Great Lengths

The historic indoor swimming pools of Britain

By: Dr Ian Gordon & Simon Inglis
RRP: £19.99 (post-free to UK)
Special offer: £10 (post-free to UK)
Format: 292pp softback 210mm x 210mm
ISBN: 978 190562 4522
Published by English Heritage in March 2009
Foreword by Rebecca Adlington

Swimming is Britain's most popular participation sport. Nearly one in five people swim at least once a month, with around 80 million visits to swimming pools recorded every year. But what of the pools themselves?

Surprisingly, although public baths have formed a vital part of community life since an 1846 Act of Parliament, their story has never been told in popular form. Until now.

In Great Lengths, Dr Ian Gordon and Simon Inglis trace the social and architectural development of indoor public baths and pools, from the earliest subscription baths of the Georgian period to the current generation of leisure pools with their flumes and potted palms.

The golden era of pool design fell between the 1880s and 1914, when over 600 baths were constructed, many of them rich in architectural detail and technological innovation. In Manchester, the magnificent Victoria Baths, completed in 1906 - and in 2003 the winner of BBC Television's popular Restoration series - set new standards for opulence, with three separate First and Second class pools for men and women, Turkish Baths, gorgeous tiling and extensive laundry facilities. Birmingham's Moseley Road Baths (1907), London's Haggerston Baths (1906) and similar establishments in Hull, Nottingham and Glasgow equally reflected the civic pride of their creators, as greater awareness of hygiene and physical fitness brought safe swimming and recreation to the urban masses.

A further burst of activity between the wars saw a new generation of concrete and glass Art Deco baths built in London, Birmingham and Liverpool, as well as Northampton, Wakefield, Rochdale, Crewe and Blackpool. In the 1960s these were joined by classic Modern designs in Coventry, Crystal Palace and Edinburgh.

Packed with archive and contemporary illustrations, and with 56 case studies of surviving historic baths, Great Lengths is no mere exercise in nostalgia. Although over a hundred pre-1945 baths remain in active use and are much loved by swimmers, many more are under threat, or are closed and the subject of long running campaigns in Glasgow, Bristol, Manchester and London. Numerous post war pools have also closed. For this reason, as well as telling a fascinating tale, Great Lengths offers an important reference for anyone involved in the current debate, whether as swimmers or providers.

Dr Ian Gordon, a former competitive swimmer, is the Chief Medical Officer for British Swimming and has been researching the history of swimming pools for over 25 years. Great Lengths is the first time that his knowledge and archive has been made available to the public.

Simon Inglis is the editor of the Played in Britain series and an architectural historian specialising in sporting and recreational buildings and sites (or sportscapes).

Great Lengths is sponsored by S+P Architects, specialists in designing swimming pools and leisure centres. The company is currently engaged in the design of the London Aquatic Centre for the 2012 Olympics and the refurbishment of the Royal Commonwealth Pool, Edinburgh. For more information see

Warrender Baths Club

Warrender Baths Club

Coaching from the sidelines - the famous Warrender Baths Club now hold most of their training and events at larger, competition sized pools in Edinburgh, such as at the nearby Royal Commonwealth Pool. But Warrender is still their spiritual home, and the pool in which many a child, and future champion, has taken their first strokes.

From page 81 of Great Lengths
(Photograph © Simon Inglis.)

Kentish Town

Kentish Town

Thought to be the work of sculptor WS Frith, the resplendent terracotta detailing at Kentish Town, supplied by Doulton & Co of Lambeth, is worth closer study. Watching over the men's first class entrance can be seen two mythical beasts known as 'grotesques', their function being to repel demons. (Notre Dame and many a New York skyscraper has them too.)

From page 103 of Great Lengths
(Photograph © Simon Inglis.)

Newcastle City pool

City Pool, Newcastle

Now boomed to a length of 25 metres, with a small children's pool at the end, City Pool's main pool is a typical design of its era. The smaller, former women's pool, is similar but without a spectator gallery. Both originally had demountable poolside cubicles that could be removed when the pools were boarded over for other uses.

From page 189 of Great Lengths
(Photograph © English Heritage.)

Great Lengths contents

Chapter 1: Great Lengths - setting the scene • statistics • historic pools and heritage • listed pools • design and management issues •

Chapter 2: Before 1846 - Roman beginnings • 17th century bagnios • Peerless Pool, Finsbury • Royal York Baths, Regent’s Park • Montpellier Baths, Cheltenham • St George’s Baths, Liverpool • Metropolitan Baths, Hoxton • National Baths, High Holborn • Paul Street Baths, Liverpool •

Chapter 3: Early Victorian 1846-1870 - 1846 Baths and Wash-houses Act • Sir Henry Dukinfield • Price Prichard Baly • Arthur Ashpitel & John Whichcord • Thomas Worthington • Park Road Baths, Halifax • Crossley Heath School, Halifax • Greengate Baths, Salford • St Giles & St George Bloomsbury Baths & Wash Houses • Cornwalllis Street Baths, Liverpool • Bilston Baths • Kent Street Baths, Birmingham • Greenwich Baths • Lambeth Baths & Wash Houses • Mayfield Baths, Manchester • Oriental & General Baths, Leeds • Brill’s Baths, Brighton •

Chapter 4: Late Victorian 1870-1901 - building boom • Turkish baths • multi-purpose event venues • growth of private baths clubs • Agnes Beckwith and women’s swimming • water polo • formation Amateur Swimming Association • floating baths • Alfred Hessell Tiltman • Henry Spalding • Alfred Cross • Sir John James Burnet • Ashton-under-Lyne Baths • Victoria Salt Water Baths, Southport • Arlington Baths Club, Glasgow • Western Baths Club, Glasgow • White Rock Baths, Hastings • North Woodside Baths, Glasgow • Warrender Baths, Edinburgh • Westbury Baths, Wilts • Glossop Baths • Dulwich Baths • GWR Medical Fund Baths, Swindon • Drumsheugh Baths Club, Edinburgh • Camberwell Baths • Cambridge Street Baths, Batley • Fore Street Baths, Ipswich • Victoria Baths, Nottingham • Alloa Baths • Skibo Castle • Portobello, Edinburgh • City Baths, Chester • St Pancras Baths, Kentish Town • Paddington Baths • Whitfield Street Baths, St Pancras • Starbeck Baths, Harrogate • Steble Street Baths, Liverpool • Cheltenham College Baths • Laurie Grove, Lewisham • East Hull Baths • Essex Road Baths, Islington • Cossington Street, Leicester • Crown Baths, Kennington •

Chapter 5: Edwardian 1901-1918 - public baths come of age • unprecedented exuberance • technological advancement • mixed bathing • slipper baths • Kenneth Cross • Agnes Campbell • James Ernest Franck • Henry Price • Rob Derbyshire • Henry Taylor • Jack Jarvis • Cadbury’s Girls baths, Bournville • Acton Baths • Haggerston Baths, Hackney • Bramley Baths, Leeds • Carnegie Baths, Dunfermline • Beverley Road, Kingston-upon-Hull • Victoria Baths, Manchester • Chelsea Manor Street Baths • Moseley Road Baths, Birmingham • Royal Automobile Club • Govanhill Baths, Glasgow • Fulham Baths • Green Lane, Birmingham • Pitt Street, Portsmouth • Withington Baths, Manchester • Gibson Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne • Hackney Baths • Woodcock Street, Birmingham • Hammersmith Baths • Manor Place Baths, Walworth •

Chapter 6: Inter War 1918-1945 - creating a fitter Britain • growth of school swimming • improved water filtration and purification systems • Hyg-Gard-All wire baskets • Art Deco designs • Victory Baths, Renfrew • Porchester Centre • Northumberland Baths, Newcastle-upon-Tyne • York Hall, Bethnal Green • Marshall Street Baths, Westminster • Queen Street Baths, Derby • Thimblemill Road Baths, Smethwick • Empire Pool, Wembley • Pioneer Health Centre, Peckham • Upper Mounts Baths, Northampton • Seymour Place Baths, Marylebone • Central Baths, Rochdale • Earls Court • Flag Lane Baths, Crewe • Ironmonger Row, Islington • Bon Accord, Aberdeen • St Matthews Baths, Ipswich • Sparkhill Baths, Birmingham • Miners Welfare Fund pools • Hornsey Road Baths, Islington • Poplar Baths • Urmston Baths • Bristol North Baths • Bristol South Baths • Jubilee Pool, Bristol • SS Brighton • Derby Baths, Blackpool • Kingsway Baths, Lancaster • City Baths, Wakefield • Chadderton Baths •

Chapter 7: Post War 1945-1970 - rebuilding Britain • launch of the NHS • Wolfenden Report • establishment of Sports Council • National Recreation Centre, Crystal Palace • Coventry Central Baths • Richmond Baths • Aquarena, Worthing • Putney Pool, Wandsworth • Dollan Baths, East Kilbride • Royal Commonwealth Pool, Edinburgh • Butlin’s holiday camps • Central Baths, Southampton • Crosby Baths, Liverpool • Stevenage Baths • Swiss Cottage Sports Centre • Hornchurch Baths, Essex • Empire Pool, Cardiff • Wythenshawe Baths, Manchester • Felling Pool, Gateshead • Walton-on-Thames Pool • Leeds International Pool • Wrexham Baths • Broughton Pool, Salford •

Chapter 8: Post 1970 - decline of historic baths • growth of new sports and leisure centres • first leisure pool at Bletchley • first baths listed • first campaigns to save historic baths • FaulknerBrowns • S&P Architects • Coral Reef, Bracknell • Doncaster Dome • Ponds Forge, Sheffield • Manchester Aquatic Centre • Littledown Centre, Bournemouth • Parkside Pool, Cambridge • Darlaston Leisure Centre, Walsall • Cardiff International Pool • London Olympic Aquatic Centre •

Chapter 9: Adaptive re-use - historic baths buildings live on • recycling centre • dance centre • magistrates court • mosque • Buddhist centre • records office • library • museums • pet centre and fisheries • theatre • pubs • college • training and enterprise centre • flats • offices •

Chapter 10: - Conclusions - pooling resources • marketing heritage • listings • heritage at risk • heritage of swimming •

Directory of indoor pools 1800 - 1970 - baths-related buildings extant October 2008 •