A packed Portobello Outdoor Swimming Pool in May 1952.
A packed Portobello Outdoor Swimming Pool in May 1952.

Portobello Open Air Pool: These 21 pictures from the 1950s and 1960s show when the pool was one of the coolest spots in Edinburgh

Outdoor cold water swimming has never been so popular – and Edinburgh was well ahead of the game when a huge outdoor pool opened in the city in 1936.

Thursday, 28th April 2022, 4:06 pm

Along with being great exercise, proponents of outdoor and wild swimming say the cold water activates endorphins, the chemical produced by the brain that makes us feel good.

An entire industry has built up around it, with books, magazine articles and television programmes all urging us to brave the freezing British waters.

The latest, BBC’s ‘Freeze the Fear’, challenges celebrities to take the plunge into ice cold water in Northern Italy.

Outdoor swimming is nothing new in Edinburgh of course, with the beaches of Cramond and Portobello popular tourist hotspots in first half of the 20th century.

And Portobello Outdoor Pool was once one of the Capital’s most popular attractions – with thousands of locals and visitors visiting to swim, relax, and enjoy the three foot waves generated by the UK’s first outdoor wave machine.

It was opened on Saturday, May 30, 1936, at a cost of £90,000, with warm water provided by the nearby Portobello Power Statio n.

While it was claimed that the water temperature was maintained at a relatively comfortable 20°C it was in reality often freezing cold, but that didn’t stop it from being an instant success.

In its first season around 290,000 swimmers and 500,000 spectators used the pool, which had a capacity of 1,300 bathers and 6,000 onlookers.

The pool opened from May-September evey year until the outbreak of World War 2, when it was camouflaged in case German bombers used it as a marker to target the power station.

It reopened in 1946 and became one of the trendiest spots in post-war Edinbugh, with young people socialising and posing in their swimsuits – even Sean Connery worked as a lifeguard there.

The pool remained popular for another 20 years but the combination of the arrival of cheap package holidays and the closure of the heat-generating power station in 1978 were to prove its downfall.

The 1979 season was its last and the pool was eventually demolished in 1988.

Here are 21 pictures to take you back to the pool’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s.

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