The oldest open air pool in Britain? 



1875 - 2023.

Lord and Lady Arthur Russell, lived mainly in London but also had a house in Shere, Surrey. Lord Arthur Russell was MP for Tavistock, so therefore, their residence in London was more suitable for his work in Parliament. Shere, may have been their countryside retreat and they lived in Hook Lane, Shere, where today a relative of the Russell family still lives – Hugo Russell.

In 1875 - Lady Arthur Russell had a swimming pool built, leasing land from the Bray family which is behind the village school & today descendants of the Bray family still live in Shere & are very supportive of the Pool – being an historic part of Shere Village.

Lady Russell wanted a pool built in order that her six children could learn to swim- Harold / Flora / Claud / Caroline / Gilbert and Conrad – all of which were born between 1868 – 1878.

Later, in 1891, Lady Arthur Russell, presented the pool to the village, so that local children could learn to swim. An important document exists, which is held in Shere Museum, dated 1891, containing 120 signatures of the Inhabitants of Shere and surrounding districts thanking Lady Arthur Russell for her most generous gift.

It states the following:- We the undermentioned inhabitants of Shere and the surrounding districts beg to tender our most hearty thanks to The Lady Arthur Russell for her munificent gift of a Swimming Bath to the village of Shere. The way in which it has been already patronized ensures its popularity as an additional source of pleasurable and healthful recreation.”

Lady Russell (Tavistock Town Hall) 

Portrait of Lady Russell in Tavistock Town Hall

A lease was drawn up – dated 20th June 1892 – between Reginald Moore Bray of one part and Somerset Archibald Beaumont, William Temple Clay and Harold John Hastings Russell of the other part, certain land at Shere aforesaid was demised to the said Somerset Archibald Beaumont, William Temple Clay and Harold J. H. Russell for a term of 200 years. Lease expires in 2092.

In 1899 – the pool was handed over to the Shere Parish Council, which continues to be responsible for it to the present day. It was then used as a, Public Pool, said to be the “First Public Open Air Pool in Britain”.

The Local Government Board, in a letter to Shere Parish Council dated 20th April 1899, formally approved the adoption of the Baths and Washhouses Acts by the Parish Meeting, for the Parish of Shere.

On the 21st April 1899, Shere Parish Council records note that a Committee was formed to oversee the running of Shere Swimming Baths. Ernest W Bernard, George Fisher & George Sanders served on this committee and dealt with all matters relating to the maintenance of the Pool and employing attendants & reporting back to the Council.

The water for the pool was supplied via pipes from Netley Pond & Dr Fisher resolved that one shilling (5 pence) a year be offered to Col Fraser, as nominal consideration for the use by the Parish Council of the water for the Swimming Bath and for laying pipes in the field from Netley Pond.

In July 1905, Dr Fisher reported that at that time there was no female attendant. Only few females made use of the bath and when ladies wished to bathe they had the key and went unattended. The Committee did not like to engage a female attendant at the cost of 5/- (25 pence) a week without getting the opinion of the council. He suggested that the alternative was that the Bath should be closed for Women altogether to prevent any accident!!

After some discussion it was resolved that the ladies attendant be engaged for 4 weeks, as from Monday 24th July, at a fee of not exceeding 5/- per week any extension of her services being at the discretion of the Committee of the Bath.

During WW1, young men who went to fight in France and Flanders, learnt to swim & dive in the Shere Swimming Bath and for many this helped save their lives. One soldier in particular, George Herbert Grover, learnt to dive and retrieve items from the bottom of the pool, as the water was only changed once a fortnight – hence near its change time, had become very murky & green and one could not see the bottom.

Then during the war, George won medals diving for plate mines in river estuaries, saving many lives. The Grover family lived in Church Road, The Square, Shere and ran “Grovers” which was a Greengrocers and Fishmongers.

December 1938. Sudeten Refugees.
Czech Sudeten Refugees were helped to travel to England by the Social Democratic Party in Czechoslovakia, plus practical help of British Organisations such as the Quakers, led by Tessa Rowntree – British Committee for the Refugees from Czechoslovakia. Three Holiday Hostels accommodated over 100 Czechs in the Surrey Hills, Chilworth, Albury Heath and Farley Green.

As a way of quickly acquainting the boys with the English way of life, the Reverend Gray of Albury and a teacher Mr Cobbold suggested they join the Boy Scout movement.

So boys from all the Holiday Camps met together and formed a Troop naming themselves the ‘Red Falcons’. The Red Falcons enjoyed many trips out and going to summer camps.

September 5th 1940 – was a warm day and ‘Leo Hicke’, one of the Red Falcons, which was part of the 9th Guildford Scouts Troop, saved the life of a drowning boy at Shere Swimming Pool.  Leo was awarded the ‘Gilt Cross’ and Certificate signed by Lord Baden Powell himself.

In the early 1950's the pool was only open during the afternoon, and the entrance fee was one shilling and a season ticket was seven shillings and sixpence (37.5 pence).
There were changing rooms at either end; the girls were nearest the stream and the boys nearest the school. There was a springboard at the deep end and beside it a wooden structure making two diving platforms.

Mrs Bowler manned the pool, only having one day off a week when the Pool was cleaned out and refilled. Mrs Bowler was in sole charge, which meant that she was the Key-holder, she took the money, she was The First Aider, The Lifeguard, The Cleaner and she taught the children to swim.

When it was decided to chlorinate the pool in 1954, Doctor Watson said that if the water was to be chlorinated there must also be a fountain, otherwise he would have all the children turning up at the Surgery with eye problems – therefore a fountain was installed.

1954 – Shere Parish Council decided that the pool needed updating, with filtration and new surround. The system they decided on was one of daily recirculation and chlorination.

Parish records show that, at a Meeting held on 18th January 1954, an instruction was made that the Council under no circumstances was to close the Swimming Bath at Shere and, for this purpose authorised them to raise a Loan, not exceeding £500.00 for the provision of a Chlorinating Plant and Pumping Equipment at the Bath. A letter was duly sent to Surrey County Council, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, Whitehall London – requesting a loan of £350 for the purpose of providing a Chlorinating Plant at the Shere Swimming Bath and Pumping Equipment at the Well

The Swimming Bath had been administered by the Parish Council for 67 years in 1954 and the question of the purification of the water had been a matter of concern for some years.

The bath was used by 3 schools in the area (twice weekly each school) for swimming instruction, and by local organisations such as the Scouts. During the 1953 season - attendances were as follows:- Children 3607 / Adults 325 / Clubs from other areas 105. In addition, 12 Season Tickets were purchased, but apparently 1953 was a short season owing to our inability to obtain fresh water from the Board. Therefore, this is why the Parish Council was requesting the loan, as the Well that is connected to the Bath could be used to augment the present supply of water, if the necessary pumping outfit were installed.

Surrey County Council and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government agreed to the loan of £350 on 23rd February 1954, in order that the necessary works could be completed.

£220 was granted early in 1954 for the Chlorinating Plant to be installed, so that the Bath could be opened in May. The balance of the loan £130, was paid the following year for the Pumping Equipment to be installed at the Well.

Furthermore, Shere Parish Council had to comply with the Ministry of Health's publication “The Purification of the Water of Swimming Baths” and to this end sent an analysis of the Well Water.

The Medical Officer of Health, Guildford Rural District Council, stated in a letter to the Parish Council of 20th October 1953 – his comments on the water samples taken:- “You will note that the water is considered satisfactory for bathing purposes and with efficient chlorination, it should be quite satisfactory.”

In the late 1950's / early 1960's there was an official opening of the pool by Alicia Russell who was Hugo Russell's mother.

In 1989 a local resident, Margaret Ellenger, got together a team of people to save the pool, as to continue to run the pool as a public pool was becoming an impossible financial burden for Shere Parish Council. During that summer, several fundraising events were held, the pool was saved and a lease was negotiated and Shere Swimming Pool Club was formed. Whereas the Parish Council had previously struggled to afford to pay for a lifeguard, the new club dispensed with the need for one, by introducing enhanced safety procedures, with the responsibility being passed to members for ensuring the safety of their own families and guests at the pool.

In 1991 – Shere Swimming Pool. Centenary since bequeathed to Shere and surrounding districts. 1891 – 1991.
There was a small celebration and swimming gala held at the Pool, after Alicia Russell dived in to start the proceedings.

The Club continued to be run as a non–profit association, charging the lowest practicable subscription, so as to remain accessible to all in keeping with Lady Russell's intention. In 1996, there was a membership in excess of 800 (members and families). Members are welcome to bring guests for a nominal fee. An elected Committee - Shere Swimming Pool Committee - ran the Club and all routine maintenance was and still is carried out on a voluntary basis.

2017 – 2023
In 2017 it was recognised that the pool itself had fallen into dis-repair and that both the pool and the plant room systems required a major upgrade. The need for the changing rooms also to be rebuilt had already been recognised a few years earlier, but no work had yet proceeded. A major project was therefore initiated to assess whether there was a need to fully reconstruct the pool or simply update it and to consider the full extent of funding required and where it might come from.

A Vision for the upgrade was developed and it was recognised that a large amount of external funding would be needed, to supplement existing savings built up by the Club. It was therefore decided that it would be beneficial in procuring funding to re-constitute the Club as a charity. This was achieved in July 2019 when the Club became a CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation), thus gaining the benefits both of charitable status and limited legal liability as a company.

The assets of the Club were transferred to the CIO, and at the same time the leases of the pool to and from the Shere Parish Council were re-written. The new main lease of the swimming pool is from Handa Bray, as ‘Lord of the Parish’ and freeholder, to Shere Parish Council, which was revised to run for a remaining period of 33.5 years to April 2053 (rather than for the approximate 76 years remaining of the original 200 year term). The under lease from Shere Parish Council to SSPC CIO was also changed to be for 33.5 years (extended from a much shorter 7 years balance remaining of a 15 year lease) . This was recognised as improving security of tenure for SSPC significantly. The rent was increased from £10 pa. to a still very reasonable £100 pa.

Fundraising then proceeded for the first stage of the upgrade, embracing strengthening the structure and tiling the pool, as well as replacing the old plant room systems, comprising filters, pumps and pipework. Sport England provided a key grant of £75,000, and with further funding support from Shere Parish Council, Shere Manor Estate, other charities, own funds and member donations the Stage 1 Project, costing £212,000 was able to proceed. The newly tiled pool was successfully completed by July 2020.

This was at a time when COVID restrictions had been brought in, but a booking system was introduced, coupled with additional safety procedures, allowing the pool to be re-opened from August. The booking system and lanes have continued to be used since then and, with some periods of open swimming without the need for booking, this has proved to be a popular mixed approach with members, eliminating the problem of overcrowding at many times during the day.  

With a further grant from Sport England and significant further donations from members, Stage 2 of the project was able to proceed in late 2021, costing a further £95,000. This saw the somewhat sad demise of the rickety old wooden changing rooms and clinging ivy being replaced with modern wood and brick changing rooms. These were ready in time for the 2022 swimming season.

The final stage of the major upgrade project, Stage 3, has involved the replacement of the energy systems for heating the pool water. This has combined the acquisition of a new, much more efficient gas boiler with the introduction of an air source heat pump, replacing much of the gas consumption with more efficient electricity, as well as reducing carbon emissions substantially. The project, costing £50,000 has been funded by a further grant from LoCase (an environmental fund supported by Surrey and Kent County Councils), as well as much appreciated additional donations from members and own funds. The new systems were introduced at the beginning of the 2023 swimming season and their use will continue to be fine-tuned in the near future, to optimise their cost-effectiveness, in the face of ongoing substantially increased energy tariffs. All the new systems, coupled with slightly increased member subscriptions and new energy contracts have ensured that SSPC remains financially sustainable for the foreseeable future.  

2023. Schools use the Pool
This season also saw the return of the local schools using the Pool again – Shere Church of England Infant School & Clandon Church of England Primary School. Shere Swimming Pool Club has proved immensely popular with a large, mainly local membership and also some further afield. The membership is nearly always full with a waiting list and so the pool is enjoyed by very many people throughout the now, recently extended season from April until the middle of October.

It is unique and a much loved asset to the Parish of Shere. (Chris Osborn / October 1996).


Diann Arnfield. July 2019. Updated 2023.
(Shere Pool Member / Volunteer, since 1989)