The Peerless Pool: London’s first public swimming pool
Perilous Pond was an ancient pond fed by a spring, first mentioned in 1598. Located near the junction of modern-day Old Street and City Road, it earned its name due to the many tragic drownings of people using it as a swimming hole.
In 1743 the land was purchased by William Kemp, a local jeweler. He enclosed the pond with stone edging, and added marble steps and a gravel bottom. Renamed the more enticing Peerless Pool, it was London’s first outdoor public swimming pool, measuring 170 ft long x 108 ft wide and 3 to 5 feet deep. Bathers dressed in a vestibule made of marble.
Kemp built a separate pond for fishing and the grounds were screened by trees. Similar to London’s pleasure gardens, visitors could expect other attractions in the form of a small library with light literature, a bowling green, and “every innocent and rational amusement”, including ice skating in winter. Kemp charged an annual subscription rate of £1 10s, or one shilling per visit, the costs therefore prohibitive for all but the upper and rising middle classes.
William Hone, the satirist, visited the pool in 1826 and described it thus:
“Trees enough remain to shade the visitor from the heat of the sun on the brink. On a summer evening it is amusing to survey the conduct of the bathers; some boldly dive, others timorous stand and then descend step by step, unwilling and slow; choice swimmers attract attention by divings and somersets, and the whole sheet of water sometimes rings with merriment. Every fine Thursday and Saturday afternoon in the summer columns of Bluecoat boys, more than a score in each, headed by their respective beadles, arrive and some half strip themselves ‘ere they reach their destination. The rapid plunges they make into the Pool and their hilarity in the bath testify their enjoyment of the tepid fluid.”
The pool was closed in 1850 and built over. No traces of the old site remain except for the names of Peerless Street and Bath Street.