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"Minutes of Meeting held Monday October 9th 1961. (5) In Freeman's Business, Mr King Harris informed the School of his plans concerning the building of their own swimming pool during the coming year. The School showed itself, by its loud applause, to be in full agreement with the project, and it was decided that preliminary operations should commence as soon as possible."
This was the Headmaster speaking to a meeting of his Senior School - some 280 boys and girls between the ages of twelve and eighteen - with a pupil Chairman and Secretary, not telling them to turn out and tackle a job, but asking them if they were prepared to do so. Though the technical direction must come from adults, the main burden of the work would clearly fall upon the children themselves. They seized upon the idea with obvious enthusiasm, and within a matter of days a committee consisting of four adults and four pupils had been elected to organise the work.
The two people whose offers of help made the whole project possible - without whom, indeed, it would have been quite impossible - were the Architect and the Engineer. Mr Barnes, who has had professional responsibility for much of the recent building in the School, undertook the architectural planning of the site and of the changing rooms and building to house the boiler and filtration plant. Responsibility on the engineering side, for the design of the pool structure, the pipework and filter plant, and for their construction, was taken by a Chartered Civil Engineer, Stephen Harris, a former pupil and present parent of the School. It happened that in the previous year he had helped with the construction of a learners' pool, on a self-help basis, in a Cambridgeshire village primary school.
The choice of site was not a wide one. The pool must obviously have a sufficiently clear south aspect to get the maximum amount of sunshine, and at the same time be sheltered from the wind. It must cause the minimum disturbance to neighbours. Only one area in the school estate finally commended itself. Fortunately for "public relations", it had long been set aside for the building of a Hall and swimming pool; plans for both of them had been prepared as early as 1937, and copies made available to the local authorities; they were in fact on display in Letchworth in 1943 as part of a town exhibition of post-war building plans. A hole had actually been dug on this site in 1939, and it was not filled in till 1957. Outline planning permission for a swimming pool had been granted in the latter year, so there was fortunately no question of taking the School's neighbours by surprise.
The dimensions of the pool were controlled by the new safety regulations laid down by the Ministry of Education and the Amateur Swimming Association, affecting both depth for diving and width of clearance opposite springboards. The ideal, of course, would be three separate pools, a shallow one for learning, a long one for swimming and a deep one for diving; ours was the most effective compromise between the three that we could devise, providing a shallow section for juniors, six "lanes" side by side for racing, and ample diving clearance made possible by the addition of a diving bay.
The response to this appeal was rapid and enormously encouraging. We were lent a bench and a pipe bender for bending reinforced steel; one parent lent a number of shovels, another made the splendid gift of 3,500 bricks. Others did valuable work in seeking out secondhand building material. One enabled the school to buy 220 railway sleepers, weighing 16 tons, to form a track to the site that would stand up to hard usage by heavy lorries, and also made a gift of timber bought from a closed-down railway line in Hampshire. Other offers of loan included a 4-ton lorry, a cement mixer and a tractor; gifts included paving, 500 sheets of Fablon plastic, piping and cement. Through the vigilance of a school parent, three second-hand filtration tanks were bought for the remarkably low price of £45 each (they might each have cost £150 new), and an automatic burner was acquired from a glove factory for £50.
One problem to be faced was that of a suitable "water bar" to be inserted at all joints in the concrete; the Engineer decided to use Poly Vinyl Chloride instead of the customary copper or steel, thus saving something like £200. An old pupil of the School who was Pit Manager of a Yorkshire Colliery offered to supply old Coal Board conveyor belting, which could be sliced into 6 in. strips, at a cost of 12/- per cwt., and a sample was sent to undergo tests at Cambridge. It proved thoroughly satisfactory, and it was joined with Bostick sealing compound.
Some 4,000 separate rods, of different diameters and of 44 different lengths between 2 ft. and 20 ft., had to be cut and bent accurately to the shape needed for construction.
A major item in the construction budget was going to be the "form work" or shuttering for holding the concrete. It could be built of wood, on the spot, at an enormous expense of money and labour; but by a piece of great good fortune, money, labour and perhaps another whole year's work by the School were saved when the project came to the notice of an old pupil who was Overseas Manager in the firm of Wimpey's. Wimpey's not only lent the necessary equipment, consisting of more than 19,000 separate parts and worth about £750, for as long as the School might need it: they sent careful instructions about its use, and took a genuine personal interest in the progress of the work. This was much the largest single benefaction among the many that were made, as well as one of the most heartening.
Visits paid to a number of these quickly made it clear that many school pools were not being built in accordance with modern safety standards, in terms of the depth of water required for diving. The minimum depths laid down in the safety standard approved by the Amateur Swimming Association are 11 ft. 4½ in. for a 3 metre springboard and 12 ft. 5½ in. for a 5 metre springboard, which we intended to install. The result was a design for a pool actually two and a half times the volume of the Hatfield pool; it would be short sighted for us to aim at anything smaller, and unthinkable to build a pool below the most recent safety standards. The School's swimming pool was clearly going to be a much better one than had originally been planned; it was equally clearly going to be a great deal more expensive. The £3,000 had become £5,700.
Naturally, as time went on funds came in more slowly; but by November 1963, two years after the launching of the project, only another £1,000 needed to be found. A second Fair during the Summer term 1964 provided the last "heave" (these two efforts raised respectively £985 and £730, each in the course of a single afternoon) and the whole cost of the pool had been raised in just over two and a half years.
It would be impossible to list all the money-raising methods that were employed both inside and outside the School; they included coffee mornings, cake stalls in a local market, biscuit selling in "break" time at School, carol singing, staff-and-parent dances, crabapple jelly making, jumble sales, a Madeira morning, film shows, concerts, a barbecue, a book sale, shoe cleaning, wood chopping, clothes washing, the making of Christmas cards, lampshades, toffee, pyjama cases, toffee-apples, toys, as well as jobs of all kinds done by children during their holidays. One senior boy spent the whole of Christmas working as a kitchen hand in a Butlin's Holiday Camp; another found that it was one thing to collect five hundred "empties" from social gatherings, but quite another to dispose of them, since licensed houses would only accept a handful at a time. These were only two examples of the resourcefulness that was shown by dozens of children in raising their quota for the swimming pool fund.
There was a great deal of other preparatory work to be done. Electricity and water had both to be brought to the site, electricity for a Kango hammer and water both for constant use during construction and later on for filling the pool. The local Water Board would consent to nothing larger than a 1 in. inlet, which meant that the pool would take a whole week to fill; but with the recirculation system of filtration to be installed, one fill would last indefinitely. Not only had some necessary water to be brought to the spot, some unnecessary water had to be got rid of, and the disposal of surface water which collected during construction presented awkward problems for months on end.
Other off-site preparations included the bending of the steel reinforcing rods, the stripping of the ex-railway trough wood of rusty nails and screws, and the preparing of the wood for rough shuttering - for although Wimpey's metal form work was to be used for the walls of the pool, strong barricades of wood would be needed to prevent landslides of the heavy clay surrounding the hole. On-site preparations would begin with marking out the hole to be excavated, the mechanical digging of the channels for the main sewer and the storm water drains (an outside firm asked £337 for this job alone), the mechanical excavation of the hole and its subsequent trimming to the exact dimensions needed, and the putting down, over the entire floor of the hole, of a "blinding layer" of weak concrete to give a clean working surface for the floor of the pool.
At the planning stage it was felt that the School could not afford a full-time professional foreman, even if one could have been found who was both competent as a concreter and willing to teach children. Just before work on the project began, however, a foreman fell from heaven, or more accurately from Edinburgh, in the person of a young member of the staff who was employed at that time in the school gardens. Michael Pooley was a designer-craftsman whose previous experience had been mainly in ceramics, but, in the words of the Engineer, "he quickly became an extremely competent foreman, and had a remarkable capacity for handling practical engineering problems". He devoted his whole time to the swimming pool, being in charge of all the work for the next year and a half.
The laying of a solid concrete floor sounds fairly straightforward, but in fact the shuttering for each separate floor slab was quite complicated, for not only did it have to allow two layers of steel to stick out so that they could be enmeshed in the next slab, but also a layer of PVC was necessary to act as a water bar in the joins. This water bar is essential, because however well laid the concrete is, however sound its consistency, and however well compacted with a vibrator (which shakes it down into a solid mass, expelling air bubbles at the same time), concrete shinks while it is hardening. This shrinkage (which is of the order of about 1 in 3000) was catered for in two ways. The first way was to cast alternate bays of the floor slab and the walls, leaving narrow "in-fill" strips only two feet wide, to be cast at least seven days after the portion on either side. The second way was to complete the whole of the floor slab first, then to cast the wall bases on to the outside edges of the floor, after that the walls, and finally the corners, still with the minimum seven days interval.
The casting of the walls involved the use of a giant-sized Meccano set in the shape of the shuttering, technically known as Rapid Metal Formwork, which had been lent by Wimpey's. The standard technique for this shuttering is to take a pair of "soldiers" (upright steel supports 10 feet tall), holding them together and apart by tie bars through the thickness of the future wall. Then two panels (each 2 ft. square) are added to either side with "A" clips until another pair of soldiers is reached, and so on until the necessary length of shuttering is obtained. "Walings" (or scaffold poles) are then fastened to the top and bottom of the panels with "B" clips (to stiffen the shuttering lengthwise). The "A" clips are taken off again and used to add another row of panels on top of the first lot, and so on until the shuttering is high enough. Quite apart from this, there is scaffolding to hold the shuttering upright; scaffolding for workers to stand on, and for the vibrator to stand on; scaffolding to support the runways for the barrows carrying the concrete. It all has to be put up; and it all has to be taken down again.
The month's achievement was impressive: 50 cubic yards of site "blinding" were laid, generally to within ½ in. of where it should be, the whole centre floor of the pool had been put down, the base of the shallow-end wall had been cast, and the site was ready for the steel shuttering to build the rest of the surrounding walls. The fourth week was spent in laying the first two sections of the "kicker" the bottom six inches of the wall cast integrally with three to five feet at the edges of the floor. This is the most heavily reinforced part of the pool, having in the deep end a ¾" steel bar every two inches along its whole length. At this point the walls themselves are 15 in. thick at their base. Enquiries on other pools had warned us of the difficulty of casting the 300 slope to the diving pit. If the concrete is too wet it may settle towards the bottom; if it is too dry, it may be impossible to compact into a dense waterproof layer. On a single day, six hours' hard work saw the laying of the entire main slope, twelve cubic yards of concrete in all. All this was managed in spite of a late start to the work. Hand trimming of the hole lasted a fortnight into the work camp; bad weather had made it impossible either to walk on the bottom without losing one's Wellingtons, or to throw a shovel of earth, since it just stuck to the shovel. But when the Summer term and the next stage of the work began, the first 50 cu. yds. of concrete were in position, reinforced by 1,341 bars of three-quarter inch steel, 1,328 of half inch steel and 218 of three-eighths inch steel, all of it bent by hand.
The original hopes of completing the shell of the pool during the Summer term had clearly been pitched too high: such a speed of building would in fact have been rather faster than that reached by the contractors building the new Cambridge City pool of about the same size. The actual achievement during one term was extremely satisfactory, especially considering the problem of instructing and controlling a variable labour force of well over a hundred children. A residential work camp was held during the first week of the Summer holidays, when some of the deep-end wall was cast; after this, work was in abeyance until a second work camp was held just before the new term began.
A project like this could hardly be carried through with no mistakes at all; the only serious one occurred during this term, when the Construction Engineer came over from Cambridge one evening to find that a number of small contributory factors had combined to result in a patch of very poor concrete - a load of over-dry "ready mix", an unhelpful lorry driver, a hot afternoon so that the concrete "went off" quickly, a gang not being absolutely ready to shoot the concrete into precisely the right place. He had to spend two days helping with a pair of large pneumatic drills in breaking out some three cubic yards of concrete on a slope of 300 to the horizontal, prising it out from amongst ¾ bars at 4 in. centres. (It was at this stage that a group of children from the Montessori class helped extract the broken pieces from between the reinforcing bars.) The driver of the compressor for the drills, observing a handful of adults with a gang of children using heavy roadbreakers, was frankly puzzled; he finally hit on the only satisfactory explanation - it must be an Approved School. But he left the site still at a loss to know how to account for the girls.
Work proceeded vigorously throughout the Autumn term. The whole of the week except Sunday mornings was covered by 19 shifts of 1½ to 3 hours each; nor did the work always stop at dusk, since a kind offer by a school parent made possible one evening's work each week by floodlight. Some 160 children worked right through the term, many of them for several periods each week. In addition, there was a special four weeks' effort made, when four entire classes each worked a whole four-day week, right through the school day, without dropping their normal evening preparation or private week-end studies. Though the heaviest manual tasks were naturally undertaken by the boys, the girls took their full share of work throughout the construction of the pool, and showed particular skill in fixing the steel and shuttering.
The Winter that followed was the one that nobody is likely to forget. Ice and snow took over the site for the greater part of the term, but no damage was done to the concrete shell, and work was renewed as soon as the first thaw set in. Close on a hundred children came out to work, many of them for more than one spell during the week. This was perhaps the most testing time of all - the weather was still bitterly cold, and it almost hurt to hold the metal scaffolding. The Engineer recalls with admiration the way in which the children "hung on" until the spring finally came. During the first week of the Easter holidays, twenty-five picked and proved volunteers took part in a successful work camp. When it finished, the whole shell of the pool had been completed except for two main wall sections.
There was, of course, still much to be done: "back filling" the earth on the outside of the walls, all the draining and filtration installation (including the building of a solid brick filter house), the spectators' stand, the concrete surround, the erecting of diving boards, the smoothing of the inside walls, not to mention the heating installation and the building of changing rooms and lavatories which would follow later. But the pool was in being. The remaining work needed different skills, involving brick laying and plumbing, and from now on Percy Cook, co-head of the School's Maintenance Department, was in charge of the whole project, and the children became builders' and plumbers' mates.
During the Spring term 1964 work continued on the filter house foundation, manholes and pipes; the clay was sticky, the going was slow, the labour force was a little low in numbers, though full of enthusiasm. Nonetheless, 86 children worked on the job throughout the term. This was the stage that any project knows, when only the really dedicated carry it through to completion. There was never any lack of these; in particular, from the School, Hugh Levinson, who had worked on the site from the very first day and now emerged as a natural leader who could use his brains as well as his hands, and from the Staff, Heinz Franzen from Köln University, who spent his "vacation" doing some slogging hard work for us over a period of many months. Seventeen children and twelve adult volunteers who attended an Easter work camp managed in a single week to set three-quarters of the pre-cast scum trough sections, to dig and lay three-quarters of the surface drainage, outlet and inlet pipes, and to set three-quarters of the filter house floor slab. During the early part of the Summer, in which a labour force of 144 worked throughout the term, the rest of the scum trough was set, and the concrete wall bases of the filter house were cast. Then came the biggest transformation of all, in which the whole appearance of the site was enormously improved: within a space of four days, a giant "traxcavator" earth mover, weighing fifteen tons, shifted the familiar mountains of earth that had surrounded the pool for the past two years, built up the earth to pool-side level and spread top soil where it was needed for grass growing. The surroundings now really suggested those of a finished swimming pool, and the pool itself was bathed in regularly throughout June and July. Though the filtration plant was not in operation, daily chemical treatment kept the water pure, and home-made diving stands lasted out the season.
During the Spring term 1965 work proceeded on the filter house, and preparations were made for the concreting of the 4,000 square feet of surround. Gangs of volunteers made thirty journeys with a tractor and a trailer, bringing back 120 cubic yards of rubble from a local building site. During an Easter holiday work camp, attended by twenty children and five adults, a four inch layer of concrete was put down over the whole surround, topped with a three-eighths of an inch "skin" of non-slip resin cement supplied by a school parent at little more than a nominal charge.
It remained to install the three sets of pool steps, two of them the gift of parents, the diving stands and the springboards. The erection of the five-metre stand was planned for the Summer of 1965, a one-metre laminated pine springboard, costing £42, was given by one family of Old Scholars, and the Parents' Circle gave another, of fibre glass with an adjustable fulcrum, costing £240.
From beginning to end of the project, work on the site was genuinely voluntary. The total number of the labour force over the three years of the pool's construction was in the neighbourhood of 450, the age range being five to seventy-two.
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