Guildford Lido has long been regarded as one of the jewels in Guildford's crown. The Lido is steeped in history and has had a rich and vibrant history which began in the 1930's but it retains much of it's charm and period features and remains a very special venue to the residents of Guildford and the many thousands of visitors from all over the world each year.
In November 1932, the then Mayor of Guildford, William Harvey, launched a scheme, probably the first in the UK, to raise money and create jobs for unemployed people in Guildford.
It was known as the 'Work Fund' and Guildfordians who were earning a wage, or who were suitably well off, were asked to contribute in whatever way they could to support it.
The schemewas brilliantly simple and money rolled in. One of the first schemes was to provide work for 40 men pulling up weeds in the sports ground in Woodbridge Road, Guildford.
The fund was calculated by estimating the total number of unemployed people in the borough of Guildford (about 650 out of a population of 40,000), each man given employment through the Work Fund would receive a minimum 35 shillings (£1.52) a week for about 35 hours’ work.
There was a collection box at the Guildhall. With the money came messages. For example, wrapped around three pennies was a piece of paper that read: ‘A working man’s daily bus fare’. Old gold was also asked for, which could be sold to benefit the fund. Local firms helped to swell the funds along with churches, the Rotary Cub and the local branch of the Royal British Legion.
Men who benefited from the scheme carried out a number of different jobs around the borough, but the most fundamental was the building of Guildford Lido.
Discussions about building it had begun in 1930. However, there was some opposition by members of St John’s Church in Stoke Road who were worried that people bathing at an outdoor pool would upset those worshipping inside the church.
I invite you with all heartiness to join me now in the opening of this baths and as soon as my head appears above the water - and I very much hope it will – to all of you or as many who are prepared, join in and commence what I hope will be many years of joy that the men and maidens of this town will find in these pleasure groundsMayor William Harvey, 21 June 1933
However, the plans were passed and by the end of 1932 building work had begun, with men employed through the Work Fund using their skills alongside other contractors and tradesmen.
The Lido cost £13,700 to build and was officially opened on 21st June 1933, by the Mayor, William Harvey, who was the first person to dive in (pictured above) and take a swim. On that day 8,000 people packed into the Lido.
Entry charges were: Sundays and weekdays (excepting Tuesday and Saturday mornings) 6d (two and a half pence) per person; Tuesdays and Saturday mornings 1 shilling (five pence) per person. On bank holidays the entry fee rose to 9d (four and a half pence) per person, children 4d (two pence). A monthly season ticket cost 7 shillings and 6d (38 pence).
‘Light flimsy costumes’ were banned and the car park was free except on Gala days.
The Work Fund closed in 1933. Some £10,000 had been raised and more than 150,000 hours of work had been provided. In the 1934 New Year’s Honours List William Harvey was appointed OBE and was also given the freedom of the borough of Guildford.
He ran a successful ladies fashion shop in Guildford, originally in the Playhouse Arcade (now Tunsgate Square) that later transferred to the High Street. Harveys of Guildford later became a branch of Army & Navy stores, and today is a House of Fraser store.