Marshall Street Baths

London, United Kingdom | C.1850

Photo Credit: Soo Burnell

“Whereas it is desirable for the Health, Comfort, and Welfare of the Inhabitants of Towns and populous districts to encourage the Establishment therein of public Baths and Washhouses and open Bathing Places…”

So began the 1846 Baths and Washhouses Act passed by the British Parliament to encourage local authorities to build public bathing areas. The Act came as a response to the growing number of cit- izens who were in severe need of bathing facilities and a place to launder their clothes. Public funds were used to finance these baths, not so much to offer a luxurious spa experience as for purposes of basic health and hygiene.

The Vestry of St. James took advantage of the Act and began to construct the Marshall Street Baths in 1850. The original proposal requested sixty- four pools and baths, and two large plunge baths (which women were allowed to use once a week, on Wednesdays from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m.). There was an extra charge for hot water.

The land cost £3,500, including a house for the superintendent, and in 1931 the Westminster Public Baths were opened to the public. Great attention was devoted to the main swimming pool, which was lined with white Sicilian marble, and further embellished by Swedish green marble used at either end. In a small niche in the shallow end was a bronze fountain depicting a merchild with two dolphins, designed by Walter Gilbert, a sculptor who also created a coat of arms for the gates of Buckingham Palace.

The baths were closed in 1997 for refurbishment that took over a dozen years. The 2010 reopening returned the baths to their former glory. The stunning pool retained its original design, with marble lining and its barrel-vaulted roof, offering swimmers a tunnel into the past.

📖 Full Story Page 174

AWA Community Insight:
subjectmatterart A couple more facts – 1. Westminster almost didn’t restore it in 1997 and it was the subject of an enormous campaign by pool users and history buffs to actually make it happen and 2. It was used for the US troops to practice for the D-Day landings. If you go for a swim there, there is a fascinating installation on the way to the changing rooms with old photos and newspaper cuttings.

One thought on “Marshall Street Baths

  1. January 1, 2023

    I did some contract work at the baths in, probably 1984/5. The bath houses were still there and were being cleared ob asbestos insulation. The baths still worked and were still supplied with water. The boiler house was very large and dilapidated even though it was still in operation. The pool, at that time was unused and a bit "lost". Rumour was it was used in an Olympics. Perhaps most memorable was the outdoor laundry on the roof. Much of it still stood, washing lines, wash-tubs, all with views over the roof-tops. The work we did was just to allow the baths to stay open and the 97 closure was secondary to this. My mother, a veteran of Lambeth wash houses, loved my description of Marshall St and recalled the calls of "more 'ot in number 8"....

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