Nov 1 2011 By James Cracknell
Ruislip Lido after heavy rain
In November 1811 a new reservoir to feed the Grand Union Canal neared completion. Two centuries later and the lake now known as Ruislip Lido is famous for a lot more besides. James Cracknell looks at its history.
RUISLIP Lido has gone through many changes in its 200 years.
Today its importance to the local community is underscored by the lively debates over its future taking place between residents and owners Hillingdon Council.
The history of the lake, first known as Ruislip Reservoir, is equally fractious.
In 1798 the Grand Junction Canal Company was instructed by government to supply water to residents in Paddington.
The firm finished its Brentford-Uxbridge section of the Grand Union Canal in 1794 but couldn't rely on the River Colne to provide all the water it now needed.
By 1802, plans were drawn up to create a new reservoir at a valley in Ruislip, between Park Wood and the common.
In 1805 the company bought most of the land it needed, but had to battle for six more years to buy out and evict the residents living in a now defunct hamlet called Park Hearne, which needed to be submerged.
Some stories indicate the army had to be called in to finally remove the residents in June 1811.
A new firm called the Grand Junction Waterworks Company was formed that year to take on water supply responsibilities for the canal, which included building Ruislip Reservoir.
It damned the streams which converged on the valley, and cut down the bankside trees of Park Wood which stood in the way.
By December 4, 1811, construction was complete. However, work on the feeder to take water to the Grand Union had not even started.
Once the feeder was finished in 1816, the water was found to be too polluted to drink, since it was fed by flood water rather than springs.
A solution was found by engineers who diverted the Ruislip water to Brentford, where the impurities were of no harm.
But the solution was not a satisfactory one for the waterworks company, which had intended Ruislip Reservoir to quench the first of Paddington residents. Their loss was Ruislip's gain, as the new lake created a haven for wildlife and attracted nature lovers and artists who adored its beautiful scenery.
Ruislip Reservoir subsequently became a big attraction for city day-trippers who would travel on the new Metropolitan line at weekends to enjoy a slice of the countryside within a few miles of London.
Swimming and boating was commonplace, while fishing and shooting rights were let to the Deanes of Eastcote House, who employed gamekeepers.
Despite now being used as a public recreation area, the reservoir remained in private ownership well into the 20th century.
For its first hundred years, it had no facilities to speak of. There was no beach, pub, toilets or railway.
Only in 1936 did the Grand Union Canal Company reopen the lake as Ruislip Lido, with an Art Deco building that had changing rooms and a cafe.
An area of the lake was enclosed for swimming by jetties. It also became popular with water-skiers and championships were often hosted by Ruislip Water Ski Club. Ruislip Yacht Club was also established.
Just after Second World War, a narrow northern stretch of the lido was filled in with the rubble from bomb shelters and other war debris, although it is not fully understood why. This unintentionally created Ruislip Nature Reserve, an area now fenced off to the public but accessible by members of Ruislip Natural History Society.
Ruislip Lido Railway started operation in about 1945, although only at a third of its length today. In 1951, the lido was entrusted to Ruislip and Northwood Urban District Council [later Hillingdon Council] as a public recreation area.
The lake soon drew fame as the filming location for the Titanic's sinking in the docudrama A Night To Remember, Cliff Richard's The Young Ones, and other many other films and documentaries besides.
But the lido's facilities were not well maintained and in the 1970s the main building was vandalised and closed. Swimming and boating ceased in 1992 after a series of flooding events to the new houses constructed downstream led engineers to conclude its water level must be reduced.
However, as happened many times throughout the lido's history, its use evolved once more and it is now enjoyed primarily as a wildlife habitat, with many bird species and spawning frogs abundant.
The artificial beach, children's play areas and miniature railway keep families entertained while the Friends of Ruislip Lido volunteer group was established in 2004 to protect the area and help keep it in good condition.
In January 2010, the council announced its £1.5million improvement programme aimed at reintroducing boating and swimming. But with much local opposition to the scheme, what the future holds is anyone's guess.
Special thanks to Eileen Bowlt, chairman of Ruislip, Northwood and Eastcote Local History Society for her help in compiling this article.