The night Olympians gave a display at Hilsea Lido

The cutting from the Evening News recording the night when Great Britains Olympic divers performed at Hilsea Lido

The cutting from the Evening News recording the night when Great Britains Olympic divers performed at Hilsea Lido

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It was the night 3,000 people packed Portsmouth’s newest attraction to watch their Olympic heroes.

On August 31, 1936, Hilsea Lido marked the sporting highlight of the pool’s pre-war opening seasons.

An iconic photo (courtesy of Portsmouth City Council) of the main Hilsea Lido pool taken in 1959 with a diver demonstrating a swallow dive from the 10m board. The diving tower lasted until 1971 when the structure became unsafe.  It was dismantled and never replaced

An iconic photo (courtesy of Portsmouth City Council) of the main Hilsea Lido pool taken in 1959 with a diver demonstrating a swallow dive from the 10m board. The diving tower lasted until 1971 when the structure became unsafe. It was dismantled and never replaced

A fortnight earlier the XI Olympiad had ended. The Berlin games in Nazi Germany were the most contentious in history.

The new diving tower at the main pool had already taken up its role as Hilsea’s focus of attraction.

At 10m (32ft) it was the highest diving tower in Hampshire and soon established itself as the key venue for diving displays, championship competitions and novelty acts.

So much so, that in its second season, which coincided with the Olympics, The News announced on June 25, 1936:

‘Blessed at long last with the Hilsea Lido, an open-air pool of which we can be proud, local waterman will be pleased to learn that five championships will be staged at the Lido during the summer months.

‘An excellent entertainment has also been arranged in August, when the British Olympic champions, returning from Berlin will stop at Portsmouth one night and give an exhibition of all branches of the sport.’

That night, as part of the Southern Counties Amateur Swimming Association Championships in front of the lord and lady mayoress, those 3,000 thronged around the pool.

Seventy-six years on, the names of the British Olympic diving team, Freddie Hodges, Madge Moulton, Betty Slade and ‘Bobbie’ Larsen have faded into obscurity.

But as the 28th Olympiad plays out in London, this is a good opportunity to look again at Hilsea when, in an era without television, it brought a touch of Olympic glamour live to city people.

 

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