Crewe Swimming Baths – An Architectural and Social History

The following work was researched and written by Barbara Billups and was self-published in March 1984. This work brings together material from many sources and provides an insight into the circumstances surrounding the building of the Crewe Swimming Pool and its Architectural features. The Baths & Wash Houses Historical Archive has been established to gather work of this nature and to make it available to researchers and the wider community. A PDF version of the work is available 

Barbara Billups Crewe Swimming Baths – An Architectural and Social History


When I was asked by my Open University tutor to investigate the architectural history and design of a local building, I chose Crewe’s Municipal Swimming Baths. These Baths, which were opened in 1937, stand in the middle of the five places I’ve called “home” and, like many local people; I find that they play a recurring role in my family’s life-story.

It was at the Flag Lane Baths that my parents met during the 1940’s to “do their courting” and there that I gained my first swimming badges in the ‘fifties, while the ‘seventies found me back in the little pool teaching my small sons to swim.

By the end of 1982 my research was complete. However, the encouragement of family and friends, coupled with my own reluctance to let so much hard-won information become forgotten have lead me to prepare this book based on my findings. My pleasant task this spring has been to bring the story up to date and to add those interesting details of social history which academic rigour had previously required me to lay aside.

One of the nicest things about this study has been the way in which local people have shown their; generosity by offering to share their memories and by giving me their time and expertise. Valuable assistance was given by Mr. A. McDowall of the Borough Amenities Department, Mr. K Smallwood, the present Borough Baths Manager, Mr. D. Hearne of Crewe Reference Library and Mr. P. Weeks and his technical staff in the Borough Architect’s Department. Mr. Leonard Reeves, the Baths’ Architect, and his family, Mr. John Blower, the project’s Foreman Joiner, and Mrs. Dorothy Rogers who is now in her twenty-second year of teaching Crewe school children to swim, all volunteered their help and have passed on useful information through correspondence and interview. Family and friends have also given much valued advice and practical help with the preparation of the manuscript. Thank you everyone.

Barbara Billups March, 1984


The official opening of Crewe’s new Swimming Baths on 6th November, 1937 was an occasion of great civic pride. The Mayor, Alderman F. Bott, said in his opening speech that the day “… marked the fulfilment of a long and ardent desire on the part of the Corpor­ation to give the fullest opportunity to develop a healthy, happy and virile people.” Mr. J. W. Bowen, Crewe’s Labour M.P. for 1929-35, declared the new Baths to be “money well spent” and proof that the Council were once again “…living up to their motto of `Never Behind’.” (The Chronicle, 13.November1937)

On opening day Flag Lane was closed to traffic and policemen posted to control eager crowds. The following week the letters pub­lished in the local press record the disappointment and frustration of those who were not able to get close enough to watch the proceed­ings. The Chronicle report lists the many official visitors – some of whom can be seen on the newspaper’s photograph of the Mayor and his principal guests. Local tradesmen’s offers to sponsor a beauty parade had been politely refused, and the opening was celebrated instead by an exhibition of “diving, scientific swimming, fancy swimming, and underwater swimming.” The Cheshire Constabulary demonstrated their life-saving skills, a Lancashire water-polo player his speed swimming and the former diving champion of Egypt “illustrated practically every manner of entering the water with the exception of falling in”!

Design of vertical windows on entrance façade

Local government statistics and council minutes suggest that the mood of optimism which surrounded the opening of the Baths was general in Crewe in the mid-thirties. Chaloner found that, like many other towns, Crewe was beginning to emerge from the economic depression of 1929-34. In his study of the social and economic development of Crewe he found a substantial drop in the level of local unemployment from more than 20% in 1933 to between 8% and 9% in 1939.* (Chaloner p.284)

Other factors too were helping to ensure a better life for the inhab­itants of Crewe. The falling birth rate, which Chaloner cites as a major cause of Crewe’s declining population in the ‘thirties, increased the importance of survival. Consequently more attention was paid to health issues, especially the care of the very young. Local govern­ment were justly proud of their efforts in this direction.* (Chaloner p.187 ff appendix charts 1,2). Also, as the monthly minutes of the Works Committee show, a vigorous pro­gramme of public works was underway during the years 1934-37 when the Baths were being planned and built. Rented accommo­dation was systematically inspected and extensive structural and sanitary improvements frequently carried out. During this period many private streets were adopted by the Council and their roads made up, the electrification of street lighting was forging ahead, major road works (including the widening of Flag Lane and its railway bridge) were undertaken and the Corporation were finally making real pro­gress with their plans for a municipal aerodrome to help speed up the Irish mail traffic.* (Chaloner p.285) Private investors also responded to the more fav­ourable economic climate, for example, the Odeon cinema – built in Delamere Street and recently demolished – was also opened in 1937.

Sadly, however the mood of confidence and optimism was short lived. By the time the Baths were opened the threat of war was very real. On September 1st, 1939 a special meeting of the Baths Com­mittee was called as war was believed to be imminent, and contin­gency plans were hastily prepared to convert the basement into a public air raid shelter.


Although the matured trees now make it difficult to photograph a general view of the Baths, the frontispiece and site plan give an over­all picture of the building and its relation to the site and the adjacent Valley Park.

Leonard Reeves, Architect to the Baths

The Engineer’s Land Register shows that the 0.848 acres appro­priated for the Baths site in 1936 already belonged to the Borough Council.* (Folio ’36 p.583) It was part of an acre and a half of land purchased from the Trustees of the will of Richard Edleston in April 1924 for £367. This land includes part of the Valley Park, and was acquired for Public Walks and Pleasure Grounds under the Public Health Act of 1875. Leonard Reeves, who was the last of Crewe’s all-purpose Borough Surveyors, Engineers and Architects, designed the building with the help of his architectural assistant H. Knowles. The building contrac­tor was E. Taylor & Co. Ltd. of Littleborough.

Mr. Reeves had total responsibility for the entire project – even down to the ordering of provisions for the cafe. The Borough Council Minutes for 1934-8 give some indication of the vast amount of work this involved him in, as does Mr. Taylor’s comment at the opening ceremony “…that of all the drawings which had been prepared in the Borough Surveyor’s Department – one hundred and fifty in number – one had never been questioned.”*(The Chronicle, 16 November 1937) This was high praise indeed for Mr. Reeves.

As the site plan shows, the land slopes sharply from the north to south by approximately ten feet which has allowed an extra storey, with natural light and direct access from ground level, to be included in the south wing. The facade, with its parapets, heavy concrete structures, decorative courses of brickwork and strongly contrasting horizontal and vertical elements is very typical of many public build­ings of the 1930’s. At the Baths, the contrast of vertical and horizontal lines help to establish the simple cubic shapes, for example the front­ispiece shows how the south-east and north-east corner blocks are comprised of strong vertical elements (the decorative corners stand­ing proud of the block and giving the effect of columns) which are “pulled square” by the horizontal windows linked by bands of decor­ative brickwork. Also it can be seen that the vertical and horizontal elements of the entrance façade are used to lead the eye inwards to­wards the doors by creating the visual effect of enclosed diminishing squares.

The Chonicle’s report and the tone of the opening speeches em­phasise the fact that the Baths was thought to be a very modern building. The Mayor called it “This handsome building of modern design”, Alderman Foulkes said that it had “… been possible to adopt the latest ideas in construction”* (Souvenir Programme p.3, p.7) and the Chronicle described the Baths as being “… of modern design” too.* (Chronicle 16 November1937) Although it is difficult to assess just what it was about the Baths that impressed people with its modernity (or even, indeed, if the general public shared this view), the following factors were probably influential.

The shape of the building itself would have been very distinctive as it is different from anything built locally before the mid 1930’s. How­ever, this style was quite widely used throughout the country for the fronts of prestige factories and cinemas, for example. Anyone familiar with developments in Europe might possibly have linked the Baths with International Style architecture, for, although the building does not have the Style’s distinctive white stucco “skin”, its surfaces are very flat; for example, apart from on the facade, there are no window Gills or reveals. Also, in common with the International Style, the forms of the Baths are principally cubic, it has windows arranged in horizontal bands, and it has the appearance of having a flat “slab” roof.

The layout of the Baths might have also struck those who were able to make a comparison as being innovatory and, therefore, “modern”.

A clear example is the siting of the changing cubicles. It was custom­ary at the time to place these in the pool hall. As will be seen in the Appendix (ix), Reeves’ schemes B, C, and D all had the boxes around the pool side. As scheme D was preceded with there was obviously a change made which is not explained. Good reasons must have prompted it as the architect was particularly anxious to have the dressing boxes in full view of the pool attendants so that they could be easily supervised and children kept well clear of them, a precaution which he had found “from experience, is very desirable”.* (Folio ’34 p.576)

However, it seems logical to speculate that the final decision to site the boxes in two outer corridors was made in the interests of effic­iency and economy, and not as a gesture towards more liberal mod­ern views. As the ground plan shows it allowed for twice as many boxes to be built – 142 instead of 71 – and also reduced the width of roof span needed in the pool hall. To cross it as it was built (at 48 feet wide) was an expensive and skilled job. Poolside boxes would have added at least another ten feet to this problem. The need to span the pool hall must have been a factor in the choice of Taylors as con­tractors as they were an engineering firm with experience in bridge building.

Although other innovatory features – such as the continuous scum channels round both pools, the up-to-date filtration and heating sys­tems, and the electronically controlled roof windows and ventilators – would have remained unnoticed by most users, there can be no doubt that the new standards of hygiene and comfort that these de­vices made possible would have been most welcome. Until its clo­sure in March, 1936 the only local swimming facilities were provided by the L.M.S. (the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company) at their public open air pool in Mill Street. This meant that for over eighteen months Crewe’s 50,000 inhabitants were left with no bathing facilities at all, except for the unemployed who had special permission to swim in the Queen’s Park lake.* (Chaloner, p.54: Folio ’33, p-391)

The Mill Street Bath which was opened in 1866 was a simple “fill and empty” pool. It had no heating, filtration or circulation systems. The water was changed weekly and, to compensate for this, the ad­mission charge was reduced as the week went by and the water became increasingly murky. When the Flag Lane facilities are compared with these it is easy to imagine how modern the new Baths must have seemed, and minor lapses of hygiene must be viewed in this wider context. One such lapse occurred when the outdoor sun terrace was made available for sunbathing and refreshments in 1938. Swimmers were allowed free movement between the terrace and the pools via the western “schoolgirls” door – a route which offered no foot washing facilities.


The early history of the Swimming Baths reveals false starts and doubts which this solidly built building belies. Since the idea of the new Baths was formally recorded in the report of the General Pur­poses Committee, 20th February 1934, the story can be traced through the Borough Council minute books, and these have been my source for the following chronology of key events and decisions.

20th February, 1934

Alderman Smith referred to the proposed Swimming Bath at Flag Lane and suggested that they be constructed so that one side could be left completely open when weather permitted.

Resolved: that the Borough Surveyor be requested to prepare a scheme along these lines.

(General Purposes Committee)

15th May, 1934

Borough Surveyor submitted various sketches and plans for the com­mittee’s consideration. A Sub-Committee re: Swimming Baths was appointed.

(General Purposes Committee)

10th August, 1934

Borough Surveyor submitted various sketches and plans for the comand it was resolved to proceed with scheme D. (see appendix)

(Sub-Committee re: Baths)

14th August, 1934

Minutes of the sub-committee approved.

Resolved: that the sub-committee consider means of reducing the cost of the Baths, and that they enquire whether the Railway Com­pany would be prepared to co-operate with the Council in an exten­sion of their existing Baths.

(General Purposes Committee)

16th October, 1934

Committee considered question of providing an open air swimming pool at the Queen’s Park.

Resolved: that the sub-committee go fully into the matter.

(General Purposes Committee)

20th October, 1934

Inspection of Park Lake and ravine.

Resolved: that the Borough Surveyor submit plans for a bathing pool at west end of Park Lake with boxes and recovery room; that the island be removed if necessary; that cold water only be supplied; that reinforced concrete specialists and quantity surveyors be consulted.

(Sub-Committee re: Baths)

14th November, 1934

Borough Surveyor asked to submit estimate of cost and to approach Ministry of Health on the matter.

(Sub-Committee re: Baths)

15th November, 1934

Park Curator reported that the lake had been drained, and fish put into east end of lake, the water being retained by building a dam under the two bridges at each side of the central island.

(Parks and Cemetery Committee)

18th December, 1934

Report by Borough Surveyor of meeting with Ministry of Health.


a) agree the application for a loan, in principle,

b) ask that tenders be invited so that loan sanction can be granted,

c) predict that the scheme would involve a public enquiry.

Borough Surveyor also reported his estimated cost for works to be £15,100 plus £400 for advertising.

Resolved: tenders be invited; application be made to Ministry of Health for loan sanction.

(General Purposes Committee)

15th January, 1935

Borough Surveyor requested instructions regarding the obtaining of tenders, appointment of Baths Superintendent, purchase of furnish­ings etc.

Letter read from L. M.S. Railway Company offering the Corporation their swimming Baths and its site in Mill Street for £500.

(General Purposes Committee)

18th March, 1935

Borough Surveyor reported problems with “the nature of the ground” which required his estimate to be adjusted to £19,925. Tenders received were considered, all of which were in excess of £21,000.

Resolved: that the Railway Company’s offer be rejected.

(Sub-Committee re: Baths)

16th April, 1935

Re: Council’s application for loan sanction in respect of proposed Open Air Bath, Queen’s Park. Letter read from Ministry of Health stating that the Minister agreed in principle with the Council’s pro­posals but “… was advised that the site selected was unsuitable for the purpose, having regard to the engineering difficulties to be met and the consequent high cost involved.” The Minister then suggested that the Council select a more favourable site.

(General Purposes Committee)

23rd April, 1935

Sub-committee informed of Minister’s decision. Resolved:

a) to abandon the idea of an open air bath,

b) to erect a closed bath on the Flag Lane site with the following provisions – main pool, learner’s pool, laundry, car park, four foam baths, twelve slipper baths, no staging (to cover pool in winter) no cafe or balcony.

(Sub-Committee re: Baths)

16th August, 1935

Borough Surveyor submitted amended plans to comply with above, along with his estimate of £39,866, and additional £1,004 to be added for expenses already incurred on the Open Air Baths project.

Resolved: application to be made to the Ministry of Health for sanction to borrow £40,870 and for consent to the appropriation of the necessary land.*

(Sub-Committee re: Baths)

* The Public Baths and Washhouses Act (1846) empowered Local Authorities to borrow money for the provision of Baths and Washhouses and an additional Act (1882) – passed to facilitate this provision – empowered them to acquire sites as necessary within their Borough or Parish. (Davenport, pp.15, 19)

19th November, 1935

Letter from Minister of Health discussed stating that, as the Council’s proposals appeared to entail an annual deficit of 3.8 pence in the pound on the rates, he was prepared to direct a local inquiry, subject to their further consideration of the matter. He would defer making any decision until this was done. Borough Surveyor reported that in his opinion it now seemed unlikely that he would be able to complete the work before 1938.

Resolved: to send a deputation to interview the Minister on the matter.

(General Purposes Committee)

17th December, 1935

Re: letter from Ministry agreeing to receive the Town Clerk and the Borough Surveyor.

(General Purposes Committee)

14th January, 1936

Borough Surveyor reported that, as a result of the interview, the Health Minister had agreed:

a) to dispense with a local inquiry

b) that quantities could be prepared and tenders invited.

(General Purposes Committee)

6th May, 1936

The Committee considered tenders received for the construction of the proposed swimming baths and resolved to accept that of E. Taylor and Co. Ltd., for £34,090 – this being the lowest of the five received.

Resolved: to apply to the Minister for loan sanction of £38,219 i.e.:

£34,090 amount of tender

£2,865 salaries, fees, advertisements

£260 costumes and towels

£1,004 expenditure incurred on abandoned scheme

A member suggested provision for spectators at the Baths.

Resolved: that the Borough Surveyor prepare a report on the matter.

(General Purposes Committee)

19th May, 1936

Borough Surveyor submitted a plan with gallery and cafe.

Resolved: that scheme be approved if it did not exceed accepted tender.

(General Purposes Committee)

3rd June, 1936

Council resolved to adopt the Baths and Washhouses Act. (Borough Council Meeting)

16th June, 1936

Letter received from Ministry of Health –

a) forwarding consent to the borrowing of £37,215

b) stating that they were not satisfied that expenditure incurred on abandoned scheme was the proper subject of a loan

c) approving appropriation of the Flag Lane site for the purpose of the Baths and Washhouses Act.

(General Purposes Committee)

13th December, 1936

Borough Surveyor finally able to report that “progress is being made” on the Baths.

(General Purposes Committee)

16th March, 1937

Borough Surveyor reported that work was progressing satisfactorily but not as fast as he had hoped because of­

a) difficulty in getting “key” men

b) difficulty in obtaining steel

c) the weather!

(General Purposes Committee)

11th August, 1937

Sub-Committee interview seven applicants for the post of Baths Superintendent. They select Lt. Commander Roy Edwards.

(Sub Committee re: Baths)

Between August and November tenders were gathered, and stocks of fuel, staff uniforms, café provisions, remedial bathing supplies, etcetera, were purchased by the Borough Surveyor and further staff were appointed. Opening hours and charges were also established.
(see 1937 folio, pp. 809, 918, 934/5, 1020)

20th September, 1937

Opening date was provisionally fixed for 6th November.

(Sub Committee re: Baths)

On November 6th the Baths were opened as planned, and on 12th November the newly formed Baths Committee thanked the Borough Surveyor for all his work, and responsibility for the Baths was assumed by a separate Baths department under the control of the Baths Superintendent.


As the Council minutes show, initial doubts about the building of the Baths were largely based upon the economics of the project. However, during the ‘thirties the whole question of bathing was sur­rounded by a certain amount of uncertainty. Towards the end of the 19th century the role of the public baths began to change as the emphasis shifted from keeping the populace clean to keeping them fit, and in 1878 the Baths and Washhouses Act was amended to pro­vide for the erection of covered swimming baths.* (Binney, p.16)

The measuring and weighing of First World War recruits had shown that the health of our young men left much to be desired. Movements, such as the Youth Hostelling Association (begun in 1929), were formed and health campaigns promoted at both national and local level. The extent of Crewe’s involvement in the health movement is apparent from the Council minutes of 1937 – minutes for the early part of the year mention the Council’s co-operation with the National Federation of Personal Health Associations to set up a branch in Crewe as part of their effort towards the “Fitter Britain Campaign”; plans were made to participate in the Royal Sanitary Institute’s “Empire Health Week”; the circular “Physical Training and Recreation Act”, published by the Ministry of Health, was rec­eived and discussed by Council.* (1937 folio, pp.427,725,923)

However, as a comparison of Edwardian and 1930’s style bathing dress shows, the idea of getting the air to one’s body brought with it much briefer swimwear, which raised fears concerning the modesty of the wearer. The Sub-Committee’s decision to allow boys to wear bathing slips rather than costumes was taken with care, as was the decision to allow mixed bathing.* (Folio ’37, p.1025) Schoolboy and girl swimmers, however, were kept firmly segregated, as indeed they were for the rest of their lessons. The building even had separate entrances so that they would not chance to meet in the foyer should one class be leav­ing as another arrived. The children’s entrances can be seen on the site plan; note also that both the boys and the girls had their own communal dressing rooms as they were not allowed into the boxes to change their clothes – this allowed them to be closely supervised, an arrangement which protected them from “immorality” whilst de­priving them of their privacy. The site of the schoolgirls’ entrance can still be seen on the west wall.

Swimming in winter was also viewed with suspicion. The 1878 Act allowed for pools to be covered from November to March and the bath hall used for other purposes. Leonard Reeves’ comment that the only alternative to this would be “to utilise the swimming pool the whole year round, the popularity of which is, of course, a matter of speculation” expresses this unease.* (Folio 1934, p.577) Eventually it was decided that the Baths should stay open all winter, but this seems to have been a purely economic decision, and contingency plans were made in case winter swimming proved unpopular. Although these purchases were discussed I can find no evidence that temporary flooring, staging or seating was actually bought. The legends “Swim in the Winter” and “Swim Regularly” were used as tail-pieces in the commemorative brochure, so despite their statement that provision had been made for the Baths to be used as a hall in the winter it seems that the Sub-Committee were hoping that the additional expenditure would not be necessary. Meanwhile, care was taken to make sure that school children were offered a hot drink after swimming in cold weather, and that hair dryers were available for their use. Also, at this time, women and girls were expected to wear rubber bathing caps and these did help to keep their hair dry.

George Scott’s book, “The Story of Baths and Bathing” which was written in the early ‘thirties, is interesting to read as it illustrates soc­iety’s ambivalent attitude towards swimming and bathing in general. Although Scott recommends both activities as natural and health giving he punctuates his book with many warnings of their inherent moral and physical dangers, for example, he attributes the falling birthrate – a national phenomenon in the ‘thirties – directly to the growing practice of taking warm baths. Daily use of soap, he contends, leaves the female “almost continuously in a contraceptive condition”, whilst male virility and fertility is eroded by regular hot, or even warm baths.* (Scott. P249/50)


As the plans and sections in the appendix show, the building bas­ically consists of a rectangular central pool hall flanked by two long wings. The outer walls are of load bearing, sandfaced multi-coloured brick with a cavity, and the pool hall is supported by a system of ten piers which rise to form the semi-circular beams spanning the roof space. In the basement the reinforced concrete has been painted over without being smoothed and the form work can clearly be seen, for example, on the piers and ceiling of the clubroom and in the subway.

As has been shown, the slope of the land has allowed the south side of the basement to remain above ground level. Mr. Reeves took ad­vantage of this and placed all the baths’ and laundry machinery and staff rooms on the south side, where the opening windows allow natural light and ventilation. Although the laundry room was never available for public use (as was the case at some public baths) it was nevertheless a very busy area as it handled all the municipal laundry. In the early years it laundered many swimmers’ costumes and towels within the first three days of opening 42 costumes and 68 towels had been hired. Today few swimmers take advantage of the hire services, but “Big Bertha”, the original washing machine, is still kept busy in ways which were unforeseen, such as the laundering of gowns from the sauna suite and of leisure centre curtains.

The Z. D. Berry high pressure steam boilers provided the hot water for the laundry, heated the pools and warmed the rest of the building by steam fed through copper pipes which were mounted at ceiling level. The original boilers were coke fired and converted to use oil in the mid’ sixties. When the system was again changed, this time to use gas-fired low pressure hot water boilers, the copper pipes were re­tained, with their steam traps removed, and are still in good con­dition. Other plant was supplied by Ricks, Sutcliffe and Bowden (filtration) and Wallace and Tiernan (chlorination).

The major changes to plant were made in 1975 as the pool temper­ature of 70° – 75°F, once considered warm, had become unaccept­ably low. The main problem was the circulation system. Originally the water did not return for reheating and reprocessing until it had flowed through both pools, and this could take up to 14 hours. This made it impossible to maintain higher water temperatures. The dif­ficulty was overcome by segregating the two pools so that the water for each now circulates and is heated and sterilized separately. In this way the turnover time per gallon of water has been reduced to around 4 hours (main pool) and 11/2 hours (learners’ pool) thus allowing an average temperature of 85°F to be maintained.

The latest conversion of the sterilization plant has been dictated by safety issues. As liquid sodium hypochlorite is to replace chlorine gas as the sterilizing agent for public swimming pools, changes es­timated to cost £20,000 are now necessary.

Also in the basement is the subway. This is an artificially lit corridor with underwater viewing windows which allow the inside of the pools to be inspected. Crewe’s long established and thriving Swimming Club also have their home in the basement. The clubroom and an adjoining storage area are beneath the entrance hall.

The ground floor houses the pool hall, changing rooms, slipper and sauna baths, and main circulation areas. The plan is arranged symmetrically about a west/east axis and the stairs to the gallery lead up from either side of the foyer.

There are two pools in the main hall -the larger one is 100′ x 35’ and has a 9′ diving pit at the deep end. Although there has never been a fatal accident at the Baths, the high-diving boards have been re­moved to ensure greater safety. The learner’s pool, which is over­hung by the balcony, is 35′ x 20′. The walls of the pool hall are lined to a height of 6′ with a combination of green, black and red glazed tiles which form a decorative band above self-coloured cream ones. This was a popular motif in the nineteen-thirties.

The entrance hall is spacious and elegant. The pay kiosk, which is built of teak, has glass panes which are frosted with a subtle zig-zag pattern. This motif is used throughout – it can be seen in the doors of the pool hall and foyer and in the arrangement of the coloured tiles on the foyer floor. The wrought iron railings and gates are of the same design. This geometric simplicity complements the stern angles and symmetry of the plan, and combined with the occasional use of curves (in the design of the “fish” windows at each side of the en­trance, and the curve of the balcony) demonstrates a graceful, though restrained, application of art deco design.

The roof of the pool hall is tiled with slates and the skylights were originally of wire cast glass set in lead coated, steel frames (replaced in the mid ‘seventies by aluminium when slight movement of the building had disturbed the glass). Casement windows and ventilators flank the pitched skylight. Both are electrically operated and provide ventilation for the pool hall thereby helping to control the level of chlorine vapour. The photograph of the bath hall shows the original condition of the ceiling.

However, as the photograph of the balcony shows, the ceiling has been altered. The aluminium slats that can be seen are part of the suspended acoustic ceiling which was added under Mr. McDowall’s direction in the early ‘seventies when he was the Baths Manager. This ceiling has a dual function. It cuts the reverberation time in the hall from eleven to three seconds which makes the room much quieter, and it also has an insulating effect which helps reduce the increased amount of condensation that higher water temperatures generate.

The pools are made of cast-in-situ concrete. They were dug out manually and the clay taken away by a relay of horses and carts to be dumped on Chimney Fields beyond Pyms Lane. They are lined with ceramic tiles fixed with a mixture of cement and Pudlo – a water­proofing additive. This mixture was also used for grouting to stop water staining the tiles by seeping beneath the glaze. John Blower tells me that there were initial leakage problems and that the fire brigade was eventually called to help ensure a full pool for opening day. However, in the long term, this method of construction and lining has proved very effective and the pools have required very little maintenance.

Between the balcony and ground level there is a small mezzanine floor on either side above the slipper baths. This houses the ladies’ and gentlemen’s lavatories; lavatory accommodation for bathers is provided in the changing room areas.

The balcony, with its long concave curve, gives spectators a good view of the pools. Its tip-up seats are original and, along with the rest of the woodwork in the building, made from teak which was chosen for its water resistant properties. Like the changing cubicles, they arrived ready to assemble. Nowadays the balcony is little used except for special occasions such as swimming galas.

Very few changes have been made to the building which was very strongly built and needs little maintenance. Bill Hassall, the Clerk of Works, had a reputation for thoroughness which obviously paid div­idends. For example, when he dug down and found that the foun­dations for the boiler chimney were not of the specified depth, the men concerned were sternly disciplined and the work redone. Current staff tell me that when alterations to the building are nec­essary (such as when some dressing boxes were removed to allow the manual clothes storage system to be replaced by self-operating lockers) it has proved very difficult to demolish the existing struc­tures.


Apart from its basic function of providing a swimming pool and slipper baths so that uses can get fit and clean, the Baths has fulfilled many other roles in the local community.

An important additional service, which is still available, is the provision of swimming and life-saving lessons. On December 10th, 1937, Mr. Edwards and his assistant were granted permission by the sub-committee to give lessons for two shillings per half hour and to keep half of this fee.* (Folio 37, p.127) Mr. Edwards ensured that his staff were well trained too. He periodically reported their successes in advanced swimming and life-saving to the Sub-Committee who responded by paying their examination fees. Also, many children have received swimming lessons as part of their school curriculum. As we have seen, this function was felt to be so important that it shaped the final plan of the building to some extent. According to Baths’ records, school swimmers have accounted for a substantial proportion of attendances every year, except for 1980/81 when school swimming was stopped – an economy measure which resulted in an estimated loss of 25,000 swimmers.

Mrs. Dorothy Rogers, Swimming Teacher to the Schools, has now been teaching the Borough’s children to swim for twenty-one years. Mrs. Rogers was a founder member of Crewe Cygnets. The Cygnets, all members of the Crewe Amateur Swimming Club, were trained by Miss A. Butterey. As the Swimming Times reported, they were soon an outstanding success with their performances of “water ballets and rhythmic swimming displays”.* (The Swimming Times Nov 1949)

Many swimming groups (like the senior citizens’, mothers and babies’ and disabled people’s clubs) have given local people pleasure and proficiency over the years. The pool hall is also hired by other groups with special interests such as life-saving, sub-aqua diving and water polo, and a particular modern day trend is the hiring of the baths for fund raising “sponsored swims”.

Some additional services have now been abandoned. One such is remedial bathing, a speciality of Mr. I. Brodie, the second Baths Superintendent, who was also a masseur. Remedial bathing has an interesting history, too long to recount here, which Binney and Scott both explore in some detail.* (Binney p.11 ff. Scott chp. 10 “Hydrotherapy”) At Crewe, the following combinations were available for administration by a trained attendant­:- “Zotafoam” or aeration baths, with or without the addition of pine, “Hydrotherapy” seaweed or brine at a cost of one and sixpence to three shillings.

The Zotafoam Company promoted their baths as a slimming aid as well as for the relief of such ills as rheumatism. Although it is easy to scoff at the advertisement’s claims, the idea of offering hot moist air to the skin (trapped in this instance in bubbles) is very similar in principal to the sauna bath, which has since replaced remedial bathing at Crewe. As the ground plan shows, there were private baths on either side of the foyer but demand for slipper baths decreased and the suite on the south-east corner was converted to a sauna cabin, solarium and rest room in the ‘sixties.

Other recent changes which have extended the facilities offered to the local community are: the introduction of the “Family Ticket” which allows considerable savings to be made by families who swim regularly; the “Playsport” scheme which aids the unemployed by offering reduced rates for the use of the Borough’s sports facilities; free swims for patrons taking a sauna bath during public swimming times; “Fun Sessions” during school holidays-featuring Gulliver the inflatable giant! These sessions are much appreciated by local youngsters and are frequently a sell-out.

The Baths Committee has always acknowledged that the building has an important social function to fulfil. Although we know from the Council minutes that the idea of “social areas” such as a sun-terrace, spectator gallery and cafe, were initially resisted on economic grounds, the Baths were actually built with a gallery and cafe, and the sun-terrace was added the following year. Snacks and ice-cream were served from the canopied basement door and bathers sat among the flower beds at tables with sun shades. People, such as my parents, who were youngsters in the early days of the Baths remember it chiefly as a social centre. It was an ideal place for courting couples to meet, especially in those days when young ladies were expected to be home much’ earlier than today. Facilities such as the clothes hangers, hairdryers and Brylcream machines (along with the 160 mirrors pro­vided free by W. H. O. Wills, the cigarette manufacturers) ensured that the bathers were able to leave the changing rooms feeling as sleek and smart as when they had arrived. Passers-by used to call in to sit in the balcony to take refreshments and watch the swimming, demonstrations or water-polo. This would have been particularly pleasant on autumn evenings when the main lights were often turned off, leaving just the safety lighting and the underwater floodlights to illuminate the pool.

Today, as transport is generally easier and the attitude to exercise more relaxed, people feel less need to be quite so dry and rested after their swim and most leave the building quite quickly. However, despite this trend, the Borough’s swimmers still manage to consume 100,000 packets of crisps and 50,000 or so drinks per year-though the cost effective vending machines are a somewhat functional substi­tute for the balcony cafe which, in its heyday, served such treats as ice-cream sundaes, salmon sandwiches, fruit salads and fresh cream cakes!


There can be no doubt that Crewe Baths has functioned well, both as a building and as a place of exercise and recreation. Throughout its history it has fulfilled a need in the Borough, especially in the early days when there was no alternative local provision for swimming. Attendance increased steadily until 1975 when, according to Alec McDowall, it reached such a pitch that “one could walk across the pool on people’s heads.”

Although the number of swimmers is still increasing, there is now alternative provision for them in and around the Borough. Conseq­uently, the numbers using the Crewe pool have settled to a more comfortable level and stand, as they did in the mid ‘sixties, at around 160,000 attendances per annum.

In his opening day speech, Alderman Foulkes, Chairman of the General Purposes Committee, pointed out that many houses in the Borough still did not have a bathroom and that the provision of private bathing facilities was an important function of the new build­ing.* (Souvenir Programme p.7) This situation still prevails, and many people who live in old or shared accommodation still find it convenient to use the six remain­ing slipper baths. In 1980, for example, over 2,000 slipper baths were taken, and another 3,885 bathers used the new sauna suite which formerly housed the ladies’ slipper baths.

As for the future, the building is still in excellent condition and felt to be well worth including in the Council’s long-term development plans. One improvement under consideration is an integral heating/ ventilation system which will allow different air change rates in indi­vidual areas of the building. This should enhance the comfort of both bathers and spectators. A larger gallery and increased car parking facilities are also planned for when funds become available. Car­ parking is an acute problem at Crewe Baths: the long cycle sheds in the north yard now stand empty and remind us how quickly bathers’ requirements have changed.

If all goes well the Department of the Environment’s Urban Aid Support scheme will help finance the building of two all-weather, floodlit pitches on the site of the disused Valley Park boating pool. This will allow sports such as volleyball and netball to be played, with the slope down from the rose garden possibly terraced with concrete steps to seat spectators. This area may also be used for roller-skating or outdoor performances.

 As Crewe Swimming Baths nears its Golden Jubilee celebrations it continues to adapt to the changing needs of the townspeople. However, even though they were anxious to live up to Crewe’s motto “Never Behind”, I think that the 1937 Sub-Committee would have been somewhat surprised to witness the recent debate on the thor­oughly modern question of mixed sauna bathing!

Appendix i

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Appendix vii

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Appendix ix

Borough Council Minutes, Folio ’34, page 574 If



I submit herewith several tentative schemes and beg to report as follows:


Definite instructions have never been given, but I was instructed to make provision for a swimming pool, slipper baths, and a probable adaptation of the latter for foam baths_ and the adaptation and utilisation of the building in winter time as a hall. I was also further instructed to report as to whether it was feasible to so design the building as to make it easily adaptable for sunbathing.

The length of the swimming bath has never been decided and the plans submitted herewith show two alternative sizes, in the one case 75ft. x 30ft. and in the other 100ft. x 35ft., and I must ask you to particularly remember this in considering the approximate estimates given herewith.


The plan shows the building so designed that a series of partitions in the south wall, when open, give access to a sunbathing balcony about Sift. wide, surrounded by a glass screen. As a consequence of making such a provision, the dressing boxes have had to be grouped round the main entrance and the slipper baths planned on the first floor. The design provides for a balcony and the building could be adapted in winter as a hall.

To make provision for sunbathing undoubtedly increases what may be called the basic price of a swimming bath and it should be carefully considered whether such a provision warrants the cost.

It is probable in practice that many objections would arise, such as:­

1. Excepting on very hot days and calm days, a draught would be created in the swimming pool.

2. It is undesirable for swimmers to leave the pool for a period and then re-enter the water with their costumes probably contaminated through the outside atmosphere and grime collected from the sunbathing balcony.

It should also be seriously considered whether bathing in town’s water and sunbathing can be related. It is, of course, generally appreciated that there is a great deal of difference between bathing in fresh water and either sea water or brine with sunbathing intermittently.

The dimensions of the swimming bath shown on this plan are 75ft. x 30ft., and I estimate that the scheme would cost approximately £31,000. The details of the proposals can be seen from the plan.


In this scheme a swimming pool of 75ft. x 30ft. is provided for and the building can be adapted and utilised as a hall in the winter time. A balcony is provided and the slipper baths are grouped in a separate block at the side of the main building, whilst on the first floor a restaurant is provided.

In this plan it will be seen that the dressing boxes are provided on either side of the swimming pool and I estimate that the scheme will cost approximately £29,000.


In this scheme a swimming pool 100ft. x 35ft. provided for with dressing cubicles on either side of the pool. A cafe is provided for on the first floor, and so designed that the patrons in the cafe can watch through windows the bathing in the swimming pool.

Slipper baths are grouped at the front of the building on either side thereof, and have been so de­signed so that access can be obtained direct from the street through a waiting room in the winter time when the main building is utilised for other purposes than swimming. At the same time the waiting room can be utilised as a cloakroom, access being gained off the crush hall when the building is used as a hall, and assuming the slipper baths are not in use, which would generally be the case.

A balcony is shown on three sides of the building and the building is capable of being adapted and utilised as a hall in the winter time, a stage is provided for with dressing rooms on either side.

Again the flexibility in design provides for the dressing rooms being utilised (as dressing rooms in connection with swimming) by school children when the swimming pool is in operation. Thus the scholars can be kept under constant and proper supervision. They would gain access direct to the dressing rooms without entering the main buildings and consequently would have no need whatsoever to enter any of the dressing boxes, which, from experience, is very desirable.

A small hoist is shown to be provided to feed the cafe.

This scheme, I estimate, will cost approximately upwards of £48,000.


This scheme is identical with Scheme C, excepting that the area occupied by the stage has been increased and a learners’ pool provided for. This could be covered over with a temporary floor at such times as the building is used as a hall and would form the stage for the building.

It will be noticed that the deep end is at the reverse end of the swimming pool as compared with Scheme C. This has been done so that the learners’ pool is near to the shallow end of the swimming pool, which is the general practice.

Last update 27 December 2011

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8 Responses to “Crewe Swimming Baths – An Architectural and Social History”

  1. Little James says:

    How times change. For a while in the second half of the 1950’s, it seemed like I went to the baths every Saturday with one of my school friends, riding in the sidecar on her dad’s motorbike.
    I remember a swimming lesson before being allowed to have fun in the small pool, then it was upstairs for a hot drink and wagon wheel (I see I was not the only one). I never really learned how to swim properly when I was there (had to join the RN to do that), but I was world class at floating on my back. I don’t have any bad memories about the state of the pool or the changing area. It was always clean and had that lovely fragrance of freshly picked chlorine (lol). One time I was doing some leg kicks hanging on the side of the pool and banged my chin on the edge. There was a bit of blood and stars spinning about, but it seemed worse than it actually was; here I am a few decades later and still have a scar on my chin from those days.

    Now the baths are closed and there’s a new replacement for them. I’ve never been there because I moved away from Crewe. Am I getting misty eyed for the past or what? I don’t think so, because after reading the reviews of the new place it seems like things are much worse than they ever were at Flag Lane.

  2. fiona cutting says:

    After three futile years of a lesson once a week in the learner pool, I saved my pocket money and asked Bob, the pool attendant to teach me in the Summer holidays. He charged five shillings an hour (this was 1956), once a day for a week. He tied a rope around my waist and dumped me in the shallow end of the big pool. I had to swim the length and by Friday I could swim without the rope. I went to the Grammar School that September as a competent swimmer. The best one pound five shillings I ever spent.In the cafe in the gallery afterwards we could have hot orange squash and a Wagonwheel.

  3. douglas williams says:

    when i was nine years old i used to walk to the baths from the middlewich street estate. where i taught myself to swim, this was 1954.moving on to 1977,i taught my two sons,chris and gary to they have two sons each garys are 5&9 years,chris has twin boys 8 a family we are still all going today,. also my wife allways comes along to join in with the that covers 58 years,i hope we all can get many more happy years in the crewe pool. best wishes to every one at the crewe swimmingbaths.

  4. keith Williams says:

    in the early 1970s I was was 12 yrs old and a regular saturday visitor to the baths with my friends. All of us being around the same had great fun diving and bombing off the boards and watched in amazement at older people diving off the top high board.
    During one visit I was determined to be the first in our group to go off the top board as we had all been off each of the lower ones. I ascended the steps to the top board and stood on top summoning up the courage to go to the edge. there was a yooung girl on the board which was quite wide and she stood to one side leaning against the side raillings. I slowly walked to the edge and looked down, i remember thinking “its a long way down there” so I walked to the back of the board and had the idea that i should just run and dive, once I wa sin the air it would be just the same as the lower boards. So it was that i began my run up and the girl who I no longer noticed stuck out her leg which I tripped over and instead of diving off the end of he board I fell sidewards and went off to the side and landed with my head clipping the side of the tiled pool side which of course rendered me instantly unconcious and created a large red pool of water around me and the blood flowed from the resulting head wound. the boards were closed down and removed after that. I never knew who the girl was and am disappointed that never actually got to dive off that board. Still I was told that I was lucky to be alive so I am thankful for that at least

    • Ian Morris says:

      Hi Keith,

      Well, after years of rumours and various dubious stories about the reason why the old boards were removed, we now know the truth !

      The general consensus was, a lad hit his head on the bottom of the 9′ following a dive from the top platform.

      Interesting to hear the true chain of events, albeit scary. Will the perpetrator ever own up ? Possibly not now. One can only assume her stupidity was a sheer act of spitefulness not having the courage you quite obviously did !

      Do you have the actual date ?



      • keith williams says:

        unfortunately I don’t have the exact date. I am sure with some delving into my medical history I could find out. I will ask my doctor if he can go that far back in my records.

        • Ian Morris says:

          Hi Keith,

          Did you ever find out the date ? My Dad reckons 1973.

          The boards were then replaced by two 1m springboards,eventually reduced to one,then none once the H&S mob moved in 🙁



          • keith williams says:

            1973 would be right as i was 12 (born dec 1960) doctor wants to charge quite a bit for the info so i never bothered following up

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