Open Air Baths at Blackpool South Shore, where the Sandcastle is now

Open Air Baths at South Shore, before the Sandcastle

If you’re of a certain age you might remember the open air baths at South Shore. They once stood where the Sandcastle is now. Let’s take a look back.

But first, here’s a walk-around video of that part of the seafront.

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Do You Remember the Baths?

Here at Live Blackpool we remember the baths well, but more about that later. Look at this old, grainy photo of the site in the 1970s. And here’s another memory, we think it’s a view from the Monorail at the Pleasure Beach!

Open air baths at South Shore Blackpool
Open air baths at South Shore Blackpool

When you know what shape the baths were, you can see how today’s Sandcastle sits in the same footprint.

Blackpool Sandcastle Waterpark
Blackpool Sandcastle Waterpark

Open Air Baths at South Shore

It opened on 9 June 1923 to coincide with Blackpool Carnival week, holding its first swimming gala.

A smaller children’s pool next to the big pool catered for kids. Raked seating overlooked the pool from the seaward side. The changing rooms flanked the landward side of the site.

Open Air Baths at South Shore Blackpool
Open Air Baths at South Shore Blackpool

The open air baths were incredibly popular during the summer. On warm days the water was always packed with swimmers and the seats with spectators. As a venue for events, beauty contests were a regular, very popular feature.

Part of Blackpool’s History

Nick Moore’s History of Blackpool gives us more information:

South Shore Open Air Baths official name was South Promenade Bathing Pool. It’s everyday name was usually South Shore Baths.

Modelled on the Coliseum in Rome it cost more than £750,000 to build! A colossal amount of money back then. The building formed an amphitheatre. A stunning building when new, with all the outside faced in white Faience brick from Shaw’s of Bolton. That’s the same stone that you see on many Blackpool buildings, including the Winter Gardens.

The D shaped pool was 376 feet long x 170 feet wide. It filled with 1,600,000 gallons of sea water. The pumping equipment filtered the sea water and could fill it at 75,000 gallons per hour.

Did you know? The 1924 British Olympic swimming trials were hosted here for the 1928 games. Water Polo matches were also held here.

An area could be partitioned off for swimming events. There were seven diving boards and under them the water was 15 feet deep. Divers had a choice of springboards, firm boards and a high board – which at 10m high swayed on windy days!

Take a look at this video clip from the BFI archives of the 1928 swimming and diving trials –

A Place for Beautiful People!

Many Beauty Queen competitions were held here, and the baths even had a purpose built Pageant platform.

Advert for Beauty Queen competitions at the Open Air Baths at South Shore, Blackpool
Advert for Beauty Queen competitions at the Open Air Baths at South Shore, Blackpool

The enormous building had a huge capacity, with space for 8000 spectators, 5000 of which could be seated. 1500 bathers could be accommodated.

Did you know? The Open Air Baths was used for scenes in the 1934 musical ‘Sing as We Go’ starring Gracie Fields?

By the end of the 1930s, visitors to South Shore Baths had totalled over nine million people. They enjoyed the coffee bars in each wing and three undercover cafes, between 7am and 9pm on weekdays and 8am to 8.30pm on Sundays.

Memories of South Shore Baths

As the author of this article, I clearly remember going to the open air baths at South Shore when we were in Blackpool on holiday. In the 1970s, I was a child of about seven or eight. I was also a strong swimmer too – practically living in our local swimming baths.

I clearly remember the changing rooms under the overhang – cool and mysterious. Then you came out into the sunshine and noise of the pool and an afternoon of fun! No matter how strong a swimmer I was though, I just didn’t like going into the big pool.

It might be the memory of a young mind, but I recall the deep water having the same bluey-green depths to it that our sea has now on a sunny day. It wasn’t clear and transparent to the bottom like a normal swimming baths.

I knew the water was pumped in from the sea. And because I couldn’t see to the bottom, nothing would convince me that it didn’t contain seaweed and jellyfish!

So I looked longingly at the deep cool water where I could have enjoyed a really good swim and instead made-do with splashing about in the children’s pool!

The End of the Open Air Baths

Let’s face it, the Great British Weather isn’t the best for open air swimming pools!

As people’s tastes changed, the popularity of open air swimming began to fade. South Shore Baths finally closed to the public in 1981, to be demolished in February 1983.

Demolition of the Open Air Baths at South Shore
Demolition of the Open Air Baths at South Shore

Building the Sandcastle Waterpark

Thanks to our friends at the Sandcastle for these photos taken during construction.

Building the Sandcastle Waterpark
Building the Sandcastle Waterpark
Building the Sandcastle Waterpark

There’s something missing from the skyline in the next photo. Doesn’t it look very different without the Big One at the Pleasure Beach!

Building the Sandcastle Waterpark
Building the Sandcastle Waterpark
Building the Sandcastle Waterpark
Building the Sandcastle Waterpark
Building the Sandcastle Waterpark
Fitting out inside the Sandcastle
Fitting out inside the Sandcastle

The New Sandcastle Waterpark

The Sandcastle Waterpark opened on 23 June 1986.

Sandcastle Waterpark in 1986 when it was brand new
Sandcastle Waterpark in 1986 when it was brand new
Early photo of the Sandcastle Waterpark
Early photo of the Sandcastle Waterpark

The new entertainment complex had a public house on the first floor called the Crow’s Nest (later renamed Bedlams night club).

Then in 1991, the dry side of the complex was made over into a version of The Crystal Maze. It was a popular TV game at the time. Another TV show came to town in 1996 when the World of Coronation Street visitors centre opened.

On 2 August 2001 the Grosvenor Casino opened, and is still open today.

Did you know? On 13 November 2014 Sandcastle Waterpark won the record for the most people down a water slide in one hour. 289 people to be precise!

Sandcastle Waterpark Today

It’s now one of the most popular attractions in Blackpool. Each year thousands of people flock there to enjoy the slides and rides, the spa and birthday parties.

Sandcastle Waterpark Blackpool
Sandcastle Waterpark Blackpool

We went along to the preview event when the Sandcastle reopened in summer 2020. It had been closed for several months, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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4 thoughts on “Open Air Baths at South Shore, before the Sandcastle”

  1. David Leslie Smith

    Wow !this takes me back , I was pool attendant in the 1978+ 79 season , just came back from holiday in Cornwall Sunday , job centre Monday morning,interview with Mr Cruikshank Monday afternoon, poolside Tuesday morning! Bob was the manager. We loathed rainy days as we drew straws ,short straw went to help at the lido! Chlorine hung in the air and the noise of the extra crowds drawn in by the rain made your ears ring .
    Really enjoyed those two seasons . Apparently the cracks in the pool bottom lost 1 bricks depth overnight, that’s 1,000s of gallons , raw seawater was held in a settling tank under the seating area on the seawards side . Then filtered as needed.

  2. can remember being at work all day and then travelling up to the south shore baths to see the final of the popular tv show its a knockout

  3. I remember the Sandcastle having loads of “dry” attractions – the aforementioned Crystal Maze, bingo, a decent sized arcade, pool tables, an aerial assault course (for the kids), live stage and bar. Used to love going there on trips to Blackpool, especially the Maze!

  4. BRILLIANT ‘PHOTOS’……!!!ME AND MY DAUGHTER VISITED THE ‘SANDCASTLE’ONE ‘VERY RAINY DAY ‘AND HAD A ‘FAB WATERY TIME…..EVEN SAW MUM GOING ON ALL THE WATER SLIDES’??!!

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