Wiveliscombe Pool is one of the oldest pools in Somerset. On Thursday the 4th August 1927, with 200 people assembled, the 90ft by 30ft (27.43 metres long, 9.14 metres wide, (30 by 10 yards) 1.1 m deep at the shallow end, 2.1m at the deep end) concreted pool, with dressing cubicles, a diving spring board and a high platform diving platform 12 ft 6 inches, was opened.
Initially costing £778, the cold water pool started life with a four inch pipe bringing water in at the shallow end from the reservoirs at Withycombe and Coate and an outlet pipe at the deep end, although this meant a continuous flow of water it didn’t take long to become green and murky. It was said that it would have not have been known if anyone had drowned until there was a roll call.
There were 130 season ticket holders in the first year.The first caretaker was paid 25 shillings a week (approx £70 in today’s money), with a season ticket costing a guinea (£1 1s) (approx. £59 in today’s money) Swimming was not allowed on a Sunday morning nor in the evening at the time of church services. The Wiveliscombe and District Swimming Clubs first season, in 1931, had a membership of 50. The badge for the club comprised of a black cloth badge with the initials WSC embroidered in green.
In 1938, due to high levels of bacteria after a sanitary inspector’s tests, the pool was first chlorinated. In July,1967, the pool was closed due to improvements required to the pump plant at an estimated cost of £3,000. A plant house was built and the pool reopened on 15th August 1968. In 1977 after several difficult years it was closed again but with the determination of a few, involvement of the community and a donation received, the Wiveliscombe Community Swimming Pool Club was formed. In 1982 a sponsored swim helped to raise money for new pumps. In 1991 a decision was made to raise funds for the water heating system with a target of £7,000. Events to raise the funds included a Clay shoot and a race night. Enough had been raised and donated to lay in a gas pipe, build the boiler room and purchase a burner which meant in May 1992 when the pool opened for the season the water was heated. The fund raising events were repeated the follow year to pay the gas bill!!
Before the season opened in 2015 the back was extended with a concrete decking to allow more space and in July the same year, a new motorised cover was installed. 90+ years on, the pool is almost unrecognisable. The yearly running costs are approx. £45,000, 27 degree heated water, Boilers, pumps, filters, dosing systems and other necessary equipment costing over £80,000 to bring it up to date and a continual struggle to keep it operational and complying with ever changing regulations.
The Pool is run by a voluntary committee of 14/15 people, who give their time to steer the pool into the future, turning it into a structured organisation. Volunteers give hours of their time, from committee members involved in health and safety, book keeping, HR, Fundraising and much more, to the parents who help on the gate whilst their children swim. In 2016 a Pool Manager was employed. In 2018 she was joined by a Maintenance Manager, who had previously been the Chair of the Committee. Both are qualified Pool Plant Operators and Lifeguards. Although employed, over the past few years they have and continue to put in a lot of voluntary work alongside the Committee.
For the past few years swimmers of all ages have recorded their lengths, which have been used for the aim of ‘swimming to Australia’ by the 90th Birthday. This was achieved in 2016, so the swim continued down to the Gold Coast, with the intention of heading ‘home’. On the 21st June 2017, it was noted that 1,000,000 recorded lengths had been swum in the pool.
A venture into a ‘Winter Week’ after Christmas 2017 including a New Years Day dip was well attended. (The pool heated to 22 degrees with mince pies and hot chocolate available after.) In 2018 1,111,111, 1,234,567 and 1,250,000 recorded lengths were achieved during the season. Autumn Lane Swimming was introduced as a one off to swim the pool cold!! Running from September to November, a number of swimmers, most in wet suits, braved the inclement weather to swim as the water temperature dropped to 8 degrees. Winter Week was repeated in 2018/2019 and again over the 2019/2020 winter. A trial Easter opening in 2019 as Easter was late was due to be repeated in 2020.
In 2018 Wivey Pool was mentioned in the Guardians guide to the 10 lesser known pools of the UK and also on page 212 in the Lido Guide that came out in June 2019, a wonderful book of the UK’s outdoor pools. Each year the Pool seems to get more popular, with spells of hot weather this is more obvious, when there are people queueing at the gate to have a wonderful cooling dip. Who would have thought 90+ years ago we would still have this wonderful facility, especially when so many have had to close over the years. With luck, the community will still be enjoying ‘Wivey Pool’ in 90 years time.
With Covid-19 hitting, the pool couldn’t open at Easter 2020, nor May when the Season usually starts. The pool opened from July 18th, operating well below its normal levels, with much reduced revenues because of its adherence to the Covid 19 government guidelines but doesn’t qualify for government support.