Remembering Cardiff’s Empire Pool

Remembering Wales Empire Pool

We took Owen swimming at Cardiff’s International Pool today. He loved it, and so did we. Going in, we spotted this plaque commemorating one of my favourite childhood haunts: the Wales Empire Pool, which was demolished to make way for the Millennium Stadium.

The Empire Pool was built for the 1958 Empire Games, hosted by Cardiff. As a child, I was in awe of the enormous pool, the impossibly high diving boards and the stark functionality of the building. Swimming a length was a major voyage.

The best memory was the day the drinks machine went haywire, spewing out free coffees. My Cardiff High School class rushed to take advantage!

I actually learned to swim in another long-gone Cardiff pool. Guildford Crescent was a Victorian pool – actually two pools – opened in the 1860s. By the 1970s it was in a bad way. But in the autumn term 1974 I spent part of every morning for four weeks there, and by the first Friday I could swim and went up to the next class. Less happily, the next step was learning to dive, but I never got beyond belly flops. Despite that. I’ll always remember Guildford Crescent fondly as the place I learned one of life’s most precious skills.

9 thoughts on “Remembering Cardiff’s Empire Pool

  1. I too remember both the Empire and Guildford Crescent Pools. Our junior school school swimming lessons took place in Guildford Crescent (often cold, scary swimming teachers, and the changing cubicles). On the way there from Cefn Onn School on a bus we rushed upstairs for the best seats, and there was lots of singing – “On Top Of Old Smoky, all covered in cheese, lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed” was the favourite – you could sing it lots of times between Llanishen and Town!!

    The Empire Pool was very imposing, somewhat intimidating but you could imagine you were a swimming champion. Like you, swimming a width was an achievement, never mind a length! My swimming skills are not good, so when doing a length, I always started at the deep end and made sure that I was next to the side!

    The good thing about the cafe was the hot Bovril from the drinks machine!

    • You’ve prompted a few more memories, Bev! Yes, the Bovril was wonderful after a swim. (But do you remember having Wagon Wheels after going to Feltham Pool, near Whitton?) And I too kept close to the ‘shore’ when swimming a length. Finally, wasn’t there a mural of a big Welsh flag on the end wall?

  2. I too remember being taught to swim in Guildford pool. I remember widths seeming vast and lengths a massive achievement! I must admit I was quite intimidated by swimming until I was in my twenties. Fortunately my children haven’t seen lots of children bellyflopping en masse and think swimming is just fun. Last year (aged 47) my husband tried to teach me to dive and it worked ,bizarrely he videoed us all so we could see where we needed to improve it worked! I can’t remember the wagon wheels,I think I was too traumatised I do remember the chlorine smell though .

    • The chlorine – that reminds me of Lakeside School’s pool. It took Lakeside 14 years to raise the money to build it – it opened the term I left for Cardiff High. The chlorine was so strong that it took hours to recover after a swim!

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  4. I remember there being three pools at Guildford Crescent – Women’s, Men’s and Mixed. I learnt to swim there as my father took us each Wednesday to the Brownies/Guides swimming lessons. I then had lessons later on with Cardiff High School in Empire Pool. I took my bronze and silver swimming awards there. It was an amazing pool – loved the turkish baths underneath – my friend and I would spend all day messing around there.

  5. I spent a huge part of my growing up in both Guildford crescent and Empire pools.
    As a small boy I would attend Police Splash night every Wednesday night as dad was a policeman.
    As time went on and my swimming improved I would swim in the police families swimming gala I’d clean up all the prizes which were mainly toys and games. I got embarrassing as me and my brother would either get 1st or 2nd in every race.
    School swimming lessons were planned but I broke my arm and missed them.

    Empire pool was a fantastic pool, my dad tells me he swam in the pool before it opened as a bobby on the beat.
    We went to Empire all the time, boys brigade swimming gala’s swimming on a Sunday Morning every week and eventually I joined Cardiff swimming club and spent many hours there everyday.
    Diving off top board was something I enjoyed, jumping off top was outlawed and reserved for just before getting out as we knew the staff would chuck us out after that.
    So, fond memories of training on a daily basis, Gala’s and having great fun too, Bovril drink and Oxo crisps are my memories of the canteen.
    We moved training to the Welsh National Sports centre but it was never the same.

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