Video: May, 86, veteran Hampstead Heath Ladies’ Pond swimmer

Hidden Heroes is a series of six short films made by North London Cares. In the fifth meet May, who found solace in the water for 40 years

Everyone in these parts knows the ponds on Hampstead Heath. For those of us born and raised in north London, they’ve always been a backdrop in our lives; for some people they become a character too.

That’s certainly how May, our fifth and penultimate Hidden Hero, feels about the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond. Through her regular swims over forty years, the water has helped her stay fit and active. In happy moments, it’s been a place to build friendships, celebrate birthdays and indulge warm summers. In other times, it’s a place to reflect on days gone by, even loss. It’s provided more than a little tranquility in an otherwise chaotic city.

Keen swimmer: May
The ponds have been a local feature for over 300 years. They were originally dug from malarial marshes in the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs to meet the growing population’s ever thirstier demand for water.

Today, their purpose is less functional, more social. When they were threatened with closure a decade ago, a high court battle proved their value to the local community. Campaigners continue to protest various proposed changes.

Nobody knows whether the ponds in our back garden will survive another three centuries and more. For the time being, they are here for all of us to enjoy – as May has done for a lifetime. We hope that you’ll recognise some familiar and valued sights and sounds in our latest film. Please share the film widely if you do, and help us celebrate the Hidden Heroes like May – and the ponds – on our doorsteps.

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To watch the other videos in this series click here.Read more from Kentishtowner on swimming in the ponds here.

Alex Smith is founder of North London Cares, a volunteer network matching young professionals to older neighbours in need of help, social connection or companionship. Find out more about them here.


  • Show Comments

  • Rob

    That’s my Mum – and what a star she is!!!!!!

  • Diana Partridge

    Thats a lovely little video. I wish that lady continued good health and many more happy years to enjoy swimming in the ponds.

  • blazt1Judy Cumberbatch

    What a wonderful portrait of May. Great video. Listening to May read, brought back so many memories of arriving and swimming at the Ladies Pond.

  • Barbara Massey

    May she rest in peace. Knew her for over 30 years and loved spending time with her. She always told it as she saw it. Whenever my hair was not in a bun, she told me I looked awful! I loved her honesty. Glad you had no time to suffer. Three cheers for the Queen of the May.