READERS could have been forgiven for choking on their morning cuppa when they unfolded their broadsheet Advertiser on October 6, 1972 to be confronted with a gigantic 180 point headline, the sort normally reserved for the declaration of wars or the passing of monarchs.

Our splash – sorry – declared “Hawaii Plan For Swindon,” revealing that a futuristic “lagoondrome” would be created on the 20-acre site of British Rail’s former Shop 16, complete with an “exotic palm-fringed beach” that would languish beneath “Britain’s largest transparent dome roof.”

In the glum, economically testing times of the early Seventies it seemed like a dream – a ray of extravagant, faraway sunshine that had contrived to pierce a doom-clouded era of strikes, the oil crisis and a three-day week to illuminate an unlikely corner of North Wiltshire.

Unfashionable, gritty Swindon, struggling to keep its dwindling railway works alive, would acquire the nation’s, maybe even Europe’s most spectacular, futuristic and, as we were delighted to point out, “space-age-like” indoor swimming experience and leisure complex.

There would even be a wave-machine. How’s that for state of the art! Welcome to the Pleasure Dome, as Frankie Goes to Hollywood later said.

Right from the start, however, our visionary, multi-purpose sporty palace of leisure and pleasure was swamped in controversy.

Can we really afford it, argued some councillors? Yes we can. No we can’t. Six weeks later on, the “£1.25m ‘Oasis’ looks all washed-up,” we reported.

By then, however, Swindonians who figured there was more to life than slumping in front of the crystal bucket, going down the pub or queuing-up to splash around in the over-subscribed, elbow-to-elbow Milton Road health hydro pools, were not to be denied.

More than 250 of them squeezed into Swindon Town Hall in February, 1973 for a rumbustious council meeting, brandishing petitions and forcefully demanding from their elected representatives: “We want our ‘lagoondrome’ – and we want it now.”

Forty years ago this autumn, during the months of ’75, anyone venturing into the North Star area of town would almost certainly have been intrigued at the vision materialising in front of them - a vast, gleaming, semi-spherical spaceship, similar to those later concocted by Steven Spielberg for a couple of big-hitting science fiction movies.

Or at least that’s what the 60ft glass dome looked like. Wiltshire folk had never seen anything like it. And neither had anyone else.

The bulbous £170,000 see-through, glazed, centrepiece of our three-storey play Mecca had been imported from the States and was being lauded as “the biggest leisure dome in Europe.”

Some 20,000 people crammed into the Oasis for the grand opening on January 1, 1976 where the entertainment ranged from synchronised swimming and sub-aqua displays to a British Rail Brass Band recital.

First into the blue lagoon was the Mayor John Stevens, which was a bit of a swiz really as he had long poo-pooed the project. By this time, it should be pointed out, the cost of The Oasis had virtually trebled to £3m.

Naturally, it all went swimmingly from there. Err, not quite. In fact, not at all. You could hardly have made up the sort of problems that plagued our kidney-shaped leisure fun pool with its “artificial banana trees and make-believe seaside.”

Weeks after opening, the pool was shut. In fact, for the next 18 months it spent more time closed than open. For a while the words “Oasis” and “shut” became synonymous.

“Pool hopes take a new nose dive,” “ailing Oasis,” “Oasis runs dry” and similar headlines made a regular appearances in this newspaper.

Our “sporting Jonah” was “draining cash and patience” from long-suffering rate payers. It had been “jerry built and badly designed,” detractors were keen to crow.

Desmond Taylor of Upper Stratton fumed in our letters page that it was a “glaring example of municipal ineptitude.”

The infestation of gremlins included paintwork defects and problems with the filtration system and the fibre glass pool surface while a Breaking Bad-like hitch involved achieving a precise balance of chemicals in the water.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. The American National Swimming Pool Institute, who must have jetted in while the venue was actually open, hailed the Oasis as the world’s top residential pool of 1976, awarding it a prestigious gold medal.

Long-term teething problems – or at least, some of them – slowly seeped away, although many persisted (the tiling, leaks etc) for years to come.

Upon the arrival of its two millionth visitor in June 1979, the Adver declared that the much-maligned Oasis, by then a key provider of leisure in Swindon, “a success,” in spite of the difficulties and doubters. Innovations such as “mixed saunas” were announced – although anxious members of the public were assured that it would involve no “hanky panky.” Occasional mishaps arose, such as 13 swimmers having to be rescued after choking on chlorine gas.

It being Swindon, controversy was inevitably just around the corner. To celebrate its tenth anniversary the Oasis unveiled a scheme installing three swirling, whirling water flumes. A steal at £600,000.

Our civic representatives had to check-out other water chutes first, which prompted Frank Avenell, no stranger to the Adver’s letters page, to accuse them of “indulging their adolescent fantasies: travelling the country testing so-called water flumes, presumably at rate payers’ expense.”

An “astounded” Herbert H Matthews was even more indignant, accusing our council chaps of “joy riding around the country at our expense.” In time honoured tradition, he added: “It is disgusting.”

Enter the “triffic trio” – Sidewinder, Great White and Screamer - “Europe’s most exciting water chutes.” What a sight they were, emerging spaghetti-like from the exterior of the dome like shiny, bloated serpents from a cheapo Seventies Japanese horror flick The success of Domebusters’ was little less than phenomenal. Sliders from far and wide, and of all ages, were lured to Swindon. There was nothing like it for miles around.

The ‘Rolls’ Royce of water chutes’ saw the Oasis attain the status, for an initial period at least, of Wiltshire’s most popular tourist attraction.

That’s right, bigger than Stonehenge!

  •  IMAGINE you and your mate are visiting Swindon and you’ve hit the pop with a vengeance.
    As you lurch around town, looking for a little more Saturday night action, a shiny great globular structure catches your eye.
    What could it be? Looks like a UFO. Blimey it’s a big glass dome. Let’s climb up. Shouldn’t be a problem. Not too steep. Piece of cake. 
    It is interesting to surmise their precise feelings as they crashed through the glass roof of the Oasis Pleasure Dome.
    Did their lives flash before them during that split-second drop?
    A sobering experience, not to say a relief, when they plunged fully clothed into the deep end.
    Must have been around 1992/93. I remember because our kiddies Sunday morning swimming sessions were cancelled so the glass could be fished out of the pool. Got a decent news story out of it, anyway.
    It wasn’t the first time either. In March, 1983 a lone prankster, maybe by way of a dare, enjoyed a splendid moonlight view of Swindon after clambering up the dome before the glass gave way and he, too, plummeted unceremoniously in the awaiting blue lagoon. Setting off the security alarm he scuttled out the door and into the night, leaving a trail of soggy footprints in his wake.
    Oasis manager Reg Scarth mused: “He was a lucky lad, falling like that into the water without apparently hurting himself.”
  • AS it approaches its 40th anniversary the Oasis continues to immerse itself in controversy.
    The complex and surrounding land was in 2012 leased by the council to a firm called Moirai, which has since been accused of dragging its feet over promised refurbishments.
    It now plans to ape the success of Domebusters 30 years ago by creating something new and exciting – an indoor ski slope on adjoining land.
    A 5,000 capacity music venue is also proposed, presumably supplanting the Oasis main hall as Swindon’s biggest music venue.
    Over the decades it has hosted major acts from Talking Heads, Dire Straits,The Stranglers, Van Morrison and The Specials to Paul Weller, Madness, Alice Cooper, Ed Sheeran and The Kings of Leon. 
    However, this will be built over the Oasis’ skate park, cycle speedway and BMX track, prompting further protests.