Cup of Tea Tales’ – I Dreaded Going! Oh, How Cold! Swimming Lessons at Harehills County Primary and Roundhay School.

‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Build-Up to Christmas. Winter and Christmas Parties at Harehills County Primary School in the 1960s. Cup of Tea Tales

  1. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Build-Up to Christmas. Winter and Christmas Parties at Harehills County Primary School in the 1960s.
  2. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hippy Attempt on the Summit of Mount Snowdon. What Foolish Things We Did as Students!
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Ashworth’s Sweet-Shop, Harehills. Sweets, Victory V Lozenges, Sweet Cigarettes and Other Delights We Have Lost Over The Years. 
  4. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A’ Levels, the Final Year at High School, Planning to Leave Home, Getting into College and Growing Older if Not Wiser.
  5. David’s Bookshelf Issue 5

Swimming! It is one of those things, like reading, riding a bike, or driving a car, that there is one moment when you realise that you can actually do it. Prior to that point, it was an unbelievably difficult skill. I can still remember the time that I grasped the concept of division, the very moment when it suddenly seemed so obvious and I couldn’t understand how I hadn’t seen it before. Anyway, swimming! There were swimming pools, but in the 1960s I had never been to one and whereas I had paddled in the sea on the Yorkshire east coast, I had never been above knee-deep and never for very long as your legs would turn blue from the cold and lost all sense of feeling within a very short time.

Meanwood Road Baths

Whilst at Harehills County Primary School, we started swimming lessons. I am not exactly sure which year we started, but I suspect it was in Year Three with Mr Kelly. I know that I was quite anxious about starting as I had never been in a pool before, but the day of reckoning was approaching and my fear was growing. It was a mixture of excitement and worry that I wouldn’t be able to do it. The day arrived, and I had a bag with my swimming trunks and towel and I walked down Easterly Road to school. I guess I was ten years old, and I have been racking my brain about which baths we went to. For some reason, I seem to recall two. One was on Meanwood Road and, for some reason, Kirkstall Road and Bramley come to mind.

The first time we went is quite vivid and I remember the classes getting on a double-decker bus outside the school. If you were lucky, you were allowed upstairs, but if not, you were sent downstairs. The buses upstairs held the lingering smell of stale tobacco, and I remember being bemused by the sign that said, ‘Spitting Is Forbidden’. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to spit in a bus. The upstairs gave a strange perception of overhanging the rest of the bus as you looked down. The best upstairs seats were right at the front and you got a great vantage point, but the movement and swaying of the bus were exaggerated and combined with the smell, had a tendency to make you feel sick. The seats were paired benches with fairly hard, leather, brown and marked, or carpet-like upholstery. There was a chrome rail across the back of the bench and it was necessary to hold on to it as you moved about whilst the bus was in motion. Going down the stairs when the bus was moving was also challenging and added to the excitement.

Rolled towels and trunks were clasped to our knees and the journey was only short. We arrived and lined up outside the baths. The building was old then and I remember, not sure if this was both pools or just one of them, that there were cubicles on either side of the pool. The boys were down one side and the girls down the other. We were sent down our side and with our partners, we had to change. This was a bit embarrassing as I wasn’t used to public nudity, or at least with a boy from class, and it was very cold. The air in the baths had a strong smell of chlorine, and there was a strange echoing sound. Our trunks donned. Shivering, we had to leave the cubicle and face the world. We had to line up at first and lift our feet up to have them inspected. Apparently, they were checking for verrucas, but I had no idea what they were. 

Set in the Spanish town of Calpe, this is a fast-paced thriller. Well worth a read, but then I am biased.

Mr Kelly was shouting orders and instructions, and we were then divided into non-swimmers and those who claimed to be able to swim. Obviously, I was in the former group. Being quite a sporty boy, this was a new experience for me and at that moment I harboured unpleasant thoughts, blaming my parents for the ignominy and embarrassment. Why hadn’t they taken me swimming before? Why hadn’t I had lessons? Pool staff took some of the swimmers to one end, the deep end, of the baths and checked to see if they were swimmers and to group them further. My group was herded down to the shallow end for our first time in the water. There were stainless steel ladders, and we were told to climb in and move to the end of the pool where there was a gutter. I became horrified and when my turn came, I started down the ladder and when the cold water hit the top of my legs, I froze. It was horribly cold. Mr Kelly saw my distress and approached it with his usual subtlety, told me to not be a baby and to get in. Left with no choice other than total embarrassment, and certainly, I wasn’t brave enough to refuse his orders, I got in. The water reached to chest height, just about armpit level, and I grabbed the gutter with a strength that probably cracked the tiles. I clung on as if my life depended upon it and I thought it did. We pathetic creatures hung along the edge in the shallow end and were instructed to hold on the side and let our legs float. “As if!” My legs weren’t coming off the bottom for anyone, but one by one we were inspected to see if we had achieved it. I watched the teacher getting nearer, and I panicked. It was like waiting for the moment of doom. As I said, I had always been one of the sporty ones and I had never suffered the disgrace of being near the end when teams were picked for soccer, cricket or any games. We sniggered at those poor souls and, in the end, the last one was further belittled by the team refusing them and giving them to the other side. Here I was, equally suffering, and I realised how it must have felt for them.

My turn came, and I was told to let my legs float up. Somehow, one leg managed it, but the other was stuck to the floor. I was given further gentle encouragement of, “Get on with it, lad!” and finally, against all inclination, my foot slipped and it floated up. The problem was, I got a mouthful of the foul water and immediately writhed, trying to regain my footing and coughing and spluttering. This was not my finest moment! I was bypassed for the next child and, bit by bit, we were instructed to try to raise our legs, relax and then kick them. I eventually managed to do this, and we were all in a line kicking and splashing great fonts of water everywhere, creating a racket. I was actually enjoying this, but by now I was getting very cold and I was relieved when a whistle was blown and we had to get out and get changed.

Me, before Harehills swimming age.

This should have been simple, but we were cold and shivering and the trunks didn’t want to come off easily or the undies go on effortlessly. Added to that, we were all trying to hide our private parts from each other and there wasn’t much space. To be honest, we were barely dry, and it was a very raggedy-looking mob of boys that appeared, whereas the girls seemed almost pristine and calm in comparison. We had to line up by the entrance when we were ready and then the teachers checked the cubicles and appeared with a wide array of towels, trunks and, in one case, a pair of underpants. It was funny how no one seemed to be missing them, but eventually, the miscreant was tracked down by great detective work and his public humiliation was complete. There was a positive for me, as at least I wasn’t the one to feel the heat of shame, wanting the world to swallow me up.

Now some children who had been to baths before knew that there was a possible treat at the end and they had come prepared with some pennies. The baths sold little bags of crackers that looked very much like Ritz crackers. The crackers were very salty and in great demand. We, newcomers, had to wait, starving, for the next week to come prepared. Over the weeks I looked forward to the crackers and later there were other offerings. Bovril drinks were available in plastic cups and even Smiths’ Crisps with the little blue paper twists of salt. There was only one choice of flavour in those days, with salt or without.

Roundhay School Swimming Pool

When I moved to Roundhay School, swimming was still on the agenda. The school had its own baths shared with the girls’ school. It was a rectangular building with no redeeming features. Windows lined the walls on two sides, and I don’t think there was any form of heating. For me, and probably many others, school swimming was a bit of a nightmare. For those who swam like fish, the lessons were no ordeal, but for the rest it could be challenging, particularly as boys love to torture each other. No one thought anything about jumping on an unprepared mate and pushing them under the water and holding them down for as long as possible. This was exacerbated if you had been in the process of breathing in, as your throat would fill with water and you really did think you were going to die. Luckily, I didn’t, but it added to my dislike of swimming. To add to the fun, we developed the knack of flicking wet towels with speed and precision onto the bare skin of any unsuspecting boy. Only the infamous verruca could get you out of swimming for a while. I did manage to get one or two more swimming certificates, but due to my screw kick and general lack of ability and interest, that was the end. We did practice for the Bronze Medallion, but the lack of style and ability put an end to that. I did enjoy having to wear pyjamas and having to remove them whilst treading water.

The ultimate fate of Roundhay School Pool

One thing I did enjoy was the annual house swimming carnival. I must add it was not as a participant but as a spectator. We would watch those with ability hurtle up and down the pool to our shouts of encouragement. Our cries were a cacophony that hurt the ears, but no one told us off. My favourite event was the long dive. Contestants dived in and then held their position and were measured to the point they had to move to take a breath. This is now banned, I believe, due to competitors potentially dying. Health and safety gone mad! The other enduring memory is one morning arriving to see the white chlorine mist hanging over the pool and the overpowering smell. Someone hadn’t monitored the levels.

I have lived in Perth, Western Australia, since 1992 and you can see why Australia has such good swimmers. Children often have pools at home, have lessons every day for a term and it is warm so that they go on the bus in their swimmers and go back to school just wrapped in a towel. Even adults will turn up at the sports centres in their bathers and leave the same way. So very different to the freezing delights of Leeds in the 1960s! I am ashamed to say that I have had my own swimming pool at home for thirty years, but only use it infrequently. I have purchased a pool blanket and now the water temperature is like a hot bath in summer, and I am finally getting my use out of it.

18 Replies to “Cup of Tea Tales’ – I Dreaded Going! Oh, How Cold! Swimming Lessons at Harehills County Primary and Roundhay School.”

  1. My friends and I would often ease open one of those huge windows at the Roundhay School pool and swim late at night. We also paddled up and down on the long wooden benches.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Again very nostalgic for me I went to Harehills CP in the 60’s and was taken to Meanwood Baths not so frightening for me as my dad was in a swimming club so I had learned to swim young at Hunslet Baths. I went to Roundhay and did both my bronze and silver medallion, our teacher was Miss Trainor. My future husband lived as 220 Easterly Road and his parents till they died, all seems so familiar

    Liked by 1 person

  3. being a Leeds loiner myself, i follow your memories with avid interest. This one had me in hysterics. Thank you so much…….memories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I learned to swim at secondary school. One traumatic experience at Meanwood with the school was when a short intolerant attendant, using that long pole that was held in front of swimmers when they were doing distances, used the pole to push me under water and held me there. When I became distressed I was instructed to grow up and shut up.

      In later school life my friends and I went to the Dolphins swimming club on Tuesdays at Meanwood baths. Great fun doing bombs in the deep end.

      My swimming is still basic and I’ve never mastered treading water or floating, sinking being my speciality! Water is lovely to look at …

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was at Harehills and Roundhay a year behind you. My parents were poor and never took me swimming. I doubt either could swim anyway. The Harehills swimming was at Meanwood Road and that fact that fearsome Mr Kelly was in charge of swimming lessons made the ordeal even more scary. Not much improved at Roundhay where bully Fisher was put in charge of non swimmers lessons. Consequently I never learned to swim.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seems you had a similar experience experience to me, Andy. Scarred for life. I thought that we went to another pool when Meanwood was being repaired, but I could be wrong.


  5. Two memories of Meanwood Baths……a good one is the salty biscuits! a bad one is my friend sank to the bottom (we were still learning to swim), and had to be brought up quickly….she almost drowned, for me that was the end of swimming lessons, put me off for life. The man who taught us was loud and a bully, not ideal for giving kids confidence. I have absolutely no recollection of how I got to the baths from Harehills school! If I smell chlorine now it reminds me of those awful baths…..I’ve never learnt to swim.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not surprised you were traumatised, Yvonne. It sounds a terrible experience and I bet your friend never took to swimming after that.


  6. Very evocative and a nostalgic trip for me, thank you. I had a “season ticket” for Bramley Baths and would go there every day on my way home from school. The chlorine was so strong I was almost blind sometimes on the way back, from the stinging! We also had the salty biscuits and Bovril from a vending machine.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bramley baths with broad lane school in the 40s, (all swimming certificates) and then Armley baths with Christ Church school, and then the Leander swimming club. Small pool in winter when the large pool was boarded over for Dancimg.

    Liked by 1 person

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