The Archive

This archive is for everyone that remembers their times enjoying and working in the many local swimming baths and wash houses throughout the UK. It’s also for the politicians and professionals that campaigned for their building and the architects and engineers that brought them into being. It’s a place to share life experiences and stories so that the memory of these places will remain alive.

The archive is about people and the buildings, the swimming baths, the public wash baths, the public eash houses, laundries, the turkish baths, the russian baths that were all such a large part of the social fabric of the UK.

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.

Manchester Baths & Wash-Houses Pagent 1921 – Victoria Baths

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 DrySwimming and British Culture by Chris Ayriss 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 workers invested their lives in making sure these buildings and their services functioned for the benefit of 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 not be lost.

These vast public buildings were originally provided by the private sector and then became the principle concern of local authorities.  The pressures on public finances has brought about the demise of an increasing number of buildings and there have been closures and the transfer of the buildings to the private sector and charitable organisations. History has come full circle.

We would like you to get involved in this project. We’re looking for historical material, stories, photogrpahs and 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 work to be shared.

If you would like to contribute please get in touch.

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