Claire Dunwell looks back at the history of Leeds’s Victorian and Edwardian baths.
Victorian and Edwardian baths in the country to remain in use.
In 1979, the baths were closed for nine months when the roof collapsed and £20,000 was spent on repairs. And three years later, swimmers welcomed water disinfectant which made sore throats and stinging eyes a thing of the past.
Diary readers will recall water-borne adventures at other pools across the city.
During the 1930s and 40s, Armley Baths provided swimming by day and dancing by night. Around 900 people flocked there on Saturday nights to ballroom dance on the 15-ton, sprung maple dancefloor which covered the pool. Interestingly, the floor was larger than the one at Leeds Town Hall
and when the ballroom trend dropped off, the manager, Horace Porter, introduced rock and roll. However, with no drinks licence allowed, the baths couldn’t compete with the new nightspots springing up in the city and popularity dwindled.
In the late sixties, and with an increased demand for swimming, the floor was advertised and sold soon afterwards. Over the years it was also used for wrestling, basketball, bazaars and even a symphony concert.
In 1972, Armley Baths catered for the more unusual customers when it staged two weeks of daily dolphin shows. Two volunteers were hand-picked from the audience to sit in a rubber dinghy, which was placed on the dolphin’s nose. Onlookers watched in amazement as the dinghy was pulled the length of the pool.
Elizabeth Lewis said: “I remember visiting Armley Baths with my mum when I was about four years old, but not to swim, to actually have a bath.
“There was another part to the building which had individual baths, for people who had no bathroom at home, and that’s where we went.
“I remember a very big room with just this big bath in the middle. My mum would buy soap and hire a towel and we would share the bath.
“At home we had a tin bath which was hung on the kitchen wall by a big hook but it was a really big job to take it down, put it in the living room and fill it up, so we used the baths at Armley instead.
“Or sometimes my mum would fill the kitchen sink up at home for me, because I was only little, but I preferred the adventure of Armley Baths.”
As the years went by and ageing buildings fell beyond repair, the Leeds Corporation, who were responsible for the public baths at the time, set about closing them, one followed by the other.
York Road Baths shut its doors in April 1969 because of the condition of its roof and 1977 saw the end of the 70-year-old Kirkstall Road Baths after deadly blue asbestos was found in the boiler room. Leeds Corporation declared there was no danger to health because it wasn’t found in any of the public areas and couldn’t warrant spending £10,000 to fix the problem.
It was the end of an era for swimming in Holbeck and Hunslet when their baths closed in December 1979, 80 years after they first opened.
Bramley Baths have so far been left unscathed. If the campaigners have their way, this little slice of aquatic history could be on the Bramley landscape for some time to come.