Exhibit of the Week: South Bay pool tourism poster

South Bay pool tourism poster in the Scarborough Collections.
South Bay pool tourism poster in the Scarborough Collections.

Scarborough must have been an almost impossibly glamorous place in the 1930s.

Celebrities and socialites gathered on the seafront to hunt huge tunnyfish; international tennis stars played regularly in front of crowds of up to 1,500 at the courts on Filey Road; lavish musicals such as King’s Rhapsody and Hiawatha entertained audiences at the Open Air Theatre; and the Laughton boys – movie star Charles and his hotelier brother Tom – brought in some of the era’s greatest artists to decorate their Royal Hotel on St Nicholas Street.

And for those with, perhaps, a little less cash but a strong constitution, there was the outdoor pool on the South Bay, just beyond the Spa. Today’s exhibit from the Scarborough Collections shows a tourism poster depicting it in its heyday between the wars.

The saltwater lido with its Art Deco styling was built and opened during the First World War – building work started in 1914, and the pool opened in 1915. It was at one time the largest outdoor pool in Europe, measuring 330 feet long and 167 feet wide, and was fed by fresh seawater from the South Bay.

It was designed by Harry W Smith, the borough engineer and surveyor from 1896 until 1932, a man who was quite the visionary – as well as the pool, he was also responsible for Peasholm Park and the Glen, Northstead Manor Gardens and the Open Air Theatre, the Mere, the War Memorial on Oliver’s Mount and many other notable features of the town which still attract visitors today, so we have much to thank him for.

The pool was still in regular use during the latter half of the 20th century, finally closing completely in 1989 – it then stood empty and increasingly dilapidated for some years before being filled in and covered over. It’s hard now to imagine just how popular and busy it once was, but this charming little silent film clip on the wonderful British Pathé website will give a sense of how it looked in 1921: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/eve-at-the-pool

The opening caption tells us that little has changed with the British weather over the last century or so: “The lure of the Bathing Pool – and a glorious “dip” – Goodness knows our wayward climate doesn’t allow many opportunities for a swim.”

The beautiful poster, showing young, tanned and athletic bathers of both sexes having fun with a variety of inflatables while sunbathers look on and children ride donkeys on the beach, is signed ‘Vandersyde’.

It would seem likely that this was Alfred Gerritt Vandersyde (1898-1970), a prolific British artist whose work will be familiar to anyone who frequented Boots or Woolworths in the 50s and 60s – his framed prints sold in their thousands through those stores.

His most famous print, Nina, depicting an exotic and buxom beauty naked but for a pair of gold hoop earrings and a flower in her hair, is often compared to the work of the king of kitsch, Vladimir Tretchikoff, he of the blue-faced Chinese Girl, and to that of JH Lynch, whose ladies were generally rather more pneumatic than Tretchikoff’s.

Nina had a brief brush with notoriety in the early 1970s when she was seen hanging on the wall in the background of a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s brutal and disturbing dystopian fantasy, A Clockwork Orange.

Vandersyde was dead by then, but it seems fair to speculate that it’s not an association he would have enjoyed – generally his pictures were joyful and innocent depictions of British life, advertising cosy icons such as Ovaltine as well as the English seaside. One of his most famous series of images was for the magazine Once Upon a Time (‘all in colour – makes learning a joy’) in the 1960s, for which he produced illustrations on a range of subjects from young children at play to the works of Shakespeare.

The poster is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.