For decades it was a common sight- the morning ritual of crocodile processions of school children carrying a towel and their swimming costume to and from the Childeric Primary and Haberdasher Aske’s Grammar schools.
There would be a teacher at the front and a teacher at the back.
They would be on their way to the Laurie Grove baths.
The classes would snake up and down the New Cross Road.
The Childeric children would be carefully escorted while crossing Lewisham Way by the New Cross Super Kinema from 1925. It changed names over the decades eventually to ‘The Gaumont’ before becoming The Venue that we know today.
Trams and traffic would be held up as they crossed by the famous Marquis of Granby pub, a landmark coaching inn on the Dover Road through the ages.
When the pupils were hoping to gain their British Amateur Swimming Association gold, silver and bronze medal awards for life-saving their towels would also wrap around a pair of pyjamas.
That’s because the awards required swimmers to do a specified number of lengths in their pyjamas while carrying a brick at the same time, which was the equivalent of pulling and swimming with a small child.
And the brick would be provided to the children swimmers by the swimming pool.
Academic Dr. Gareth Stanton first started lecturing at Goldsmiths when the baths were still open for business.
He recalled ‘that the pyjamas were also required for the silver and gold badges not simply to simulate swimming fully clothed but also because by inflating them when wet and tying the leg ends you made a temporary life raft of sorts.’
‘Later in life, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, I remember photos of Afghan Mujahideen crossing rivers on goat stomachs similarly inflated. The images took me back, madeleine-like, to early school swimming lessons…’
The memories of childhood swimming at Laurie Grove would be varied.
Some would recoil from the pungent smell of chlorine and the slimy feel of wet changing cubicle floors, and the echoing seagull style squalls of scores of children not exactly at play.