Group report

In September, we had a very interesting visit to Hilsea Lido and we invited the Local History Group 1 to join us.

Group members admiring the hand knitted swimming costumes! There is an exhibition of photos, posters and swim wear relevant to the decades of the Lido's history.

The Lido was built on the site of the fortifications known as Hilsea Bastion which was demolished in 1919. Early on this was known as Hilsea Bastion Gardens and as a forerunner of the Lido was an amenity with a tea stall and open-air music. In this area there were terraces, pergolas plus lovely gardens known as Hilsea Lagoon. The whole site was eventually known as Hilsea Lido, an Art Deco building with deco terraces and two large fountains, an adult pool large enough for swimming competitions and high diving, children's pool, cascades, flower beds and plenty of space for sunbathing and physical recreation. Previously considered 'a dirty corner of Hisea' the Lido became the seafront in the north of the city.

The opening ceremony in 1935 was a grand affair attended by dignitaries, the workers who constructed the pool, hundreds of spectators to whom the lido was a source of great pride and a 'fine city achievement.' It was a great success, immensely popular, used by hundreds of people and was visited by the 1936 Olympic British Diving Team who gave a demonstration in August 1936.

During WW2 the main pool was closed to the public and was given over to various military units in the area for their recreational use. After the war it came back to life, boating on the lake and the roller skate rink were very popular. A miniature railway ran along the Lido site from 1946 -1951.

In 1949 Sean Connery was in the Royal Navy, training at HMS Excellent when he was snapped rising from the pool, much to the delight of the girls!

Other notable visitors were the GB Diving Team who trained there for the 1952 Olympics. The Lido continued to provide a wonderful amenity for local people for several decades.

In 1974 the Lido was used as the set for Bernie's Holiday Camp when Oliver Reed and Ann Margaret visited to film a scene for the film 'Tommy'.

However, in the late 70's the diving platforms were removed, the advent of cheap package holidays abroad saw the attendance drop off. This triggered a downward spiral of under investment and it fell into disrepair over the next 30 years with limited use. The Council spent years trying to close it but there was an outcry from people of, 'no you can't possibly do that!'

It was close to being flattened in 2008 when Portsmouth City Council (PCC) abandoned plans to refurbish the Lido but with great support from the community, a group stepped in and has helped return the historic site from the brink of extinction.

In 2010 'Hilsea Lido Pool for the People' (HLPP) acquired the Lido and adjoining Blue Lagoon Building on a 99 year lease from PCC. The rejuvenation of the Lido began!

In 2011 the splash pool was damaged by freezing conditions and PCC replaced the pool with a new design featuring two pools named Hilsea Jubilee Splash Pool.

In 2012 Sport England gave HLPP £50,000 grant towards restoring the pool and the money was used to refurbish the pool's pumps and fit new lockers and showers.

The Lido reopened in July 2015 and in 2015 a new 2 metre diving platform was added to the pool. The Blue Lagoon Tea Room and Venue is open and providing great food and music events every Sunday and some Wednesdays.

This was an extremely interesting visit; we had a very good lunch, an excellent tour and talk. We learnt how the HLPP Trust volunteers have brought life back to the Lido, students from Highbury College have become involved using skills they are studying to help with renovation issues. The pool is open and swimmers come to train there as well as the recreational swimming available. There is obviously a long way to go but the Trust works hard to take steps to secure funding to help reinstate Hilsea Lido as a premier venue at the heart of the community.

Karen Walker


This is an article published in the Spring 2020 edition of the Hayling Island U3A newsletter

Go to the Local history 3 group page