Long history, long road back to blue beachfront jewel

The Beach Baths, renamed after Durban’s Olympic SA team coach and chaperone, Rachel Finlayson.

The Beach Baths, renamed after Durban’s Olympic SA team coach and chaperone, Rachel Finlayson.

Published May 5, 2024


Durban’s Rachel Finlayson pool is this week’s feature on the city’s old and new.

Originally known as the Beach Baths, the facility opened in the early 1900s. They were renamed after Rachel Finlayson, who founded the Cygnus Ladies Swimming Club in 1909 and was the 1928 Olympic swimming team coach for South Africa and the official chaperone to SA’s women swimmers for 27 years.

At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Durbanite Kathleen Russell was part of the team that won the bronze medal in the 4 × 100m freestyle relay. Russell also swam in the 100m freestyle where she reached the semi-finals.

Back to its gleaming best – the Rachel Finlayson municipal swimming pool on Durban’s Beachfront. | SHELLEY KJONSTAD Independent Newspapers

In 1963, according to Alan Jackson’s Facts About Durban, the Water Chute, a concrete slide into the deep end of the pool, was demolished after two accidents.

In the same year, “Ma Finn” as she was known to thousands of swimmers, died at Addington Hospital aged 76.

The pool was the source of much anger, tension and accusations when it was closed for renovation in 2015 in preparation for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Durban was awarded the Games in 2015, but in 2017 the Commonwealth Games Federation withdrew the rights because of the city’s “financial constraints”.

It remained closed amid finger-pointing between citizens and city officials, who blamed inept contractors for water that “disappeared”. It finally reopened in December 2022, only to be temporarily shut for about a week in June last year after a motorist drove into the pool, damaging the fence.

Shelley Kjonstad’s picture this week shows the blue jewel is back in form, and open for swimmers.

Independent on Saturday