Memories of The Pond and Pond Hall
Swimming has been a favourite summer pastime for as long as we can remember. In the early 20th century, outdoor swimming became increasingly popular with lidos scattered throughout the country, particularly in coastal towns. In the 1920s and 30s, recreational swimming became an increasingly popular pastime and more accessible to the public because of improved public transport and increased leisure time. Consequently, a relatively large number of outdoor swimming pools were built in Scotland, especially at sea-side locations in which seawater was drawn into these pools. Some of the seawater was cleaned out and refreshed naturally by the tide. Other pools were plain walled areas on the waterfront to provide a safe bathing space. In later times, more sophisticated heated baths emerged. This trend, however, disappeared when the facilities diminished and the lure of holidays abroad became more popular.
In Cockenzie & Port Seton, many local residents have fond memories of The Pond and the Pond Hall, which opened in June 1932 and was the focus of social life in the burgh for much of the period right up to the 1950s. The construction of The Pond and the Pond Hall, commissioned by the Burgh Council of Cockenzie & Port Seton, was initiated by Provost John Hall Weatherhead who recognised the need to emulate Dunbar and North Berwick. Therefore, the area was developed as a seaside resort with potential for business expansion and with the intention to fulfil present and future recreational requirements for Cockenzie & Port Seton. The intersection of Fishers Road and the line of the High Street became the chosen site. Costing at £10 000, the project was financed with £625 from the Burgh Council as well as personal and community donation of monies and materials, and voluntary labour over a period of two and a half years.
When it opened in 1932, The Pond had an Olympic standard pool measuring at 50 x 25 yards with changing cubicles at the east and west ends. The spectator capacity was at 1500 on both the north and south sides. There was also a 33 foot diving stage – the highest in Scotland – installed. This was an impressive feat by a small fishing village particularly because it happened during the Depression period. When the Pond Hall was completed in the following year, there were additional changing facilities, Council chambers, a library, a tearoom and a main function hall which accommodated 800 people. The hall also had a sprung ballroom floor, one of three in Britain, and was in continuous use for weddings, dances, and youth and church related activities. For this reason, the Pond Hall became the civic, social and recreational centre for the local community. During the 1930s, the opening of The Pond was also signified by long queues of children and adults from all over East Lothian. The exceptional facilities and reputation also made The Pond a key training venue for swimming clubs from all over Scotland. Amongst the frequent visitors were the Portobello Scottish and British Water Polo Champions.
The Pond and the Pond Hall remained open throughout the World War 2 years and became even more central to the community’s social and recreational activities. After the war, new community activities emerged. For example, in 1947, the Cockenzie Players staged their first production in the Pond Hall and such shows continued until 1961. In addition, the Cockenzie & Port Seton Bowling Club and Gala fund raising dances were also held there. The car park at the Pond Hall was also the annual venue for the crowning of the Gala Queen, and this attracted large crowds from across the county.
In 1949, the swimming club (originally formed in 1928) was restarted and by 1955 it had a membership of 400. The 1950s also witnessed the resurrection of swimming galas with frequent visitors like Peter Heatley, a Commonwealth gold medallist diving champion, and local club diver, A. McNeil from Tranent. Floodlit bathing was also introduced in the 1950s, and there was dancing every Saturday night in the Pond Hall. In December 1953, a clock tower was unveiled on top of the Pond Hall. It was donated by public subscription in memory of Dr John Black, a former medical practitioner in the town, who lived in Link Roads for many years.
By mid 1960s, there was a major decline in the swimming club activities. As the years passed, the amount of essential maintenance and upgrading increased. In 1973, the Burgh Council recognised the need to modernise and upgrade the facilities. However, due to strict budget controls, no further steps were taken by East Lothian District Council. Investment and maintenance of the pool, from then on, was affected. By the 1980s, new indoor swimming and leisure facilities were developed in Dunbar, North Berwick, Haddington and Musselburgh. The state of The Pond, however, continued to decline. And when the Port Seton Community Centre in the King George V Park opened in 1994, it became increasingly evident that The Pond and the Pond Hall facilities were no longer as appealing as they had once been. With attendances failing, and costs running at £12 per swimmer, it was no longer economically justifiable for The Pond and the Pond Hall to stay open in 1994. Finally, a decision was made to convert the Pond Hall site into a housing development.
In spite of a 4000 signature petition and business letters of support, the Pond Hall was demolished in December 1995. Although the District Council was sympathetic to the community’s wishes to hold on to this significant piece of their heritage, refurbishing the Pond Hall was considered to be too costly and unnecessary especially since other sports developments were available in the surrounding area. With the closure of the Pond Hall, the Dr Black Clock was moved to Hart Estates, Macmerry for safekeeping.