Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Ladies' Pond on Hampstead Heath

I apologise to everyone who left a comment which  seemed to disappear. They didn't disappear, it's just that I haven't been  at my computer much to click the button which posts them to the blog.    Life's been a bit strange because a close family member has had an accident, and it's been a bit like wearing a groove between us and the hospital. But things are looking brighter, fingers crossed.

 After the cold, wet and grey summer, we have an Indian summer, sunny, bright, clear skies and unseasonably warm.    Today I didn't have to go to the hospital so I decided to cycle up to the Ladies' Pond on Hampstead Heath in NW London, and take a swim..

The pond is in the middle of a patch of woodland, reached down a dusty lane, once a farm track, and through a gate on which is a notice banning men from entering. (The men do have their own pond, though, which women can't enter).

Inside the surrounding belt of trees is a meadow (ideal for sunbathing) a little garden, informally cultivated, and (I noticed today) a ping pong table.    There's a deck from which you can enter the pond, which you share with various types of ducks (and, in season, their ducklings). The pond is fringed with large trees, shrubs and bulrushes, and it's been left pretty wild.   Right now, the water lilies have died,  but a laurel was in flower and some of the leaves and berries are turning pretty colours.

I'm afraid I didn't take any pictures of the women themselves.  (Who knows, maybe a man will see them, :-) haha!)  I suspect it is not allowed.

Anyway, did I say the pond was cold? I mean, COLD.  Because of the awful weather, it hasn't had the chance to warm up this year, and for the first ten minutes my arms felt as if they were being rubbed with a grater.  But it was worth it. The experience of swimming outdoors in natural surroundings is rare enough.  The ponds are rigorously tested for safety - the water comes from underground springs - and many women go regularly with their friends, so it is a social, friendly place.    

Originally, the Ladies' Pond and a couple of other ponds nearby, were 17th and 18th century reservoirs for drinking water.   I don't know when they were converted into swimming ponds, but my guess is somewhere in the 1920s or 1930s.  Early enough for them to segregate the sexes, late enough for them to countenance the idea of women swimming at all.

That 1920s image looks too glamorous actually, because the atmosphere of the man-made buildings is very 1930-ish, health-and-efficiency style, with cold showers, open air changing rooms and a little wooden lifeguard's hut where the lifeguards can cook themselves lunch.

The users' association for the pond is very lively and active. Some members are tough enough to swim every day, including Christmas.  If you look here you can see some more photos and images of the Association's postcards and Christmas cards - one or two bracing winter scenes. 
The swimmers are mentally tough, too.  Eight years ago, the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath, wanted to close the ponds because they said they couldn't afford to keep them open (poor things - we all know how hard-up these bankers are).  The swimmers challenged this and won their case in the High Court.  The City of London then put in ticket machines. I use them, but I have to say nobody seems that bothered if you don't. 
There is a Men's Pond and a Mixed Pond.  I've never used the Mixed Pond, because I love the quirky charm of the Ladies' Pond. Long may it continue.  And, by the way, I loved my swim and felt loads better for it!


  1. I am so sorry to hear of your family members accident. I will send prayers for healing.

    A ladies pond? I have never heard of such a thing but am completely taken by it! It sounds delightful. I am so glad you got a bit of respite today and that it revived you.

  2. Strange, because it is only for women?, Well anyway a beautiful place. Men can not enter. I'm glad everything is going well. Regards.

  3. I'm surprised the men haven't challenged the women about the Ladies Only rule! I think it is lovely myself. I looked up the postcards. It is a great place to swim.

  4. Sorry to hear about the accident.
    I hope they recover soon.

    It was so nice to read about the ponds - I used to visit with my best friend on really hot summer days back in London!

  5. Lovely photos! I learnt to walk on Hamstead Heath....apparently.

  6. what an archaic yet lovely idea!

    Warm Aloha from Waikiki;

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  7. Lovely photo and I must look up where Hamstead Heath is. It is in London somewhere and it looks like you are in forest... Beautiful.
    Best wishes to the family member for a quick recovery.

    cheers, parsnip

  8. What an interesting and lovely place! No men allowed, imagine that.

    I'm sorry to hear about your relatives' accident. I hope they get better soon.

    I attached a link to your blog on mine. I referenced your points in the Lewis Carroll book on Victorian fascination for ghosts, seances, and even phantom dinner parties. ;-)

  9. Beautiful photos! Excellent!
    So sorry to hear about the accident, I'm always here to support you.

  10. I have never heard of women's only and men's only swimming ponds. I think that a great idea and I'd be sticking with the women's pond, myself. ;)

    So sorry to hear about the accident. Prayers and good wishes.

  11. Back in 1986, in a travelling book about London I first read about the Ladies' Pond on Hampstead Heath, and was enchanted by the brief account. There were no photos, but the ones you posted here do match the image I have carried around in my head ever since of that beautiful place. Thank you!
    All the best for your family member who had the accident.

  12. Is this pond in Saudi Arabia! :)))

  13. Women's only pond sounds a bit anachronism but I might feel much relaxed there. Surroundings look beautiful.
    Here there's "women's only" cars in some commuter trains during the rush hours in the morning as a countermeasure of molesters. Rush hour congestion at some major stations in big cities here is terrible.

    Hope your relatives will get well soon.

  14. Hello Jenny:
    How exceedingly courageous of you actually to brave the waters. Even the Lake Balaton, at 22C water temperature, felt cool to us so we can only imagine that the Ladies' Pond was icy. But isn't it wonderful that it is there, and still continues even in the present climate where everything has to be so very Politically Correct [which surely it cannot be!!]?

    We are so sorry to hear about the problems associated with the accident and do trust that all will be well.

  15. I wouldn't have thought of that - a man seeing my pics! Lovely post.

  16. There is something to be said for separate facilities for men and women at times. It is nice to escape to a place to rebuild such as that.

    Nice post.

  17. Good wishes for your family member. Time sort of stands still when you're frequently visiting a loved one in hospital. All the best to you too Jenny.

    I love the quaintness of the Ladies Pond. I looked at the linked site too. It's somewhere I'd love to visit, just for the sheer uniqueness of it. A great post :D)

  18. Hope things will get better soon.

    Lovely images you got there. :)

  19. Brave old you, taking a dip in that pond. I know the weather is lovely at the moment, but our warm spells are never long enough to heat up standing water like that.

  20. I passed the Serpentine early one morning as the thin ice was slowly sinking allowing the ducks to resume their swim. The 'Every day of the year club' was also jumping in, a 20 yard swim and back out for most of them. Some say this refreshing, having just finished a night shift I had a differing view!

  21. Jenny, I'll definitely choose the pond exclusively for women. It's nice there is a pond for men only and for the mixed so that couples and families can enjoy together. Giving choice is progressive. In large cities in Japan, there are women-only carriage to protect women from drunken men or molesters in a rush hour.

    Wish your family recover soon. I'll keep my fingers crossed.


  22. Oh you rotten woman!

    Hampstead Health was my back garden for six glorious years and I love the ladies' pond. I know every inch of the heath and cannot bear the thought that I am now lightyears away. How is the cafe in Kenwood House? Still full of central european types ?

    I just can't bear it.

  23. (don't you feel so sorry for Friko? her with the incredible garden?)

    I hope the world rights itself for you and your family soon Jenny. I think it is delightful that the pond is women only. There are still so many places that are openly or surreptitiously male only.

    Of course in this part of the world, everything is segregated - even the line at the bank!

  24. Thanks for the comments and the sympathy. I do hate sitting around in hospitals but obviously I am very grateful for everything they are doing and it seems to be helping. So fingers crossed!
    Replies.......blimey, I thought I had replied to more people already. Perhaps just in my dreams. Oh, no, I remember, I replied on some of your blogs. @Friko, where did you live in Hampstead? As for Kenwood, hm, I don't know about the cafe, I've had two dud sandwiches there and almost awarded it my coveted Black Knife Award. But, I think many of the central European types have died out now. They tend to be yummy mummies. @stardust, it's interesting, there used to be women only carriages in trains in England too but there aren't any more. @Alan Burnett, you clearly have experience of al fresco swimming, British style !!! @Librarian, the pond used to be a better kept secret than it is, and I'd say more crowded during the day. Or maybe that's because more people work from home and are able to take a bit of time off if the weather is particularly lovely. SO many women came on their bikes - they've got a woodland bike park, too and it was almost full!

  25. hmmmm....Ladies only... so we cannot go beyond a certain point afterall....a harsh reality of life :)
    and nice pic ...liked it... :)

  26. What nice people read this blog. But I have bad news for you: The Ladies Swimming pond (and several others) is under threat; there are plans to demolish the changing rooms, cut down loads of trees and reconstruct the dam, all in the name of health and safety. Please spread the word and join the campaign to try and stop it. First visit

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  28. Jenny,
    Ladies Pond is very interesting subject to me. Because in Japan we have women-only train cars and once I want to write about this issue. The special cars have long history, and interestingly enough, the reasons why the cars have been needed, have been changing time to time.
    Now, it is to protect women from molestation. Molestation is mean and utterly abhorrent, but if a man is mistaken for a molester, what will happen to him. This issue is very important not only to women but also to men. In rush hour, train cars are extremely overcrowded and inhumane, especially in Tokyo. I experienced it; for more than one hour, I had been unable to move or change position. It is so hard to judge it is molestation or not.
    Best wishes,

  29. Funny, I thought I posted a response to John Jones yesterday from my phone. Oh well.

    Being a journalist at heart, I checked both and contacted the Kenwood Ladies Pond association for their comments.

    ProtectOurPonds seems sincere and, among other things, it questions the issues around subjecting landscapes to deliberate flooding. It's using the Heath ponds as a part of its campaign. It makes some extremely valid and relevant points. However it seems to be getting into a panic about proposals which are nebulous at present.

    The Ladies Pond chair writes: "I know nothing about the protect Our Ponds organisation nor the people behind it. I think is odd, given that we are a well known ssociation that they have not approached us.

    "As yet there is no hard information about the progress of the City's thinking on this question, although we have got a swimmers forum in the near future where the representatives of the swimming groups meet with the Heath management. I do know that they are tendering the work but do not know what they are efinitely proposing and I assume that we will get more definite information about their planning. I will certainly let you know what is said at that meeting."

    So my verdict is, it sounds as if something is definitely afoot. And it is as well to be prepared rather than suddenly finding a fait accompli where too much preparatory work has been done to allow an easy change of course.

    I do think it's funny that POP hasn't contacted the Ladies Pond association though, and such a unilateral approach is definitely not the way to fight any battle that may happen. People need to unite against threats and the Ladies Pond association is a strong and influential group. It would be in both their interests to get together now, because if there really is a threat to the heath ponds, they will need to take a coordinated approach. The City of London is hardly a group of amateurs, and I am sure they know the value of divide and rule.

    I shall await developments with interest.


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