmaster. His bark was worse than his bite, although it did not seem like it at the time. Training was hard work (as it should be!). No one had swimming goggles in those days so, after a long session, the chlorine really stung our eyes. On dark evenings the street lights seemed to have blurred haloes of light around them. Any contact with cigarette smoke on the bus made our eyes water. Those of us with fair hair ended up ‘bleached blondes’. The highlight of club night was tucking into fish and chips from Wallace’s on the corner of Benton Road and the Coast Road on the way home.
There were many swimming galas throughout Northumberland and Durham and not many people had cars to transport the swimmers. Dave Smith, our coach, ferried us round in a small, green Standard 8 and a handful of parents helped too.
Incidentally, the trophy that every club wanted to win was the Samuel Smith Perpetual Memorial Trophy, donated after the death in 1949 of Sam Smith Senior, founder of Ringtons in Heaton. The Smith family were staunch supporters of swimming locally: there was also a trophy in memory of his son Sam Smith Junior, who had tragically died in a plane crash and Malcolm Smith was Heaton ASC president.
In 1966 and 1967, Michael and I, and a few others from Heaton, achieved the qualifying times to enter the National Swimming Championships at Derby Street (salt water baths) in Blackpool. This pool was 55 yards long, 30 yards longer than Heaton Baths. The length was daunting as was the competition! In my 110 yard freestyle heat I found myself on the starting block between English Champion, Bobby Lord, and international, A A Jarvis. Once the starting gun was fired I followed in their wake, finishing over six seconds behind them. It was all to get competition experience rather than have any chance of winning. Staying in a Blackpool B&B with four in a room was quite an experience as well.
Chillier than Chilli Road
I once came in second in the Durham Long Course Championship, which was known as the Durham Mile. In 1967, Michael and I, along with several others from Heaton ASC, took part in this event on Elvet waterside along with approximately 90 other foolhardy souls. We changed in Durham City Baths across the road.There were no wetsuits, though the water temperature was a bracing 14 to16 degrees. We gingerly descended the steep, slippery riverbank and lined up in two rows across the river, our feet sinking into the squelchy, muddy riverbed. It seemed to take an age to for the starting pistol to be fired.
The course was up to the old bandstand and back with no goggles (we would not have been able to see anything any way!) Apart from the cold water and a mass of flailing arms and legs we had to contend with swimming through floating twigs, teasel and other debris hitting our bodies. Swimming too close to the riverbank meant scooping up handfuls of mud, which would slow you down as well as being unpleasant. The turn at the rope across the river near the bandstand was hazardous as the leading group just swam straight into the stragglers, so a black eye or other bruising was a distinct possibility. The hot shower and baths were most welcome after between thirty and sixty minutes in the Wear.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the event ceased in the early 1970s as the Wear was deemed too polluted.
In the early 1970s a proposal was made to replace some of Heaton ASC’s older swimming club cups and plaques. Members and parents were asked if any would be willing to donate new trophies and good friends, Bill Allan of Plessey Terrace and Richard Jacobs of Jesmond and myself clubbed together to purchase a cup. We called it the Andrews, Allan and Jacobs Cup to be presented to the winner of the Senior Mens 200 yards Freestyle event. The first time it was competed for, although not at my peak, I entered the event to see if I could win my own trophy. I believe I was ahead for the first six lengths, but in the final two, I was overtaken by several fitter swimmers. I can’t remember who won the event or who presented the trophy. It may only have been swum for once.
Around this time it was proposed that a City of Newcastle Swimming Club should be set up to comprise the best swimmers from the other clubs in the city. The idea was that, rather than the local clubs only occasionally winning a national event, a centralised club would make a name for itself winning events and producing international swimmers. It would have a full time professional coach to improve standards. The new club was based at Northumberland Road Baths in town. So, in 1973, Heaton ASC ceased to exist. (But what happened to Heaton’s historic club trophies? I’d love to know.)
City of Newcastle Swimming Club’s first annual swimming gala took place on Saturday 15 December 1973. ‘Incorporating Heaton ASC’ is written in parentheses after the name of the new club. This suggests that the other city clubs had not yet relinquished their identities. Certainly Northumberland ASC, with its long tradition and history, continued for many years.
There were many good times at Heaton ASC and Chilli Road Pool was always popular with competitive swimmers, as it was thought to be a fast pool. (Although the cockroaches in the changing rooms in the 60s seemed to spook a few!)
The pool itself had opened in April 1925, designed by prominent London architect, Alfred William Stephens Cross (1858-1932), who specialised in the design of public baths and wrote a book on the subject. Cross was vice president of RIBA (The Royal Institute of British Architects) and president of the Incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors. Heaton Pool must have been one of his final designs.
It cost £42,000. Originally there were ‘slipper baths’ for individual bathing; they were practically covered and shaped like a – yes, you guessed! Remember, few people would have had a bath at home in those days. The communal swimming pool measured 75 feet by 35 feet and contained 65,000 gallons of water. Changing cubicles around the edge of the pool were removed in the 1960s.
The pool remained open to the end of the millennium. Generations of Heaton children learnt to swim there and many locals still remember the family sessions with inflatable toys.
But in 2000, a ‘modern leisure facility’, East End Pool, was opened in Byker by Sir Bobby Robson, and that spelled the end for Chilli Road. Between 1990 and 2000, my sister Moira was a duty manager and adult swimming teacher there, continuing the family association until the very end.’
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Written and researched by Arthur Andrews, with additional research by Chris Jackson.
Heaton: from farms to foundries / Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012
Public baths and wash houses: a treatise on their planning, design, arrangement and fitting: having special regard to the acts arranging for their provision: with chapters on Turkish, Russian and other special baths, public laundries, engineering, heating, water supply etc / W S Cross; Batsford, 1906