The 19th century was an exciting time for people living in the UK. Queen Victoria was on the throne, advances in technology were being made, and the expansion and development of the railways meant that people were becoming increasingly mobile. Since the turn of the century, Cleethorpes’ economy was based firmly on agriculture and fishing, with the vast majority of people living in Cleethorpes employed in these sectors. Towards the mid-to-latter half of the 19th century, however, things began to change, and the introduction of a direct railway line into Cleethorpes transformed this quiet and sparsely populated coastal town into a bustling tourist destination.
As far back as the 1830’s consideration was given to creating a railway between Manchester and the East Coast of England. It wasn’t until over a decade later, however, that a railway network connecting the East Coast to mainland Britain became a reality. In 1844, a railway line connecting Sheffield with Grimsby via Gainsborough was created. From there, the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway Company (GG&SJR), who were responsible for the creation of the aforementioned railway line, planned to extend the network further. It wasn’t long until the line was amalgamated with other railways and the Grimsby Docks Company to form the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company (MS&LR). The line, which was named the Royal Dock, was completed in 1852 and connected Manchester, Sheffield, Gainsborough and Grimsby. The Eastern Lincolnshire Railway Company had similar ideas and planned to construct a rail network from Grimsby to Boston in 1846. In 1847 the ELR leased the line to the Great Northern Railway, linking it via Peterborough to London. The coming of the railways to Grimsby lead to a rapid influx of visitors venturing to Cleethorpes and opened up the possibilities for other commercial trade such as the movement and export of coal. This was in spite of the fact that no train line connecting Grimsby to the resort existed. Instead, day trippers would flock in their droves to the seaside town from Grimsby via omnibuses, coaches, carriages and carts. In 1863 the railway line was extended to Cleethorpes, catapulting the number of people visiting the resort into the thousands, and solidifying the region’s status as an up-and-coming seaside town. This was exemplified perfectly in August 1863, when on one day alone, 6,000 people travelled from Nottingham to Cleethorpes by the Midland and Great Northern Lines.
For one family, however, a day at the beach turned into tragedy when in September 1883, 8-year-old Florence Dodsworth was killed on Cleethorpes beach after being run over by a bathing machine. Bathing machines were small wooden huts with wheels and functioned as portable changing rooms. The creation of bathing machines meant that could change in and out of their swimming costumes in private and disembark straight into the water. At the height of their popularity in 1852, there were at least thirty bathing machines in use on Cleethorpes beach. An inquest into the death of little Florence was launched soon after the tragedy, and the events leading up to her death revealed. According to the inquest, the little girl was paddling in the sea when a man and a boy pushed their bathing machine down to the water’s edge. The bathing machine entered the water and made contact with the little girl, whose head became entangled among the spokes of the front wheel, fatally injuring her. The case went to trial and the jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Such was the jury’s dismay of this senseless tragedy, that in spite of their verdict, they demanded that the coroner overseeing the case write a strongly worded letter reprimanding the gentleman whose bathing machine killed little Florence. In the years that followed, bathing machines were gradually removed from Cleethorpes beach as the sight of people bathing became more acceptable.
Nearly half a century later in the 1920s, Cleethorpes joined the growing number of exciting ‘health resorts’ popular with tourists, that had begun springing up along the east coast. These health resorts, or ‘bathing’ places as they were also known, were widely believed to have a significant positive impact on a person’s health. As a result, tourists would flock to coastal regions such as Cleethorpes, to bathe in, and even drink, the sea water. After the first World War ended in 1919, Cleethorpes Borough Council set about renovating areas along the coastline which had formerly been used as military strongpoints. Areas such as these were instantly recognisable due to the presence of barbed wire entanglements, trenches and redoubts. With war-time coastal defences no longer needed, the military set about removing them. However, the job was left unfinished when the battalion left the resort in February 1919. The area formally known as the ‘Golf Links’ in Cleethorpes was in particular need of attention following the military’s departure. As a result, the Council formulated a plan for the ‘Golf Links’ which included reclaiming 43 acres of the foreshore and constructing a variety of traditional seaside amenities. Using existing and reclaimed land, the Council set about their plan to construct a seawall, promenade, bathing pool, boating lake, bandstand, tea rooms, model boat pond and picnic area. The renovation took place in three stages, starting with the construction of Cleethorpes Open Air Bathing Pool.
In 1922, building work on Cleethorpes Open Air Bathing Pool or ‘Lido’ as it was known, commenced. Funding for the pool was awarded to the Council by the Unemployment Grants Committee on the proviso that the scheme commenced on 30th April that year and that special preference was given to ex-servicemen with regards to employment. The pool, which was 400 x 200 ft, making it the largest open air bathing pool in the country, held over two million gallons of sea water, and swallowed up an area known locally as Bunker’s Bay. In an effort to ensure that as many people as possible could enjoy the pool, the facility was equipped with swimming costumes and caps that people could hire at a cost of 2d and 1d each (d = old pennies). Admission to the bathing pool was relatively inexpensive, at a cost of 6d for adults and 4d for children. The pool opened unofficially to the public on Monday, 6th August 1923, and attracted over 6000 excited bathers in the first two days alone. The Saturday following the pool’s opening was considered to be the busiest day in the resort’s history, attracting 12,000 visitors by rail. The bathing pool closed for the season on 22nd September and reopened May to September 1924. Initially, there were only marquees to get changed in as no changing rooms were built until 1925 due to the government diverting building labour to new housing. Cleethorpes bathing pool’s ‘official’ opening ceremony took place in July of 1925, nearly two years after the pool had opened to the public.
For many years, Cleethorpes Open Air Bathing Pool was a staple attraction among visitors to the resort. Following the storm of January 1978 however, Cleethorpes open air bathing pool fell into a state of disrepair. On January 11th, 1978, gale force winds combined with an unusually high tide, created a giant storm surge leading to catastrophic flooding. Strong winds channelled more water into the River Humber than it could cope with. With nowhere else to go, the excess water made its way to Suggitt’s Lane before advancing towards Grimsby Road. The water, unrelenting, made its way along North Promenade, demolishing a café, Rock Shop and ice cream parlour. With the sea defences now ravaged from the barrage of water and high winds, the flood water continued past the Pier and along the Kingsway before battering the panels and outside boarding of the outdoor swimming pool. The damage sustained from the storm was never repaired and in 1983, a modern Leisure Centre, equipped with indoor pool, fitness and leisure activities was built in its place. The Leisure Centre is a popular visitor attraction to this day, allowing local people and tourists to take a dip whatever the weather. A short walk back up from the Leisure Centre in the direction of the Humberston Fitties you will find an attractive outdoor paddling pool, perfect for those days when the weather is warm and the kids want to splash about in the sunshine. The paddling pool, which is six inches deep and decorated with a small fountain, is free to use and suitable for all the family. The paddling pool is open from 27th May (subject to change) to 31st August, seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm. Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) Lifeguards patrol the paddling pool and are able to provide first aid and pool safety advice to everyone. A toilet and baby changing facilities are available on site.