Friday, 16 March 2012

Greenbank Lido by Joe Lepper

Copyright Philip Watson (All Rights Reserved)

 The water at Greenbank lido in Street, Somerset, is always a toasty 30 degree Celsius. Temperature is something of a preoccupation during my visits, as I’m in and out of the pool a lot with my two children, who every five minutes alternate playing between the pool and the fountains and slides at the far end of the lido. One minute I’m luxuriating in the cosy water, the next cold and wrapped in a towel while watching my kids dive in and out of giant water spouts.

When I moved to Street from Brighton six years ago I discovered my new home was blessed with not one but two swimming pools. While the indoor pool run by a council contractor serves its purpose it is Greenbank, the lido built by the shoemaking Clarks dynasty who are still based in Street, which is the real draw for swimmers and families.

There’s barely an inch of the village that The Clarks family have not either owned, currently own or have some kind of say in its running. They built my son’s primary school, own the fields that are dotted between the houses, which they in turn either still own or at least used to. The discount retail park in the village centre still bears their name and the distribution centre and headquarters of their shoe empire dominates the local labour market. 

Photo by Joe Lepper

I’m a little uncomfortable with one company controlling so much of my life, but I can’t deny this millionaire family of Quakers have splashed their cash well at times, in particular Alice Clark who created Greenbank in 1937. Part of Alice’s motivation for developing the pool for local people was her background as a suffragette and campaigner for women’s rights. At the time the men and boys of street, many of whom used to work for her family, used to swim naked in the River Brue, which separates Street from its more bohemian neighbours in Glastonbury. With women effectively excluded from this nude, post work dip, she decided to plough some of the family gold into a place where they could swim.

It was gifted to the village after completion and Greenbank remains a charitable trust to this day, receives a grant from the local parish council which ensures the spirit of Alice Clark lives on by giving local people a nice discount on season tickets.

It is the key place for young people to meet and the focus for family life in Street from May to September. “When’s the outdoor pool opening,” says my eldest son regularly during the winter months. 

Copyright Philip Watson (All Rights Reserved)
 Of those lidos that remain many are in the urban south-east and London, but this is a prime example of a well used rural lido that as soon as the temperature gets anywhere above 18 degrees becomes packed. Even when it’s colder there are still regular swimmers among its snug ripples. We use it even more as recession bites and family life gets more expensive. We only live around the corner from it so its no trouble on a warm Saturday afternoon in June to march down there loaded down with our season ticket, towels and snacks.

As well as being near to us, its location within Street offers a constant reminder of it heritage and rural setting. To one side cows and sheep graze in an adjacent field and to the other side is the High Street and headquarters of Clarks, complete with the giant, red brick chimney of this shoe family’s old factory, high above the family fun below.

Joe Lepper is a freelance journalist. For more information visit his website here He also co-edits the music website Neonfiller

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