Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Back to the 80s in Dewsbury

Happy staff at our town’s ‘new’ sports centre

Sunday, 23rd May 2021, 4:30 pm
DEWSBURY SPORTS CENTRE: Retirement presentation to Bill Morris in 1981

There will be a lot of faces in this picture which will be recognised by those who used to attend Dewsbury Sports Centre in its early years. It shows staff in 1981 raising a glass to Bill Morris, who was retiring as baths boiler man.

The picture was kindly loaned to me some years ago by Joe Connolly, whose late sister, Winnie Pleasant, worked there. She was a baths attendant who couldn’t swim but that didn’t stop her getting the job because health and safety wasn’t quite so strict in those days.

This reminds me of Mr Grimes at the “old” swimming baths, who used to walk along the pool side with a long pole. Children in difficulty would grab this pole with both hands to be dragged to safety. No health and safety rules there.

Last week I referred to Mr Grimes and my comments revived memories for Carol Hall, of Liversedge, who remembered the long pole.

She writes:

“I was terrified of him and can see him now with the long pole shouting ‘pull and a kick’ to each child trying to swim a breadth of the pool.

“At the start of each lesson the non-swimmers had to line up and take their turn to try to swim across without stopping.

“Those who had achieved this could just go off and swim about for the rest of the lesson.

“One summer, I knew on return from the holidays it would be my turn to try.

“We’d gone to Bournemouth that year for our two-week holiday and I was in the sea every day with my dad.

“He finally got me off swimming but I still had him measuring a breadth in the sea just to make sure I could do it.

“I did manage to do it and when we returned for swimming lessons after the summer holidays, I was so happy not to be a non-swimmer.

“Especially when Mr Grimes told all those who could swim that they could go off.

“But the non-swimmers had to remain standing there to perform his ‘pull and a kick’ instructions.”

A lot of young swimmers like Carol spent many happy hours in the old baths, never dreaming they would close one day and never re-open. But they did close and were replaced by a new sports centre, which in itself can no longer claim to be “new” because it is 50 years-old and, like me, getting older by the day.

The sports centre was built by Dewsbury Co-operative Society after they vacated premises in Northgate and given to the people of Dewsbury. The Co-op moved into a newly-built supermarket they called “Leo’s” but this wasn’t with us for long. It was taken over by another supermarket, which also didn’t last long. These fledgling supermarkets couldn’t take the competition which was now being provided by a new store on the block called Sainsbury’s.

But the “new” swimming baths in the sports centre continued to be run by the council’s public baths department, whose manager was Mr F Whitham. It provided one large pool and one teaching pool, eight private showers, three private baths and a sauna. Times were certainly a changing.

But we still cannot forget those steaming mugs of Bovril which we gulped down after our swim in the old baths before making our trek homewards. Also, if our pocket money ran to it, a packet of potato crisps with its little blue packet of salt safely tucked inside. Happy days!

The picture above shows Bill Morris on his retirement raising a glass to his colleagues. His wife Eva is sitting beside him. Winnie Pleasant is the lady on the back row with black hair and wearing a white uniform. The presentation was made by Mr F Whittam, manager of the centre.

If you have memories of the old baths, drop us a line.