Ruislip Reservoir Early History Page 3

Skiing At Ruislip Lido 1960's
From the 1950s through to the 1970s the Lido was in its heyday as a water-based recreation facility.

Attractions included rowing boats, motor boats, paddle boats, a large children's playground, the beach (latterly having a fenced off swimming area) and the miniature railway. The Lido became recognised as a water skiing area, with the world championships being televised from there. It was also used as a set for various films including ‘The Young Ones’ with Cliff Richard.

Water was plentiful, the lake covering a much larger area than it does now, and thousands of visitors were received each summer. At peak times London Transport ran three different bus routes, employing double decker buses at twenty-minute intervals to bring visitors from all over north-west London. There were turnstiles at each entrance charging for entry, which along with car parking raised considerable revenue.

Throughout the 1980s, while the sailing and water-skiing clubs were active, the attraction of a visit to the Lido for the general public began to lose its lustre. The rise of private motoring and new motorways had made day visits further afield possible for London residents, not to mention the availability of package holidays to foreign shores. Visitor numbers began to fall, and while admission fees were reduced this only limited the money available to maintain the facilities as the recession hit towards the end of the decade.

Spring 1990 had seen the Lido drained to allow work on the swimming area. Following a period of unseasonal drought, a bore hole on the adjacent common had to be used to re-fill the reservoir in time for the summer season. The cost of the pumping operation, on top of the repairs contributed to the Lido making a net loss of £202,000 by the end of the year. This clearly could not be sustained, so the council had to make the difficult decision to no longer pay for the chlorination of the lake. Naturally, this meant the end of swimming facilities, although the number of rowing boats was increased to compensate. In parallel with this, the council began looking for a commercial partner to regenerate the Lido, in line with government policy at the time of divestment.

In due course, it was announced that an organisation had been chosen to take on the running of the Lido - Eau Naturelle Limited, a new company masterminded by former Wembley Stadium CEO David Griffiths. In order to make the Lido a profitable concern, Eau Naturelle proposed a raft of new attractions for the 1992 season.

Open-air classical music concerts, antique fairs and weekend markets would be held in the Lido grounds, while the woods surrounding the reservoir would be used for a number of activities, including paintballing. While bathing would be reinstated and restaurant facilities improved, locals were concerned that the new activities and increased patronage would harm both the environment at the Lido and the local area. In August 1991, at a meeting held in a marquee at the Lido to promote the new vision for the Lido's future, angry residents tackled both the councillors responsible and the directors of Eau Naturelle head-on about their concerns. However, it was not this event that was to curtail the planned development.

Outside the marquee, the water had all but drained away from the Lido into a sink hole that had opened up earlier that year - a side effect of the council's pumping operations the previous summer. The council requested Eau Naturelle to repair the damage in exchange for writing off a disputed rates bill; this they hired a sub-contractor to do, but ended up inadvertently almost turning the reservoir into a landfill site. Vast quantities of spoil and clay were deposited into and around the breach to questionable effect until the council forcibly stopped lorries coming into the site. Furthermore, allegations had been raised that the lifeguards hired in anticipation of the returning water activities were unqualified. By June 1992, in the face of mounting public criticism, the council had reached the limit of their patience and gave Eau Naturelle notice to quit.

The loss of water, combined with the council’s decision to reduce the maximum water level in the reservoir for flood prevention purposes, signalled an end to the sailing and water-skiing activities, which migrated to nearby Denham and Rickmansworth. A limited range of attractions were provided by a contractor to the council, but these represented a shadow of those formerly provided. The main building was locked up and disused, eventually being destroyed by arson in 1993.

Finally, in 1994, the council announced that they were now in talks to hand the site of the (now demolished) main building over to Whitbread to build a 'Brewers Fayre' restaurant. In return, Whitbread would rebuild the cafe adjacent to Woody Bay and re-landscape the Lido, including removal of the redundant swimming and boating facilities. The entrance fees and the associated turnstiles would also be removed, resulting in the Lido becoming much like any other country park in the borough.

In 2010, the council decided to enhance the facilities available at the Lido, with total replacement of all the buildings on site (with the exception of The Water’s Edge). There was even the hope of renewed bathing and boating facilities in the reservoir itself, but these were ultimately hindered by the need to keep water levels low for flood control reasons.

After a fireworks evening in 2011, held to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the reservoir, construction work started. To cope with the anticipated increased numbers of visitors, new parking facilities were provided, as well as increased amounts of play equipment and extensive work on the paths and woodland around the reservoir. Following completion of the work in late 2013 a further fireworks display, similar to that for the bicentenary, was held on 20th October 2013 to celebrate.

The Lido remains a pleasant place to walk surrounded by London's first National Nature Reserve, Ruislip Woods. Out of season the Lido takes on a relaxed atmosphere, with steady usage from locals for running, dog walking, and leisurely strolls along the paths and woodland trails. When the sun shines, the area is once again a magnet for visitors from all around - visitor numbers on any given day can peak well into the thousands. Long may it continue!

I am grateful to Chris Ladyman for this piece, Chris works tirelessly for The Ruislip Lido Railway