Such a shame the Pitt Street baths were closed
For anyone who could not swim when entering the navy, life could be somewhat fraught.
Many men and boys wanted to be sailors, but learning to swim was a cause of great consternation.
As one boy told me, ‘If I go over the side in the middle of the Atlantic I’m going to drown even if I am an Olympic swimmer, so what is the point?’
It is also said that many fishermen did not learn to swim because if they went over the side and the vessel kept going it was far better to drown and die than be floating around in freezing cold water.
I read somewhere that the biggest cause for boys trying to get out of naval training establishments Ganges and St Vincent was the fact they just could not get the hang of swimming.
I know from personal experience.
I was a non-swimmer when I entered Ganges and I was pushed into the deep end, which was 12 ft, by a petty officer PTI.
It was very much a case of sink or swim, but that is another story.
In 1910 the Royal Navy decided that every recruit should be able to swim and the baths at Pitt Street, Landport, were built, along with a gymnasium, and called the Royal Naval School of Physical Training.
Many sailors learnt how to swim there along with civilians.
The remarkable building was easily recognisable.
There was an enclosed football pitch at the end of the road as well.
After the navy had moved on to HMS Temeraire, the swimming pool was filled in and the pool area made into a gymnasium.
Somewhere around the year 2000 there were plans for a Northern Quarter shopping complex and it was decided to demolish the baths, which was done in some haste in 2008.
As the Northern Quarter idea seems to have been put on hold, or permanently axed, it seems a great shame that this facility was taken out of use so quickly.
n Below right, is Hawke Street, Portsea in 1902, where Charles Dickens’ family lived.
The Dickens’ home was on the right hand side, close by the lamppost.