Fury Among Wild Swimmers on Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath Bathing Pond

100 years of free swimming, then honesty boxes, now compulsory charges. Wild Swimmers on Hampstead Heath object to the prospect of a compulsory charge to swim in the ponds claiming that it would ruin the unique atmosphere at the ponds.

Ham&High reports: David Halpern, a QC from Hampstead Garden Suburb, as saying: “It would be a very great shame. It’s the nearest we have to something natural, it’s like being in the country. It would change the whole atmosphere.”

The 55-year-old, who has swum in the ponds for six years, added: “You get everyone down here, from High Court judges to the bouncer of the Kray brothers, and to make the charges compulsory would just change it.”

Birdwatcher Bill Oddie backed the swimmers’ complaints and said: “If we were talking about the general atmosphere, it’s nice that it’s voluntary.

An honesty box was installed in 2005 and yet most visitors prefer to swim for free. Of the 180,000 visitors each year only £25,000 ended up in the honesty box.

Ham&High reports: Robert Sutherland-Smith, of the United Swimmers Association, as saying “What are they charging for? There is no roof which needs maintaining and no central heating. This is not a normal swimming pool. You go there hang your clothes up and hope no-one steals them, so what… are they charging anyone for? You don’t get charged for walking your dog or walking on the Heath and the ponds have been there for a very, very long time.”

On the other hand Mark Barclay, from Constantine Road in Hampstead, said he would not object to the new charge.

“If it were the only way of keeping the lifeguards on, then I support that, but there is the tradition going back 100 years where it has been free.”

A full consultation will be undertaken before a final decision is made.

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