Heritage

The Public Baths and Washhouses Act was passed by the House of Commons in 1846. This important act sought to introduce public wash houses to ensure that the ‘Labouring Population’ had access to adequate hygiene facilities. This act enabled local authorities to establish public baths and to take out loans to build them. Over the following years a number of public baths were built across the capital including in Goulston Square, Whitechapel, that could accommodate 20,000 weekly bathers and included 42 facilities for laundering including tubs and drying closets.

In 1899 Shoreditch Parish opened the first public bath within the district, on Pitfield Street, Hoxton. The building contained two swimming pools, baths, a laundry, a public library and an electricity station. Soon after the completion of the baths, the decision was taken that a second location should be considered in Shoreditch; Whiston Road. The Haggerston Baths were officially opened in 1904. At the opening ceremony, W.R Cremer, the then MP for Haggerston, lauded the borough for its ‘magnificent baths which were two of the finest bathing establishments to be found anywhere in the world’.

Haggerston Baths were unlike the other baths in the area, such as Pitfield Street, as they were focused on washing facilities for the poorer classes, with more baths and a larger laundry facility than Pitfield. They only included one swimming pool in comparison to two swimming pools and did not contain a public library.

The principal elevation of the Baths included a neoclassical façade in red brick and featured two entrances from the street (one for male and one for female users). In the centre of the main hall was a large, sunken swimming pool (100 feet long by 35 feet wide), this was the focus of the ground floor.

Haggerston Baths were equipped as one of the five emergency first-aid posts set up in Haggerston during the 1938 response to the Munich Appeasement crisis. Haggerston suffered considerable bomb damage early in the Second World War as the area’s industrial assets were targeted. The Baths suffered only blast damage during the war. By 1954 the building had been extended to the northwest, infilling the area surrounding the baths that was damaged during the war. Later, an open-plan extension of the ground floor laundry was added.

The most substantial alternations to the building occurred in the early-to-mid 1960s when the building was adapted to focus on swimming and exercise. At the ground floor the laundry was housed completely within the post-war extension so that this area couldbe converted to use as men’s and women’s changing and shower rooms.

Click here to go home