London – Public Baths Kensington

Teaching Boys To Swim At The Kensington Public Baths

The image below was published by Cassell & Co London in The Queens London.

The caption reads;
‘Thanks to the public-spirited efforts of the London School Swimming Association, some 20,000 London schoolboys and schoolgirls are now being taught to swim, in accordance with a well-thought-out system of instruction, some features of which are illustrated in our picture. The Kensington Baths, situate in the Lancaster Road, North Kensington, are amongst the largest in London; they include swimming and private baths for both men and women, and also a public laundry, containing as many as sixty washing compartments, and every convenience for drying, ironing, etc. In a recent year the number of bathers of both sexes was close upon 110,000; the number of women using the laundry in the same period was within forty of sixty thousand.’

Teaching Boys to Swim at Kensington Public Baths Cassell & Co The Queens London 1896

North Kensington Laundry Blues (1974)

A documentary film was made by Robin Imray in 1974 that offers a valuable historical record of the Kensington Baths establishment also known as Silchester Road Baths. The film is available on the Vimeo web site.

North Kensington Laundry Blues (1974) on Vimeo 

The wording associated with the video is presented below.

‘A documentary film made by Robin Imray about the bath and wash house on Silchester Road. In the 1970s the area was being redeveloped with the building of Lancaster West estate.

The bathhouse was on the point of being closed down and demolished by the council. Local activist, Jenny Williams, featured in the film, was one of many women (and men) campaigning to save the building which had been a vital social amenity since the Victorian era.

Robin: “I was a film student in the 1970s and I read about the closure of the laundry and the baths and the campaign to try and keep it open which was being masterminded by Jenny Williams. And I did a student film about it. I spent about three days filming there. It was the most brilliant place.

There were five different entrances to the slipper baths. Men’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Class. Women’s 1st Class and 2nd Class. Surprisingly, there were no third class women. And there were three swimming pools, two of which could be floored over in the winter to have your dances and things like that.

And the laundry bit of it was completely extraordinary. Imagine a metal galvanised wall with stalls coming of it on both sides and within each stall area there was a short back basin and a bigger front basin. The short back basin you put your whites in and you then opened a steam tap into it (god knows what health and safety would say!) and boiled the clothes. Presumably you kept your hand out of the way and then you rinsed off in the other basin. And also If you imagine a filing cabinet on its side and instead of drawers you had rods. And you pulled this thing out from the wall and hung your stuff to dry, pushed it back in and hot air circulated inside this type of filing cabinet. It was the most extraordinary thing.

So sad that it’s gone.

The poignant thing about the film are the final shots.

We were locating the baths in terms of its area and to do it we went to the top of the highest building around. Of course, the highest building in the area was Grenfell which was not finished. There were no lifts in the building and we carried the camera gear up to the top.”

This film was screened as part of a double bill with Washing Dirty Linen In Public (2019) in a curated programme produced by Constantine Gras for the Portobello Film Festival, 2019.’

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