Taking The Water

Taking the Waters: A Swim around Hampstead Heath

Caitlin Davies - Photographs by Ruth Corney

Mark Thompson (RALSA) writes:

I swam on Hampstead Heath throughout the 1980s, and just accepted it as a timeless never- changing place, so it is excellent to have such a comprehensive history of the swimming ponds and lido.

Taking the Waters: A Swim around Hampstead Heath is a well-written and fascinating account of the ponds, lido and swimming on Hampstead Heath from the 1700s to the present day. It is beautifully put together with atmospheric contemporary photographs and wonderful archive photographs from the 1900s onwards.

I particularly liked the accounts of the controversies and disputes that occurred throughout the history of swimming at the ponds and lido. As a user of the ponds I was blissfully unaware of these, but would echo the commentary that most swimmers there did not really have any issue with nude sunbathing and the gay crowd. I never sunbathed naked at the Men’s pond and my only memory of it was to think that the walrus beach effect on a hot day was vaguely amusing.

Another insight I found interesting was the high level of drowning during the Victorian age and beyond. Most of us would now say that Health & Safety has got out of hand but some good work must have been done by the RLSS and H&E lobby to bring the number of swimming drownings down to the very low levels we have today.

If you have ever swam on Hampstead Heath, or are interested in the development of open water swimming in this country, this book is highly recommended. After reading it I cannot wait to swim again on Hampstead Heath.