"Having spent the past few centuries developing ever more sophisticated monuments to aquatic recreation, swimming pool architecture seems to be in a state of regression. The scenario today's swimmers are most likely to experience is a lukewarm bath of chemicals and urine in a humid 1970s leisure centre - possibly the closest mankind has come to recreating the primordial soup."THE GUARDIAN
POPLAR -Poplar Baths
Poplar baths was built and opened in 1852 following the Baths & Wash Houses Acts in 1846-47 and rebuilt in 1933.The larger pool, known as East India Hall, was floored over and used as a theatre (capacity 1,400), dance hall, exhibition room and sports hall especially for boxing and wrestling programmes. Wartime bomb damage forced the closure of the hall until 1947 when following required works, programmes resumed. Between 1954 - 1959 there used to be an average of 225,700 swimmers each year. In the 60's more sports were introduced to the Main Hall. However, poor repair, lack of investment and the changing nature of leisure with the revolutionary change in swimming pool design meant that when structural repairs were required on the roof in 1985, it was the beginning of the end.The baths remain empty, home to pigeons and drug addicts and seen very much as potentially a very valuable Poplar resource, which is being watched very carefully by people living on either side of the A13. The statue in front of the building is that of Richard Green (and his dog), a Victorian shipbuilder, ship-owner and local philanthropist.
Chris Duggan writes to Derelict London: "My family lived in a row of houses located down the alley alongside the baths. From when I was aged about 14 in 1959 until only about 8 years ago when my brother who had purchased the home from the council sold it and moved on When I was aged about 18 we had a garage directly behind the baths in which my younger brother and I kept a motorcycle and a Scooter This was back in the Mods and Rocker days my brother was the mod and I the Rocker. When aged about 18 a friend worked as a lifeguard and as he new the Boiler man we could gain access through the back doors after hours often with girlfriends and indulge in some Skinny dipping. Thanks for the memories"
POPLAR BATHS update
In July 2012 Poplar Baths welcomed the general public for the first time since its closed its doors in 1988. Arts company Frieze,is hoping the renewed interest in the building will prop up the campaign to bring it back into use. The reoppening in July 2012 was only for a few weeks and giant inflatable sculptures filled the empty swimming pool. The doors to the building are now firmly closed again but refurbishment is on the cards.
Tower Hamlets say: “The council is undertaking a public procurement exercise to appoint a partner for the refurbishment. It is anticipated that a proposed partner will be appointed in the autumn of 2012.”
STREATHAM - Streatham Baths aka Streatham Leisure Centre
The Council Leisure centre opened as the Streatham Baths in 1927.This recreational amenity represented the latest ideas in Swimming Pool design, filtration and chlorination. The Baths were designed in a classical civic style, traditional Edwardian but with a mix of later modern elements. The frontage is three storeys high, faced in red brick and with stone dressings. There is a centrally placed door with a Tuscan Doric portico and two further entrances doors on either side. Over the portico stands a central stone bay which rises up to roof level and is capped with a large round head open pediment. Internally the entrance hall retains its original ribbed ceiling divided into nine panels and a marbles chequerwork floor. The baths passed to Lambeth Council in the local government reorganization in 1965.
Streatham Leisure Centre closed in 2009 due to health and safety concerns.The decision was taken after structural engineers raised concerns about widespread structural problems in the crumbling 80 year old pool's building.The council and Tesco have agreed to deliver a "state of the art" leisure centre and ice rink for Streatham. Known as the Streatham Hub, the new development "will breathe new life into Streatham and provide world class leisure facilities for the whole community." A few Streatham landmarks including the old pools will be demolished as a result.
THE EVENING STANDARD in February 2011 wrote: "It was one of the longest-running planning sagas in London - the plan to redevelop Streatham ice rink by allowing Tesco to build a new superstore alongside. But it has concluded after nine years with Lambeth council accused of giving in to the supermarket giant by agreeing to allow it to close the rink for at least three years in order to save a couple of million quid."
The baths and ice rink have now been demolished and the area is one large construction site.
SOHO - Marshall St Baths
The first public baths were built on the site by the Vestry of St James in 1850 and the present building, then known as The Westminster Public Baths, was started in 1928 and completed in 1931. It was builtwith public funds for the health and well being of local people. The main pool is lined with white Sicilian marble and this marble and Swedish green marble are used on the walls at either end. The bronze fountain in a niche at the shallow end, depicting a merchild with two dolphins, is by Walter Gilbert. Behind the pool is a smaller pool, the 'second class bath' 70ft x 30ft' which also has a barrel vaulted roof. When built the complex also included a child's welfare centre, a public laundry and public bathing facilities, among other things.
UPDATE! A £25m plan redeveloping this historic swimming pool which was closed for more than a decade has now been completed by Westminster City Council.. According to the council: "unfortunately it was not possible to retain the smaller pool due to its unsuitability for modern dry side leisure activities, which are essential to ensure that the main pool and the leisure centre facilities remain a long term and sustainable public service."
HAGGERSTON - Haggerston Baths
"Shoreditch is one of those go-ahead boroughs which regard public baths not as a luxury, but as a necessity" Hackney Gazette 1904 at the opening of Haggerston Baths..........
Hackney Council closed the well-loved Haggerston Baths overnight in February 2000, following 10 years of poor maintenance such as checking fire extinguishers, keeping gutters clear etc. The reasons given were health and safety eg flaking paint. The timing happened to coincide with a £multi-million overspend on the new Clissold Pool in Stoke Newington.Despite a big community campaign to pressurise Hackney Council into reopening it, nothing has happened. The pool building is deteriorating and, despite its Grade II listed building status, is on the Council's list for disposals. Local authorities are reluctant to pay £6 million to refurbish it.
BUT......... Meanwhile, the new Clissold Pool which cost £31 million closed after only 2 years of being opened!, "a state of the art sports facility in one of the poorest boroughs in the country, the design was paraded around the the world by the British Council, the Foreign Office and the Millennium Commission...meant to symbolise a brave new century and lauded as "prime examples of the excellence of British architecture and design.. the aluminium and glass complex hailed for its "functional modernism" - was shut on safety grounds. The centre, in Hackney, "was plagued by flaws which have seen walls cracking, roofs leaking, water pouring into the electrical fittings and drains backing up. The showpiece swimming pools are seriously damaged and the walls of the squash courts are crumbling." (The Guardian Feb 2004). Clissold Pool after a long period of closure has now reopened.
Ken writes to Derelict London: "I was "born and bred" in Shoreditch, your pictures of Haggerston Baths bring back many happy teenage memories, "posing" on the top diving board in white swim trunks and keeping an eye open for any unaccompanied girls."
James Cassidy writes: "Living on Whiston Rd as a young lad in the Sixties, I also remember Haggerston Baths pretty well. Not just the swimming pool, but the massive old laundry that was on the site as well, where the local women would do the weekly wash in a haze of steam. The giant mangle for drying off sheets really sticks in my mind. It required at least 2 of the women to hold the sheets and pass them through the rollers, and it wasn't unknown for a finger or 2 to get squashed in them!"
Interior pic of Haggerston Baths courtesy of David Barrington
FOREST HILL - Forest Hill Pool
This 120 year old building (believed to have been the oldest working swimming baths in London) was shut for possible refurbishment in 2006. Lewisham Council has now decided it is beyond repair and will demolish the building and replace it with a leisure centre.
The Pools opened on May 2nd 1885 in a Victorian crusade for 'health & safety'. This was to bring baths and clean warm water to many parts of the growing population in the area who had no or limited access. The Pools indeed had 'slipper baths' specifically to enable people to have a bath in private. It also had upper class and working class pools so social mobility would not enabled by the shedding of clothes when bathing in public.
Forest Hill Pools was home for Linda Lovegrove, Commonwealth Gold Medalist & World Record holder 1962-67.
ELTHAM - Eltham Lido
Officially opened in 1924, Eltham Lido closed in 1988, after new A2 Relief Road built nearby caused subsidence. The local Council is in discussion with the "Lawn Tennis Association" to see whether it might be possible to build an indoor tennis centre on the lido site. The plan by the community ('Splash') to bring the lido back into use was turned down by the Council.
Jonathan writes to Derelict London: "I remember about 24 years ago myself, my mate, and two birds we met over the CB going skinny-dipping there at about 11 at night, in the summer - it was packed out! We had to climb over the wall and the water was absolutely freezing! Everyone was whispering to avoid drawing attention to the locals - quite surreal! As we drove off from the nearby Car Park we saw a posse of Police cars heading in there and we later found out that they busted the place!"
Mark Elson writes "My father was the head supervisor of Eltham Lido in the early to mid sixties. I remember the boiler room, (2nd from last photo) being very noisy when he 'back washed' the system, as a small child I was quite frightened it would explode. I would spend all my school holidays in & around the pool, There was a fountain around a sun deck at the end & a double sided cafe which served both the pool users & the surounding park area. Even though I was a small child, I can still remember which room was for first aid, which was the staff room & which was the locker room, this was full of wire baskets (approx. 2 ft x 1 x 10ins) into which you put your clothes & the staff gave you a numbered disc & put it on a shelf for you. My father left when the threat of the relief road was planned, & I understand it was shut for a long while before it was eventually built. For me, it was a great place to grow up & I have fond memories of the pool, it seems such a shame that this amenity is lost to the local population. I'm sure people would love to see it running again, but sadly it looks like it is beyond any sort of resurrection."
WALWORTH - Manor Place Baths
Also used as a post war boxing venue.There are tales of locals seeing the losers, even winners after a fight stagger into the Walworth Road with closed eyes and cut faces wearily leaning on anxious friends. Part of the grounds are now used as a council waste recycling depot.
Dennis O'Reilly writes to Derelict London: "Manor Place Baths also had the public baths where as a kid I was sent there once in a blue moon to get a proper bath! And had to call out your cubicle number for more Hot or Cold! It was also the local wash house with big tubs & dryers for the mums to do a weekly laundry by hand."
Anne Roach writes: "Classic victorian municpal baths/laundry complex - in use up until the new Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre opened in the late '70s. Can still smell the overload of chlorine! The laundry may have closed before that. Southwark Council then took it over for offices. I often wonder if the original tiles of the building still lurk behind the plasterboard partitions... I remember going to the laundry with my mum in the school holidays in the early '70s. Hours of boredom, but it was an amazing huge (seemed to me) communal area - where women chatted, swapped out-grown kids clothes and accused newcomers of jumping the queue for the machines in an atmosphere of perpetual damp heat. There were giant front loading washing machines, a mangle, a roller contraption for pressing sheets and what I can only describe as huge wall of clothes horses that slid into some sort of heated chamber where the clothes got dried. That was free as opposed to the few tumble dryers that you had to pay for. It seems a really strange mixture now; right on the cusp of the old and the new, like a lot of stuff in the '70s. There was a large double door in the pressing room and behind that was the boxing arena. I remember once, unusually, the door had been left ajar so my 7 year-old self peeped inside. I still remember that ring looming up out of the dark, flags hanging all around from the high ceiling and a faint smell of something unusual!"
Kagyu Samye Dzong London, a branch of Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland, a Buddhist Centre which was established in 1967 has renovated Manor Place Baths and are now using it as their London centre.
TWICKENHAM - Twickenham Baths
Built in the 1930s, in a concrete and brick art deco style, Twickenham Baths was municipal architecture in the grand sense with its wide hall, twin staircase and deep arches. It occupied the site of Richmond House, which was demolished in the 1920s. The pool itself was an old-fashioned Lido, the last word in leisure, generously proportioned and with ample room for sunbathing on the paved areas. There were fountains at each end of the pool and a diving board at its deepest point, in the middle. At one stage of its life, it boasted a spacious canteen with a sweeping corner bay window leading on to a terrace with pool views.
Twickenham pool was closed for repairs in the early 1980s and remained disused ever since with the pool area covered in grafitti and overgrown with bushes. The old swimming pool was filled in with 1,500 tonnes of 'hard core' and numerous huge bins have carried away the old building. Among the general rubbish the contractors also had to handle many old syringes which were littered around the site. All the buildings have now been demolished.
Monica Hall writes to Derelict London: "I went to Twickenham County Girls' Grammar School, and we were marched in a crocodile down to the baths immediately after the Easter holidays for 'summer term' swimming lessons. I remember a day in April, overcast and chilly, when we were made to jump in water at 46F. A highly memorable experience. I was 14 and yet thought I might suffer from cardiac arrest. After a while, in such temperatures, one got rather light-headed and it didn't seem so bad .... we may have been close to hypothermia.... "
CROYDON - Purley Way Lido
Purley Lido opened in 1935 and closed in the 1979. In the summer of 1976, 9,000 people a day visited his lido. Its diving board survives, providing a grandiose advertisement hoarding for the garden centre which now occupies the site.The garden centre was officially opened in 1981 by comedian and radio and television personality Cyril Fletcher.
HORNSEY - Hornsey Road Baths and Laundry
The baths built in 1890 which had been empty for since the 1980's were being squatted when I took these photographs. It featured 4 swimming pools and 125 slipper baths. The building was also used as a concert hall, gym and boxing venue. After severe bomb damage during WW2 the building was substantially reconstructed in the 1960's and carried on until its demise in 1991. The front of the building has now been renovated and is used for housing.
James Allen writes: "I remember when the baths closed down as a teenager. I also remember when they found a woman dead in the car park. The people that used the baths and the staff thought the woman was asleep in her car, she had been dead for two days before someone raised the alarm."
BRENTFORD - Brentford Public Baths
Opened in 1896 to acrobatic displays from a dance toupe. In winter the pool was boarded over to hold dance events. Closed in 1990, this Grade 2 listed building is about to be converted into flats
LADYWELL SE13 - Ladywell Baths aka The Playtower
This unusual red-brick gothic building just outside Lewisham was built in 1884 and called Ladywell Baths. It had two public swimming-pools – one for first-class and one for second-class users. It also originally had a conical roof on the tower, but this was lost during an air raid in the Second World War.
The building was last occupied by Ladywell Gymnastics Club, but they left in 2004. Plans to demolish the building and construct a secondary school on the site have come to nothing, and the baths have recently been awarded grade II-listed status. Whether that will save them in the long term remains to be seen.
BERMONDSEY - Deptford Borough Council Slipper Baths
Baths like this were built by local authorities from the 1860's onwards to allow poor people to wash themselves (as distinct from swimming baths). Slipper baths were bath tubs in a similar shape to a slipper, slowing the rate of cooling of hot water and considered to protect the modesty of the bather.One paid and went through a turnstile to join the queue which on busy days might spill out on to the street. The front part of the queue sat on wooden benches, moving up each time the Attendant called 'Next! The building is now the home of Shekinah Ministries
TUFNELL PARK - Stanley Halls & Baths (aka Tufnell Park Palais)
Not much history on this building which ceased being a pool many years ago. Now a music venue attached to the Boston Arms called the Boston Arms Music Rooms (aka The Dome) . A great venue at which I have attended many gigs though only recently saw this plaque which surprised me as I had no idea that it was once a baths (and nor do most people who go there now?)