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Some history of the Strand Park and Pool - 128 years old in 2024!

The Strand is home to one of Britain's earliest open air-pools. It is the country's only remaining riverside salt-water pool and is the only surviving shoreside open-air pool in Kent.

During the second half of the 19th century there was an increase in river traffic on the Medway. Steamboats were often prevented from calling at Gillingham as the river was continually silting up. To overcome this, a 220m long pier was built which was completed in 1894. On the leeward side of the pier there were 3 mud islands. Children would fill the gaps to form a mud pool and collect water as the tide rose. When they had finished swimming they would drain the pool and catch the fish they had trapped.

Mr Thomas Cuckow, a local baker, saw an opportunity in creating a permanent sea water bathing pool in the depression between the mud flats. With an initial investment of £ 1,000 Mr Cuckow created the pool using disused railway carriages as changing rooms and wooden fencing was used to enclose the pool area. This followed the death of two youngsters who drowned swimming in the River Medway nearby. 

The pool opened on June 27th 1896 with a special sports programme including underwater swimming, water polo matches and a greasy pole competition. The incoming tide, filtered through sand beds, would fill the pool and it was emptied via a sluice gate.

Between 1896 and the early 1920‘s the pool became an increasingly popular summer attraction and visitor numbers steadily increased. It is during this period that the ownership of the bathing pool transferred to Gillingham Corporation and became known as The Strand.

In 1920 more converted railway carriages were added for use as changing rooms. Also chlorination, aeration and filtration units were added about this time which had long been needed to keep the water clean. The railway carriages were then replaced with new, purpose-built wooden changing rooms and a 3m diving board was added.

The interwar period also saw the addition of a putting green, car park, cafe, pony rides and a timber hexagonal bandstand that attracted large crowds on Sunday afternoons. The cafe rented out deck chairs and in the mid 1930’s annual deckchair rentals reached over 30,000 and annual attendance figures reached over 80,000.

The second significant Interwar development of The Strand took place in the 1930’s. In 1935 the parks committee borrowed £ 8,000 from the government to drain the muddy creek and created 2 concrete pools; a larger boating pool 103m x 14m and a smaller paddling pool 46m x 14m.

At the public enquiry, prior to the construction of the 2 pools the Town Clerk said “the pools are designed to take the children from their present haunts in the river itself to the more wholesome surroundings of a paddling is impossible to prevent the children from wallowing in the river mud but if we can place them in these more wholesome surroundings we are going to do it”.

By 1938 it was possible that as many as 12,000 visitors could arrive in one day.

The boating pond and padding pool added further to the Strand’s appeal as Britain entered WW2. The active promotion of the British government for stay-at-home holidays, to save fuel and money, ensured that the Strand remained a popular venue throughout the summers of WW2.

The minature railway was opened after the war in 1948, and swings and roundabouts a year later. From the 1950's the attendances at the Strand started to drop due to alternative forms of leisure becoming available.

Photos and background information courtesy of the excellent

If you have memories, photographs or further information about the history of the Strand Pool, please share them with us via e-mail to We'd love to complete more of the story for everyone to enjoy.

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