Lost Edinburgh: Portobello Bathing Pool
Lost Edinburgh founder David McLean on a 1930s poster advertising Portobello Bathing Pool
I first laid eyes on this poster years ago; a friend had an A2 framed original hanging up in his bathroom, and it always fascinated me.
The artist was Tom Curr, one of Scotland’s most successful commercial artists and cartoonists of the era, and the man behind the packaging for Scott’s Porage Oats. This poster featuring a curvaceous blonde lady perched on a low diving board at Porty Pool has become iconic. It almost certainly dates from around 1936 - when the pool first opened.
You can buy a poster version of this picture on the Canmore website.
Portobello Bathing Pool was famous for its artificial waves and chilly waters. It enjoyed a status as one of the city’s most alluring attractions for over 40 years.
Built in 1936, the open-air Art Deco marvel promised to be a big hit. It was the first in Scotland to feature an artificial wave making machine. During open season, the pool attracted large numbers of visitors and swimming enthusiasts from all over the country. The queue to gain entrance would often stretch the full length of Westbank Street. A one in one out policy was eventually adopted on the most sunniest of days in the 1970s, in accordance with the pool’s sheer popularity. Heat to the pool was supplied by the nearby Portobello Power Station – though most accounts of the water temperature still ranged from icy cold to sub-Siberian. It is also reported that Edinburgh’s most famous son, Sean Connery worked a number of seasons as a lifeguard at Portobello Pool before becoming a full-time actor in the 1950s.
Unperturbed by the icy contents of the open-air pool, the 1950s and ‘60s saw visitor numbers soar in Portobello during the summer months. Along with the beach, promenade and funfair, the bathing pool was one of the jewels in the city’s crown - the perfect setting for an enjoyable family day out in the east of Scotland. However, by the late 1970s, Portobello’s popularity was on the slide. The advent of cheap package holiday’s abroad played a pivotal role in the area’s sad decline. As a result, the future of Portobello Bathing Pool was bleak and fortunes worsened in 1978 with the closure of the power station. What little heat the water had harvested before had now disappeared altogether. The 1979 season turned out to be the last and demolition was finally approved in 1988.
Today, the area bears little resemblance to how it once looked. A leisure centre and 5-a-side football complex now adorn the site where the pool was formerly situated. Portobello Bathing Pool survives chiefly within the fond memories of summer holidays long passed.