Ramsden Street Baths

Ramsden Street Baths

The following article appeared in Baths Service The Journal of the Institute of Baths Management Incorporated April 1972 p106

2900,000 sports complex for Huddersfield

History is being made at Huddersfield with the imminent closure of the Gymnasium Hall (Ramsden Street Baths), which have served the town as a swimming and civic centre of entertainment for close on 100 years. It is to be replaced with a £900,000 sports complex, the director of which will be Norman Holgate, M.Inst.B.M. the present baths manager.

This article, written by Stanley Chadwick for the `Huddersfield Weekly Examiner,’ will be read with interest by many readers who are personally acquainted with the Ramsden Street Baths.

In 1878 the Gymnasium Hall was twice offered for sale by auction, but found no purchaser. The property was held on a 999 lease granted by Sir J. W. Ramsden at an annual ground rent of £22 18s.6d. being then leased to Mr J. W. White for £312 per annum. The site included about 111 yds. of vacant land having a frontage to Queen Street.

Shortly after eight o’clock on the evening of 3rd September the same year, the Princess Alice was in collision with an iron screw steamer on the River Thames, and sank almost at once. The loss of lives amounted to 648, only 130 being saved.

Mr Charles Smith Tempest, a member of the Council of the Swimming Association of Great Britain, suggested in a letter published in a local contemporary that many more persons might have been saved had they been able to swim. The paper’s comment was that `it would be better for all of us to take more water outwardly and less inwardly.’

Within a fortnight came the announcement of a scheme for the erection of public swim­ming baths, for both sexes, in the centre of the town. The proposal was fully discussed at a meeting held in a solicitor’s office on 26th September, plans for the baths being exhibited by Mr Arthur Smith, architect. It was decided to form a limited liability company, and offer shares to the public.

There was, however, a feeling that the corporation had an obligation to supply this primary need. Lockwood Spa Baths had been taken over in 1870 with all their liabilities, but they were not central and ‘ little larger than a private gentleman’s bathroom’,

It was also hinted that if a few of the councillors had suffered bereavements through the Thames disaster, a proposal for the erection of swimming baths would have been made at the very next meeting.

While the baths discussions were taking place, the Gymnasium Hall staged an event which, even for it, was new. Mlle. Elzie Chadford, a teenager, at six o’clock on Mon­day evening, 23rd September, started a walk of six days and six nights.

A course of bark was laid, and she walked round the room 17 times to complete a half-mile. She rested after each half-mile lap. Mlle. Chadford ended her walked at 9.45 Pm on Saturday, 28th September, having completed almost 160 miles.

Mlle. Blanche Sykes attempted a similar walk the following month. She completed the last half-mile in 5 min. 25 sec. without displaying the slightest fatigue. In 1881 six women took part in a six-day walking contest.

There was always a lady on the track wear­ing beautiful costumes, with a brass band playing for dancing.

The Huddersfield Public Baths Co. Ltd. issued its prospectus on 16th November, 1878. The capital of £7,500 was in shares of £1 each. Mr Thomas Brooke, J.P., of Armitage Bridge, was the chairman, and the other eight directors included an alderman and two councillors.

It was stated that it had been decided to buy Gymnasium Hall, and provide a gentle­men’s swimming bath which, so far as could be ascertained, would be the longest in the North of England. Later there would be a ladies swimming bath and slipper baths. The estimated cost of conversion, including the price of the property was not expected to exceed £3,000. Possession would be obtained on 23rd December.

The Huddersfield Swimming Club resolved at its annual meeting in April to transfer activities from Lockwood to the new baths, and arrange a fete for the opening. This took place on Tuesday, 1st July, the ceremony being performed by Col. Thomas Brooke.

The dimensions of the swimming pool were 79 ft, x 26 ft., with 7 ft, of water at the deep end. Several dressing boxes were provided. Concrete had been used both on the floor and sides of the bath, together with black glazed bricks. The architect did a good job in the time available.

Col. Brooke appealed to those present to take up the remaining shares in order that the whole scheme could be completed. The directors did not view their work as a money speculation, but believed they had provided a great public want in the town.

After several races by members of the swimming club, Prof. Harry Parker, London champion, gave an exhibitor. Then it was the turn of Miss Emily Parker, who had swum from London Bridge to Woolwich. The two combined in a farce entitled ‘Mrs Brown’s Tea Party’. The fete ended with a water polo match between sights of Wake­field and Huddersfield swimming clubs.

Hot slipper baths were available by the end of August. At the annual meeting it was disclosed that the four months’ opening had resulted in a balance of £65 19s. 4d. but 400 shares had still not been taken up. The second season opened on Easter Monday, 1880.

Season tickets were: swimming bath, gentlemen 21s.; youths (under 16) 15s.; shareholders (holding not less than 10 shares) 15s.; ladies 15s.; young ladies (under 16) 10s. 6d. The baths were open daily except Sundays. Ladies were admitted on Monday and Thursday mornings, and Tuesday even­ings, at 6d; gentlemen on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, and all day on Saturday -admission 3d. Other days 6d.

The Theatre Royal having been destroyed by fire on 15th February, 1880, the directors of the Ramsden Street Baths obtained a wood floor at the end of the season, and the hall was again available for letting. Now there was a steady demand, and a new source of income for the company, but it did not last long. The new town hall was opened the next winter one took the best bookings.

Before the end of the ninth season the Ramsden Street Baths were offered for sale by auction. Only £1,900 was bid on 16th August, 1887, and it was withdrawn. Before the decision to sell, the company had asked the Corporation Waterworks Committee for a free supply of water and had been refused. The Central Wards Committee was approached, but they declined to take over the baths. Early next year the company went into liquidation, leaving the property in the hands of the mortgage, with the whole of the share capital a dead loss.

Ald. J. Varley was successful at the town council meeting on 16th May in proposing that a sub-committee should report on the question of providing a system of public baths for the whole borough. The sub­committee subsequently reported that the Ramsden Street Baths should be secured by the corporation. It was recommended the Central Wards Committee purchase at the most favourable price. This time the Central Ward Members took the plunge!

Cllr. J, (Brierly), however, strenuously attacked the proposed purchase. While in favour of baths, he regarded the Ramsden Street pool as ‘mean and paltry,’ and the slipper baths `dirty and dismal’. The baths had proved disastrous to their owners, and resulted in a £300 loss each year. Ald. Reuben Hirst said he would not have them given. The voting on the reference back – against purchase-was: for three, against 37, abstainers three,

On 10th August the Central Wards Com­mittee acquired the property for £2,000. No time was lost in reopening the baths, which took place on Saturday, 18th August, and 343 bathers passed the turnstile. Mr Tom Ellam was appointed temporary superintendent, being superseded in June 1889; by Mr Ambrose White Macey.

Extensive repairs and alterations were necessary during the winter of 1890-91, including a new roof, five additional slipper baths and 44 new dressing boxes. A boiler house and wash-house were erected on the vacant ground in Queen Street. Everything was completed by Easter Monday, 1892, but unfortunately the weather was more suited to Christmas.

A new steam laundry was added the next year, and made available to the public at a charge of 6d. per hour. Each person provided their own soap and brushes, only the machines being available.

Early in 1914 the Finance Committee considered plans prepared by the borough engineer for new central baths in Zetland Street, with a swimming pool 75 ft., by 30 ft., and about six slipper baths. The limit of expenditure was £5,000. Upon completion it was proposed to appropriate the existing Ramsden Street Baths for the use of ladies and children only.

Subsequently the town council decided in favour of larger and more adequate central baths. Sir J. F. Ramsden offered a site in Cambridge Road at a nominal rental of £1 ls. per annum. Only the outbreak of war prevented the scheme being implemented. Actually the lifting of the first sod of the new Cambridge Road Baths did not take place until 1928, the foundation-stones being laid the following year. The opening took place on 24th August, 1931.

During 1930 the Ramsden Street Baths once again held the public attention. Miss Mercedes Gleitze, a London typist, who swam the Channel in 1927, entered the pool at 10.31 on Friday morning, 4th April, in an attempt to establish a new British record by swimming for 33 hours.

At 7.32 on the Saturday evening she accomplished the feat. The attendance dur­ing the two days was 8,000. Miss Gleitze undertook a similar endurance swim at Cam­bridge Road Baths at the end of 1932, on this occasion of 462 hours.

After the opening of the new Corporation Baths the Ramsden Street Baths were com­pletely reconstructed at a cost of £1,700. The swimming pool was finished in a shade of light green, and the former laundry turned into a clubroom.

The Mayor (Ald. Fred Lawton) reopened the baths on 2nd May, 1939, and then 11year-old Richard Miskell dived in off the top board and swam a length. Less than two months before, fully clothed, he had rescued a 10-year-old boy from the canal. Richard was presented with a free pass for one year to any swimming bath in Huddersfield.

Since 1957 the Education Committee have had the exclusive use of the Ramsden Street Baths during school hours. Public bathing has taken place all day on Saturdays and Sunday mornings during the summer months. The property forms part of the central development scheme, and possession will be given on 1st April, 1972.

The Gymnasium Hall has certainly enjoyed a truly breath-taking career. It has served the town as a swimming bath for nearly 93 years, and for this will be chiefly remembered by the present generation. Some­thing of its great past as a centre of entertain­ment and social function has been recalled in this series of articles. Now the end is near and only the memories survive.

The New Director
Norman Holgate, M.Inst.B.M., who has been appointed director of the new sports complex at Huddersfield, has had previous service at Bingley, Hitchin (Herts.), Wednesbury and of course Huddersfield. His deputy is a physical educationalist, Alan Whitfield, whose previous service was at Gillingham Forum.

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One Response to “Ramsden Street Baths”

  1. Mr Robert A Milthorpe says:

    I did not know these baths ever existed.

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