From a secret underground race to the swimming baths

This is a strange tale of the a secret underground civilization with an incredible power source... and how they are linked to a primary school trip to the swimming baths.

When I attended Littleborough County Junior School we didn't have a local swimming pool, and had to be bussed over to the big baths in Rochdale. I remember well those elegant Ellen Smiths coaches, emblazoned with a ferocious big cat on the side, that used to take us, but of the baths themselves I can only remember two things. One was the awesome high diving board. None of us ever went anywhere near it, yet it hung over the baths with a sense of real menace at the thought of plunging from the top of it. The other memory was afterwards, waiting for the coach to pick us up in the entrance hall on cold but sunny winter days (it always seemed to be winter), getting a hot Bovril drink from the vending machine.

It's the only place I ever had anything to do with Bovril. We didn't have this rather strange beef extract at home - but I only have to go in a swimming pool for the heady meaty smell of a Bovril drink to come back to my nostrils. I'm not sure I ever drank much of it, but it was comforting, warming, something special.

So where do the underground race come into this? The Victorian author Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote a book called The Coming Race about an underground civilization with a remarkable power source that could be used for everything from driving vehicles to terrible destructive weapons. The name of this source of power was vril. Bulwer-Lytton and his books are largely forgotten, but while this story was current, the man behind Bovril lifted the concept, added a bovine prefix and the rest, as they say, was history.


  1. The title of this post made me think you had been reading too much Calvin and Hobbes.

    I wouldn't say that Bulwer-Lytton is forgotten: he's commemorated with his own prize. Alas it's for the worse opening to a book.

  2. Ah, another Rochdale story! I used to opt for a packed of crisps when our class went to Rochdale baths, but there again we had the Bovril at home! You're right about the comfort Brian, it's always the first thing even now that my 85-year old dad wants when he is ill. Did you actually learn to swim by the way? I do believe I ended up being able to do all of one width!

  3. No, Wendy, I failed to swim miserably, only learning at secondary school.


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