Bournemouth Baths, a Kingston, Jamaica icon, was a popular recreational venue. Join Doug Bird as he reminisces about the baths and his swimming achievements.
Bournemouth Baths was built by Captain Lindsay in early 1900. The swimming pool was 10 metres wide, with a deep end (approx. 3.75 metres) and a shallow end. The deep and shallow ends were separated by a rope with floats attached, and a large round raft that floated at the deep end. The pool was filled with sea water pumped from Kingston Harbour. You had to pay an entrance fee to get in.
Across the pool was a steel cable with platforms on each side and a set of rings suspended from the cable. This provided an endless source of entertainment for young people who used them to swing across from side to side. On the eastern side of the pool was a two storey building. Downstairs were the changing rooms and showers, one side for men and the other for ladies. Upstairs was a dance hall, bar and juke box. As youngsters we would gather there with girls to dance to the then popular music such as “In the Mood”, “Red Sails in the Sunset” and “Begin the Beguine”. On special occasions such as Christmas and New Year there were balls for grown-ups with live bands. Sometimes various celebrities gave performances in the dance pavilion. In 1940, world famous Lithuanian (then part of Russia) violinist Jascha Heifetz gave concerts in the Caribbean and when he came to Jamaica, he played at both Carib Theatre and Bournemouth Pavilion. I remember a Doctor Howard Inch giving a talk there on teenage acne.
In its day, Bournemouth Baths was not just a place to go swimming, but also a hub for socialising, and a place of entertainment! When swimming Galas were started, it was obvious that diving in the shallow end of the pool was not possible. A timber structure was erected 33 and a third metres in the deep end. To swim 100 metres would be 3 laps and 200 metres would be 6 laps. School Swimming Championships between Jamaica College, Kingston College, Wolmers and Calabar were held at Bournemouth Baths annually. When I was 15 years old I represented Wolmers in the 200 metre breast stroke, which, to the surprise of my teacher, I won in record time. I was given my School Colours and permission to wear the school emblem on my blazer! Around this time or shortly after, my club, (The Jamaica Amateur Swimming Association) set a new record for the 3 x 100 Medley Relay with Busta Haase swimming backstroke, followed by me (Doug Bird) swimming breaststroke and finishing with Keith Melhado swimming crawl. These were exciting and competitive times at Bournemouth Baths.
In 1940, Bournemouth Baths almost became famous for all the wrong reasons. It was late afternoon and the pool was unoccupied except for two brothers playing on the raft. Their mother and little sister were poolside watching. My friend Gordon Dear and I were upstairs in the pavilion overlooking the pool and as we watched, the boys fell off the raft and it quickly became apparent that they were non-swimmers and were in trouble. I dashed downstairs and across to the far side of the pool, took off my watch and shoes and dove in to haul them out. By then, the youngest was on the bottom so I got him out first then went back for his brother who was struggling to stay afloat. Afterwards I had a shower and then had to wait for my friend to bring me dry clothes.
A lot of fuss resulted from this event. In May 1941 The Royal Humane Society presented me with a Parchment Certificate and medal at a function held at Bournemouth Baths, and the KSAC (Council) gave me one year’s free entry.
Bournemouth Baths, the gathering place of friends, a place for healthy exercise and entertainment, is still in existence today. The Baths have been renovated but sadly
remain closed to the public because Kingston and St Andrew Council say they have no funds with which to run it. All that history locked away to deteriorate again.
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