The Norden Riviera

As the decade of the 1930’s opened, boom times must have seemed to be well and truly a thing of a past and by 1932 the number of registered unemployed in the North was as high as 70% in some areas of the North of England. Not until the mid-1930’s did things began to improve in cotton manufacture, the building trade and allied industries and against this backdrop a new consumerist society was starting to emerge delivering automatic washing machines, radios, vacuum cleaners and cars for a new working class needing ‘playgrounds’ in which to spend its time, whether these were in the form of cinemas, parks or swimming pools.

This ‘leisure industry’ was apparent in Rochdale too where there were twelve cinemas, two theatres and dance halls such as the Carlton Ballroom. Health was also an established concern at that time and it was this mix of health and exercise that opened the way for lidos to be built nationally, supported by government funding with more than £2.5 million made available for local authorities.

The Norden Riviera was part of this, but was a lido with an industrial past. Tenterhouse Dyeing and Bleaching Company in Norden had been founded by Mr J T Taylor but included in his ownership was an area around Tenterhill to the north of Edenfield Road as well as the hillside immediately above the works which, until the 1920s, had been the site of an abandoned seminary. When Higher Tenterhouse and the nearby works were demolished in the early 1930’s, they abandoned land that had been made into a bowling green, tennis courts and badminton courts for the workers, and it was at this point that the directors of Old Manor (Pastimes) Ltd took a lease from Bleachers Association Ltd to convert the old bowling green into a swimming pool and the tennis courts and old pavilion into a tea room and café. The lease agreed, work commenced in 1934 on making this vision a reality.

A meeting in November of 1935 decided that the venture was to be called ‘The Riviera’ although Rochdale people called it the Riveera from that time onward. Naming it as such was part of a trend at the time for all things continental. The plan put forward was that it would include not only a swimming ‘bath’ and a children’s paddling pool, but also gardens, a dance hall and tea room, badminton (in the main hall) and tennis courts, a nine-hole miniature golf course, indoor recreations and facilities for horse riding.

The official opening of the Norden Riviera was on April 27th 1936 and included a Carnival Dance and a high diving display (2/6d admission). Dances, in the early days of the Riviera were popular and held every Saturday throughout July and August with a 3-piece band also engaged for Tuesday night sessions. Catering was supplied by Rochdale’s Bob Bon café until 1954 after which visitors could buy only tea and biscuits, minerals and ice cream. In the evening you could dance or be waited on at pool-side by page boys wearing white uniforms (with gilt buttons !).

Things never last though. By 1942, parts of the Riviera buildings and diving boards were in serious need of repair and at the end of the war arrangements were made for re-painting throughout and re-laying the café floor whilst other parts of the estate were patched up. By 1957 the condition of the pool and gardens was ‘very bad’ and this coincided with a national decline of the lido in the face of leisure alternatives, television in particular. When overseas travel became popular, local attractions such as the Norden Riviera became less popular again.

Attendance through the 1950’s and 1960’s had been sporadic, but on good days the place would be packed, the Rochdale Observer reporting that ‘In 1961 there were over 3000 paying visitors to the site,’ the Riviera taking £200 on one Sunday alone. This, however, was an exception.

Due to poor weather, changes in social culture and the rising cost of the lease, the Riviera closed as an operation in 1966, the Observer suggesting that Rochdale summers had never been hot enough to make it a money spinner and that although it had always just about ‘paid its way’ it had only returned a dividend to shareholders once or twice in its history and that was in the early years.

Notwithstanding its position nestling within the windswept Pennine hills, the Norden Riviera would have provided great days out for many people in and around Rochdale eager to swim, dance or relax, and there must have been real sadness at its closure.

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