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Celebrating London's Sporting Heritage

From an Art Deco diving board in the middle of a Croydon garden centre and a public baths turned boxing hall in Bethnal Green to a pioneering style of grandstand in Finchley, research for the new book Played in London has resulted in five structures being listed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of English Heritage.

These structures and buildings, all listed at Grade II and dating from the late nineteenth century to the 1930s, tell very different stories about London’s love for sport both public and private.

Diving board originally part of Purley Way Lido
Diving board originally part of Purley Way Lido, now within a garden centre, Croydon, listed Grade II © Simon Inglis

Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey said: “These new listings are a fine mixture of buildings and structures, providing a fascinating snapshot of how sport in the capital was enjoyed in years gone by. Each one of them is worth protecting, not just for their architectural value but also to help preserve the memories of glory, excitement and innocent fun they have provided for so many.”

Roger Bowdler, English Heritage Designation Director, said: “From East End boxing halls to concrete diving boards, these listings highlight the variety and scale of the built reminders of our sporting past. They are testament to the love and sheer enthusiasm Londoners have for sport, both past and present.”

These historic places - some well known, others all but forgotten - provide a rare glimpse into London’s sporting past. York Hall in Bethnal Green was built between 1926 and 1929 as public baths. From the 1960s it became London’s most atmospheric boxing venue, witnessing fights from some of boxing’s greats such as Joe Calzaghe, Chris Eubank and Lennox Lewis. The concrete diving board at Purley Way, built in 1935, is all that remains of one of the most glamorous Art Deco lidos in London. The summer pavilion at Beckenham Tennis Club was built in 1896 for women players who were excluded from the main pavilion. The 1930s squash court at Rivercourt House in Hammersmith, commissioned by novelist Naomi Mitchison, mirrors its riverside location in its design with aquatic embellishments from local artist Gertrude Hermes. While the grandstand at Summers Lane, Finchley, has the oldest surviving cantilevered roof in Britain and also features unique “back-to-back” design serving both football and rugby, a layout unique in Britain.

Played in London

These listings mean that all of these unique sporting places will be protected for future generations. The research into these historic places is part of a wider project, culminating in the publication of Played in London by Simon Inglis. The book charts the spaces, buildings, and sports that have shaped London’s cultural and urban landscape for over two millennia. Beautifully illustrated with original photographs and detailed maps, and based on over ten years of in-depth research, Played in London explores the legacy of sport in the world’s most iconic city. This is the most ambitious offering yet from Simon Inglis, the UK’s leading sporting heritage expert, who for the first time masterfully investigates the history and continuing heritage of sport across the whole of London.

Former squash court at Rivercourt House
Former squash court at Rivercourt House, Hammersmith, listed at grade II © Simon Inglis

More about each listing:

York Hall, Bethnal Green

York Hall, built between 1926 and 1929, was built in the heart of Bethnal Green as a swimming pool, bath house and laundry complex. Art Deco ticket kiosks, an entrance hall with glazed dome and double stair and the survival of three Turkish bath chambers in the basement, provide an evocative reminder of this inter-war public baths. The first-class pool with its barrel-vaulted ceiling also acted as a public hall and from the 1960s onwards, it became London’s most famous boxing venue hosting boxers such as Joe Calzaghe, Chris Eubank and Lennox Lewis.

Former diving board at Purley Way lido, Croydon

The concrete diving board at Purley Way, built in 1935, is all that remains of one of the most glamorous Art Deco lidos in London. The board itself is one of only three from that era to survive in England. The Purley Way lido was built to serve those living near, working at or travelling from Croydon Aerodrome. Designed with Art Deco fountains, underwater lighting, palm trees and sculptural diving platforms, it was considered the height of modernity. The diving stage remains virtually intact with only its access ladder gone. Its cantilevered design is an excellent example of architects and engineers using the new technology of reinforced concrete to sculptural effect.

Summer Pavilion, Beckenham Tennis Club

The summer pavilion at Beckenham Tennis Club, built in 1896 for women who were excluded from the main pavilion, is a rare survivor of a late-Victorian tennis pavilion at one of England’s most distinguished clubs. A timber bungalow with open verandahs on three sides, it remains largely unchanged and has kept much of its original fabric. Beckenham is one of the world’s oldest tennis clubs to remain at its original location, and for over a century was host to the Kent All-Comers’ Championships, second only to Wimbledon in the British tennis calender and the first ever grass court event open to professional players in 1968.

Former Squash Court at Rivercourt House, Hammersmith

The former squash court at Rivercourt House in Hammersmith was built in the early 1930s and designed by architect JEM Macgregor. It was commissioned by Naomi Mitchison, a prominent novelist, whose home was the centre of a distinguished literary and artistic circle. This small building’s exquisite design reflects its location next to the Thames with a rippling profile to the upper walls and charming sculptural embellishments from local artist Gertrude Hermes. She added a snail fountain and seahorse frieze and finial to complete the aquatic theme. It now acts as a drama studio for a private school.

Grandstand at Summers Lane sportsground, Barnet

The grandstand at Summers Lane, Finchley, was built in 1930 with involvement from Sir Owen Williams, the engineer for the original Wembley Stadium. It was one of the first grandstands in Britain to take advantage of new building technologies in the form of a cantilevered reinforced-concrete roof, allowing an uninterrupted view of the sport below, and is now the oldest surviving example of its type. It is also notable for its “back-to-back” design that served both rugby and football pitches – a concept thought to be unique in Britain.

Find out more about the National Heritage List for England.

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