Edmund Wilson Swimming Pool
York City Architect’s Department (Ernest Firth, City Architect), 1969

The Edmund Wilson of Acomb

1 Edmund Front
Fig. 1: Edmund Wilson Swimming Pool, reproduced from Patrick Nuttgens, York (London: Studio Vista, 1970). Photo: © Keith Gibson.

Situated in the residential area of Acomb, a suburb that was incorporated into the city of York in 1937, the Edmund Wilson Swimming Pool in Thanet Road was one of the largest-scale projects designed by the post-war York City Architect’s Department headed by Ernest Firth, with a budget of £165,000 (later reported to be £181,000). Like other City Architect’s projects, the building was meticulously designed to serve its peculiar function. After its formal proposal in 1962, the plans were drawn by Firth in 1964 and the details were finalised in 1968; the swimming pool was opened in 1969. In 1970 a bath managers’ house was proposed and added.

2 Edmund Elevation
Fig. 2: view of the Edmund Wilson Swimming Pool, 2009. Photo: © ColourfulVintage.

The Edmund Wilson Swimming Pool was built in the light of the reviving interest in leisure sports following the ease of capital expenditure restrictions in the 1960s. There was another, still extant, modern swimming pool opened in New Earswick in 1968, designed by Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners.1 In 1969, close to its official opening, it was decided that the building would be named after Edmund Wilson (1824–1912), a local promoter of swimming sports active in the 20th century; he was known for making daily morning dips in the Yearsley Baths (Fred Rowntree, 1908) in Clifton, York. Upon his death, he left a bequest of £7,025 for the Corporation to invest in swimming infrastructures and maintain the existing baths in York along with a fund of £20 made yearly to the York City Swimming Club.2 In 1964, a charity was founded to manage the funds; in 1969, £3,150 was used to purchase equipment for the new proposed swimming pool project in Acomb.

3 Edmund, Drawing By E. Firth
Fig. 3: architectural drawing of the Edmund Wilson Swimming Pool, by Ernest Firth (City Architect), 1962, reproduced from an original held by City of York Council/Explore Libraries and Archives Mutual, York: Y/PPT/6/1/4095.

It is noted by Elain Harwood that after almost a decade of development since 1945, the design of baths and pools had become standardised under guidelines from swimming promoters including the Amateur Swimming Association.3 The traditional form of the swimming bath, which features a dome, was soundly abandoned in the later modernist designs. One of the early examples, the Oasis Pool in Holborn, London (Sydney Cook, 1955–1957, opened in 1960), adopted an open-air plan with a sun terrace. The Edmund Wilson, which was designed to be an indoor swimming facility, adopted a roof with two intersecting slopes to secure a spacious room and generous lighting. The building was a two-storey construction; the ground floor housed both the learners’ pool and the main pool, and the first floor provided a café bar and seating for spectators. For swimming pools of the 1960s, it was conventional to incorporate the changing rooms under the seating bank to ensure a compact room and the clear need to separate the dry spectators from the swimmers.4 As can clearly be discerned in the plan, the spatial logic of the Edmund Wilson was well considered; it was designed with two separate routes, which means swimmers would enter the pool area via the changing rooms and spectators would enter via the lounge section. Patrick Nuttgens commented, “the straightforward manner of the building sets a good standard for the depressingly uninspired housing that surrounds it.”5

In 2009, after nearly four decades of service, the Edmund Wilson Swimming Pool closed; the service was continued by the new swimming pool at Oaklands Leisure Centre (now Energise Leisure Centre), a warehouse-like building in Cornlands Road. The Edmund Wilson building was demolished in 2010 and is now replaced by Lidl.