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Image for the news item 'The Swimming Bath Goes Green' on 19 Aug 2020
Top Row: Swimming bath with ducks, August 2020, Bottom Row: Letterhead of Gilliam & Co, Ltd.

At the beginning of Lockdown swimming pools across the country were closed, Emmanuel’s being no exception. The bath here reverted to a state of nature, its pellucid turquoise waters gradually turning a soupy green, and it was not long before an opportunistic quartet of ducks took up residence. Older members of the college will doubtless recall, fondly or otherwise, that when they were up at Emma the pool always looked like this. The first college swimming bath was created in 1745 by converting the ornamental pond in the north-east corner of the Fellows’ Garden. Completely re-bricked in 1855, the Victorian bath (known to many generations of Emma students as ‘the Tank’) was fed, like its predecessor, from the branch channel leading off Hobson’s Conduit that had been laid across the college grounds in the 1630s. This ran from Chapman’s Garden to the Paddock pond, and thence into the bath, without much in the way of intervening filtration, and although this state of affairs was deemed acceptable for more than two centuries, in 1959 the college authorities decided that the pool was so dirty they would have to close it ‘lest epidemic should result or…install some kind of filtration plant’. It was agreed that the bath should be kept in use, but henceforth be supplied with mains water and purification equipment.

An alumnus of Emmanuel happened to run a business that manufactured filtration apparatus, so the college placed an order with him, only to cancel it when it received a much lower quotation from Gilliam & Co, Ltd. This was not only embarrassing but also, as it turned out, perhaps a false economy, for the equipment supplied by Gilliam was initially unsatisfactory and caused many a headache for the Domestic Bursar, Ken Roscoe. There was difficulty getting the plant to work; the water was soon ‘full of algae’ and large amounts of chemicals were necessary to clear it; the filter clogged up (not helped by two storms that washed soil into the bath from nearby flowerbeds), and the underwater vacuum cleaner was inadequate for its purpose. The shed housing the filtration machinery, erected by a local sub-contractor, was such a jerry-built eyesore that the college demolished it and refused to pay the bill, and to cap it all, the Cambridge Water Company complained about the amount of leakage and demanded that a different valve be fitted to the mains supply to avert the risk of ‘water hammer’.

Eventually, of course, all the problems were resolved and the pool was ready for use by the Easter Term of 1961. The college Magazine for that year informed its readers that the swimming bath had been ‘transformed’ by the installation of circulating and filtration apparatus, and that ‘it now presents on sunny days a cool seductive blueness’. Hopefully it will do so again next summer.

Amanda Goode, College Archivist

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