The History of La Valette Bathing Pools


As we settle into summer and enjoy more and more days of glorious sunny weather it’s great to see so many guests enjoying the swimming pool here at the Bella Luce. Many guests enjoy taking a dip either at the pool here or in the sea at one of the calm beaches a short walk from the hotel during their stay, however there is one local swimming spot with such wonderful history that we think it’s a must for any keen swimmer visiting Guernsey: La Valette Bathing Pools.

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Built over 150 years ago on the southern side of St Peter Port beneath Clarence Battery, the pools at La Valette are seawater swimming pools that are open to the general public. In the mid 19th Century plans were put forward to build a promenade to Clarence Battery using material generated from the expansion of St Peter Port harbour, including bathing facilities to replace those lost because of the harbour project. In 1859 the horseshoe bathing place was built; a semi-circular stepped wall that is open to the sea and allowed swimmers easier access to the water. The enclosed ladies’ pool was built in 1870 and the gentleman’s in 1976, with a children’s pool being added to the Ladies’ pool twenty years later. All three of these pools are filled by the sea at each high tide, which retains the seawater as the tide drops and provides a calm swimming area that is warmed by the sun during the summer months. Victor Hugo was known to enjoy swimming at La Valette during his exile on Guernsey, and it is said that the artist Monet swam there too.

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Guernsey Swimming Club erected diving boards at the ladies’ pool in 1925, and the club held regular nighttime swimming galas here during the summers with races and entertainment that built up to a grand finale known as “the firedive”. At the end of each gala the club members would take part in a torch-lit procession around the edge of the that finished around the edge of the pool. They would extinguish their torches in the pool and then a bag of petrol was thrown into the water where it would split and the petrol rippled outwards from the point of impact which, when lit, formed a ring of fire in the pool. A diver would then spring from the top of the five meter diving board and enter the water in the centre of this “ring of fire” as the climax to the entertainment.

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In 1964 the ladies pool was extended and all bar one of the diving boards (the lowest diving platform) were removed in 1970. The pools remained in regular use (although after the opening of the Beau Sejour Leisure Centre in 1976 only the most dedicated of outdoor swimmers continued to frequent La Valette) until they were damaged by storms in February 2014 and subsequently closed. Following repairs, the ladies’ and children’s pools reopened that summer, and then this February the refurbished changing rooms and kitchen were reopened. An exhibition about the history of the pools is currently on display at La Valette, whilst you can see photographer Tim Bowditch’s Firedive images and short films on his website.

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Images reproduced by kind permission of Visit Guernsey.

Written by:

Bella Luce