Thornbury and District Museum May 2018

April 29 2018

The Baths

ANYONE keen to go swimming these days need only head to Thornbury’s leisure centre for a dip.

But as long ago as 1839, a trade directory mentioned a public swimming pool in the town - one that could have been opened in 1832 in response to a national cholera outbreak that claimed the lives of at least two people in Thornbury.

Known simply as the Baths, or sometimes the Bathings, the pool belonged to a farmhouse at the end of what is now Bath Road.

It is not known who thought of the idea to dam up a stream in the field running down from Vilner towards Gillingstool in order to create a bathing pool and public washhouse. 

 But Thornbury was ahead of its time because Parliament passed the Baths and Washhouses Act in 1846 to encourage local authorities to build such facilities.

At the time, the majority of houses did not have a bathroom or even running water but doctors and social reformers recommended people should keep clean to try and prevent the spread of infections.

Thornbury’s pool started as a natural pond before being excavated and lined. It is understood that for a short time it was even licensed to sell alcohol under the name of The Bathin Place, but only until 1874.

The stone-lined pool was 59ft long, 30ft wide and 3ft deep at one end, increasing to about 6ft deep at the other. There were also two diving boards made from wooden planks.

Changing rooms consisted of cubicles at the pool-side and hardy youngsters would swim from April to September. The entrance fee was between one and two old pennies but some children could get in free in exchange for clearing stones from the fields.

For many years, Thornbury Grammar School pupils were among those who learned to swim at the pool before switching to the Blue Lagoon at Severn Beach.

It is also believed there were laundry facilities at the baths and during the 1930s and 40s, some people would go there to wash in what were described as stone baths in the cubicles.

The water supply came from a continuous feed from the stream via a filter bed and was always cold, with shrimps and other small water creatures often seen in the murky depths.

Water was tested every year in April when, it is claimed, a council employee would take a sample from the filter bed, hold it up to the light, take a drink and declare: “There is nothing wrong with that.”

It is understood a child developing polio forced the closure of the baths as a precautionary measure and the pool was eventually sold into council hands in 1949.

Plans were subsequently drawn up to improve the quality of the water, which had been found to be “grossly polluted”, but an inability to get a grant led to the baths falling into a state of disrepair.

They closed in about 1956, eventually being demolished to make way for sheltered housing.

 Information and pictures supplied by members of the research group at Thornbury and District Museum.