I recall many weekend mornings and after school hours spent splashing around in these sometimes cold and yet exciting swimming pools. They offered alongside the play streets, cinema and public parks a welcome opportunity for a growing young boy in the 1960′s to burn off all of that surplus energy and much to exercise the imagination. In later years the swimming pool became a place for sport and competition and in my own case somewhere that would provide the basis of a career in their management, design and building.
My introduction to Public Swimming Baths and Wash House’s came about after I started work as a lifeguard at Harpurhey Baths, Manchester in 1971. Prior to this I had enjoyed my swimming adventures as a young boy in Salford at Seedley Baths and then later at Broadway Baths in New Moston, Manchester.
I have held the desire to record the history of these places for many years. It’s something that grew consistently from the time I saw many photographs and records being thrown away after the merging of the Manchester City Council Baths and Laundries Department with the Parks Department. I couldn’t understand why such significant heritage was being discarded so easily. I recovered many of the photographs that were being thrown out and set about finding other material from that point on.
Baths & Wash Houses were often significant architectural and public works projects. They were sometimes constructed in response to social needs and public appeals.
In recent years some excellent books have been published about these places. In particular; Great Lengths by Dr Ian Gordon & Simon Inglis English Heritage 2009 offers wonderful insights into the subject and is full of fascinating photographs and descriptions. Also Hung Out to Dry – Swimming and British Culture by Chris Ayriss Lulu.com 2009 is a well researched perspective on the place of swimming in our culture and how attitudes have evolved. Christopher Loves book; A Social History of Swimming in England, 1800-1918 – Splashing in the Serpentine Routledge 2008 offers more of an academic examination of the subject and is well researched and referenced but lacks the photographs that might otherwise bring the material to life.
There are many other local histories and short articles about specific buildings but generally the stories of the people that championed, designed and constructed these public water palaces have largely been lost to memory.
Generations of employees invested their lives in making sure these buildings and their services functioned for the benefit of their communities. People of all ages visited them to wash, swim, play, compete, exercise, dance, socialise and do their weekly washing. These buildings and the people that operated them provided a significant foundation for many communities and their evolution into modern day leisure centres and health clubs should in my view be recorded.
It’s interesting that these vast public buildings were originally provided by the private sector and then became the principle concern of the emerging local authorities. In 2011 the pressures on the public finances has brought about the demise of an increasing number of buildings and in the next few years we may well see the return of this once significant element of local government provision to the private sector and charitable organisations.
There remains an opportunity for those that remember their times designing, building, using, enjoying and working in these facilities to record their experiences and to share their stories. This archive has been set up as a place where personal memories, documents and photographs can be held and shared to support historical and social research in this field and to satisfy the desires of the curious.
We are also looking for unpublished works that may have been completed as part of a university course such as a dissertation. This site provides a place for this type of unique work to be shared.
The site is organic and will grow as material is found and added. If you would like to contribute please get in touch.
Last update 11 January 2012