Memories of old Falkirk Baths come flooding back

Grangemouth's outdoor swimming pool
Grangemouth's outdoor swimming pool

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a ‘Swimarathon’ in Grangemouth swimming pool organised by the Rotary Club of Polmont. The event raises thousands for charity and it was great to see people of all ages taking part.

As I watched the teams racing up and down the pool my mind drifted back to my earliest experience of taking the plunge in the old baths in the Pleasance, now vanished under the Howgate Centre.

I remember the moment, aged about six, when my shivering classmates and I lined up along the edge of the pool and the large lady instructor told us to get into the water.

Those who hesitated were given a hefty shove and the next minute the blue waters closed round my head and I was thrashing about the shallow end until the man with the long pole and hook fished me out by my trunks and deposited me in a soggy, gasping heap on the side.

Thereafter I tried to dodge visits to the Pleasance though I was very much in the minority because the ‘Baths’ was one of the most popular places in the town, as it had been from the first day in September 1932.

The official opening by Provost Archibald Logan was on a Friday and the next day 2000 people turned up for a dip. On the Sunday when the new pool was only open from 7.30 - 9 a.m. another 1000 joined the queue!

Certainly the people had waited long enough. As far back as 1905 Robert Dollar had offered to pay towards a £3000 swimming pool in Grahamston provided the council agreed to take it over when it was ready.

Councillors accepted the offer but then argued about where exactly it should be built, with some wanting even bigger and more expensive facilities. Nothing was done and the idea was not revived until after the population had recovered from the Great War and its aftermath.

Meantime, the people of Grangemouth had pressed ahead with their own plan to build an outdoor pool in Zetland Park which opened in the 1920s. It was amazingly popular given the Scottish climate and for the next 50 years the hardy Portonians braved the elements until it was replaced by the new sports complex and pool in Abbots Road.

The outdoor pool was demolished in 1972 and today it is a play park for children. But no matter how popular the new pool, there are still those who talk nostalgically of the great outdoor experience. It takes all sorts!

In Falkirk Baths the Falkirk Otters and the great Bobby McGregor brought fame to the town in the 1960s, but a decade later the building fell below the standards of the new style leisure pools which were appearing across the country.

The Mariner Centre in Camelon signalled the beginning of the end for the Pleasance. The Mariner opened officially in 1985 but by then the Howgate centre was well underway and the builders were advancing towards the old baths.

I’m not sure when the last paying customer swam a length but sometime around 1983 the bulldozers arrived and the familiar art deco-style building bit the dust.

Nowadays most of our secondary schools have their own pools and our community has never been better served.

And yet there are still many who cherish happy memories of the old places.

I am not one of them.