Alphabet Friday: B is for Baths

June 27, 2008 at 14:27 | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Abbey Road Baths

It goes without saying that, in a town created by Victorian philanthropists, a lot of attention was paid to the moral well-being of the lower orders flocking in from Glasgow, Belfast and Cornwall as well as from the rest of Lancashire. And cleanliness being next to Godliness, what better gift could James Ramsden bequeath than a public bath house?

The Abbey Road Baths were certainly in use as a very elegant public swimming pool in the 1960s, but tastes change, I suppose, and with local government reform in 1974 (which not only plucked Barrow from its rightful place in Lancashire but also stripped it of its autonomous County Borough status), new and thrusting young municipal managers wanted showpiece leisure centres with flumes and wave machines and no room for anything so boring as actually swimming. (Nesh modern people have to have the water warmed up too – now how much does it cost in money and carbon emissions to keep our swimming pools suitably warm?) So the old public baths, however elegant, had to go.

Fortunately the Abbey Road Baths were listed so at least the building survives even if it’s now called Ramsden Hall and houses the Citizens Advice Bureau. It hasn’t met the fate of, for example, the Walney Baths at Biggar Bank, where I made my first tentative efforts to swim and which has now vanished with barely a trace.

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  1. Was it actually a swimming pool then? I thought that it was a public baths as in cubicles with big cast iron baths with no taps, you shouted the attendant when you needed more hot water. I may be wrong, Billy McClure would know better than me maybe.

  2. Well, Bob, I’m always ready to stand corrected and I think what you describe was how it was when James Ramsden opened it and for a long time into the twentieth century. But I’m pretty sure it was functioning as a public swimming pool by the 1960s – it might well have had hot baths in there too.

    The model I know best is the North Baths in Bristol, which also began about the same time as a public bath house and became a swimming pool with the cubicles, converted to changing rooms, arrayed around the pool. It was certainly so when I was a local councillor for the ward in which the baths stand in the late 1990s. They have closed since then but, like Abbey Road Baths, the building is listed.

    Apparently, and I’ve only learned this in the last few minutes, the baths were used as a boxing venue in the 1930s.

  3. When was the Abbey road corporation baths built then? They were located next to the Coronation Gardens just where the magistrates courts stand now. I do know that they were in use in the 60s and were housed in a much larger building complete with Turkish baths cafe and viewing area.

  4. With certainty this building was no longer in use as a Baths in 1964. In that year I attended the Technical College next door and the old Baths was an anexxe to the Tech.

    In one of my classes we used the engineers metal-turning lathes which were bolted to the bottom of the dried swimming pool.

    I doubt that the large pool was ever filled-in as it would be much easier to make it into a celler. I wonder if the people who work there now are aware that there is probably a large swimming pool below the ground floor.

  5. With certainty this building was not a Baths in 1964. At that time I attended the Technical College next door and the old Baths was an annexe to the the college.

    I remember that one of my weekly classes involved using one of the metal turning lathes which were bolted to the bottom of the dried swimming pool.


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