Design Through Time

Swimming pools

Old Olympia Pool & Flumes, Dundee City Archives

There’s nothing better than strolling along Dundee’s waterfront on a sunny day. The city’s seafaring roots meant locals had to be strong swimmers, but the fast currents and busy shipping traffic meant it was too dangerous to learn in the River Tay. So, in 1844, the need for a swimming pond was raised.

Can you imagine life without easy access to water? During the Nineteenth Century, many of Dundee’s workers lived in crowded tenements with no indoor toilets, taps, or baths. Their water came from dirty wells or the river – not very hygienic! Britain developed bath houses to provide the working classes with clean running water. Dundee’s first public swimming pool was built at the Earl Grey Dock, opening in the summer of 1848. In the first year, more than 14,000 baths were taken at the Docks Bath House with the public enjoying having a place to wash as well as a swim.

Docks Pool, Dundee City Archives

The Docks Bath House moved with the times, introducing changing boxes and diving stages in the 1870s, and a viewing gallery in 1910. Segregation was still common in the early 1900s and a separate women’s pool was opened, meaning women could swim whenever they wanted rather than during scheduled “women’s hours”.

Despite the Docks’ popularity, the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association requested a new pool be developed and the Docks pool was demolished to make way for the Tay Road Bridge. With indoor plumbing being more common in the Twentieth Century, the nation’s newest pools became places of fun rather than function. Architects could get creative, adding bright colours and extras like water fountains to their designs.

Old Olympia & Flumes, Dundee City Archives

The Dundee Swimming and Leisure Centre (renamed The Olympia in 1990) opened in July 1974 and quickly became a popular landmark. Alongside hosting international competitions, it also featured a wave machine, rapids, and a pool for younger children. Most impressive of all were the largest flumes in Europe, added in 1987, which took brave swimmers out over the river. Ask anyone who visited the Olympia about the pool, and they will likely tell you about the adrenaline rush of zipping down the yellow Cannonball.

The Olympia closed in July 2013 and was demolished in 2014 with the V&A now standing in its place.

The new Olympia moved inland to East Whale Lane. Restricted by its landlocked location, the trademark water slides were pulled indoors. While there is still plenty to entertain swimmers of all ages, the excitement of plummeting down the indoor flumes doesn’t quite compare to jetting out over the Tay in the Blue Bomber!

Words and research by Kirsten Murray