The Riverside Lido

We still have the Franklin Recreation Ground at the end of Mill Lane, by the riverside. This was opened in 1924 on the meadow given to the town by Henry Franklin the miller.

Before then Arthur Warren, (known as Zuda Warren) had boats for hire nearby on the riverside. Mr Warren lived in a bungalow at Hitchmead Lake in 1900 (former clay pit for disused brickworks) and he was still living there in 1916. I knew it as Warrens Pond where anglers fished for pike. The pond was filled with domestic rubbish in the 1950s.

Biggleswade Chronicle 14th January 1910, “A SUNDAY SOAKING. On Sunday afternoon, two young men were on the river in a canoe belonging to Mr Warren and evidently they did not appreciate the frailty of their craft, for in moving about it capsized and both were precipitated into the water. The river is rather deep at this spot, but fortunately one of the men named Jeeves was able to swim and he got himself and his companion to the bank without anything else befalling them.”

A bathing place was opened in 1911 with a changing hut for boys to use. By the late 1920’s this was becoming shabby and A. Hill & Sons the proprietors of the Empire Cinema acquired the site from Barclays Bank (who had foreclosed on a mortgage), opening The Lido for Easter 1929.

16th August 1927: The Chronicle reported that Arthur Warren was living in a condemned house in St Andrews Street. He was due to be evicted on August 22nd when The Urban District Council would make a demolition order. But in a long report of a County Court Case in 1930 it seems that he was still living at 5, St Andrews Street. He claimed damages against A Hill & Sons for damage to his boats on August 17th 1929, but after the Jury had deliberated they found that Messrs Hill had taken every care in removing the boats and Mr Warren lost his claim.

Would you believe?
For boaters there were Thames Punts, Canoes, Rob Roys (single seater canoe) and Rowing Boats. For swimmers an expanse of the river Ivel was cleared, a spring diving board and water chute were provided. Plus dressing rooms for ladies and gents together with a Café and Tearoom. Nearby The Urban District Council provided on the Franklin Recreation Ground swings, paddling pool, summerhouse and bandstand.

In the summer there was music every evening at The Lido and midnight bathing by floodlight was very popular. The bushes on the recreation ground’ side were covered in glow-worms-very romantic. On Sunday afternoons Antonio Arpino was there with his motorcycle trailer selling ice creams. Tony Arpino was a colourful character handsome, moustached; he spoke very nicely as befitting an actor appearing in British films and was also a swimmer and champion boxer. Families could enjoy the amenities or sit and listen to the band or take an enjoyable summer walk along the riverside to Holme Mills and back along Hitchin Street.

A popular music hall song made famous by the Music Hall artiste Florrie Ford was:
Oh! Oh! Antonio, he’s gone away,
Left me alone-ee-o, all on my own-ee-o,
I want to meet him with his new sweetheart,
Then up will go Antonio and his ice cream cart.

The Lido quietly disappeared when war broke out in 1939 and never reopened. All that now remains is a grassy area by the riverside footpath, south of the much-altered Recreation Ground.

Ken Page – September 2005