Bermondsey Baths

1940s OS map

When even your One Place Study street has disappeared, its difficult to pinpoint local landmarks. Only one of my two street studies still existed when this map was published. Turner’s Retreat, demolished by 1920, was situated behind The Horns pub. Woodlands Place was renamed Bacon Grove in the mid 1930s.

Looking at this 1940s OS map, there were many more landmarks than the Alaska Factory. I have written about it in a previous post. This post will look at one of the most important buildings for local residents, Bermondsey Central Baths.

When you think about public baths today, you might think of swimming pools, maybe a child’s paddling pool, a sauna, a gym, wave pool; a centre for leisure. Back in the 1930s, they played an important community health role.

Bermondsey Borough Council were pioneers of public health. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Public Health department made great efforts to improve the health of residents in the area. Living conditions were appalling for the majority of people. Housing was poor quality. Most, didn’t have access to water and weren’t connected to mains drainage. Houses were multi occupancy with the kitchen often being a space for a family to live in. There were no bathrooms. In some flats, up to 30 people shared a single outdoor toilet. Keeping clean and washing clothes would have been impossible without the existence of these baths.

Bermondsey Baths
Main entrance
Men’s entrance to Bermondsey Public Baths ©Historic England

Bermondsey Central Bath was opened in 1927, replacing the previous baths in Spa Road. It cost £150,000 to build, over £6 million in today’s money. There were first and second class swimming pools, slipper, Turkish and Russian baths and even tiny baths for babies. There was also a wash house for clothes. It’s not hard to imagine the residents of Woodlands Place being regular visitors.

Short clip of Baths at 6:53
Ironing machines in laundry 1959
2nd class swimming pool

Not everyone was happy about the new baths. An article in the Daily Mirror on the 26th September 1927 made it clear that the baths were seen as a waste of money.

There is a fantastic description of the baths in the article:

“The marble halls and the first class and second class swimming pools, with their stained glass windows, would have satisfied even the most luxury-loving Roman patrician.
Below the level of the swimming baths are situated one of the most splendid Turkish baths in England. For 3s. 6d. one may revel in palatial hot rooms where a temperature of from 140 to 220 degrees is maintained.
Ratepayers wonder how many Bermondsey residents will have the time or money to sample the delights of Turkish bathing after paying their 22s. 6d. in the £ rates.
The Russian baths are likely to be much more popular, and it is anticipated that many bathers will pay the shilling fee for the pleasure of sampling the steam rooms.
One of the most novel features of the Bermondsey bath palace is the Baby Department. Here baths are set aside for Bermondsey babies……..

In addition to the babies’ baths there are 126 private baths and an imposing recreation room.
In constructing the building 2,500 tons of concrete, 350 tons of steel, over a million bricks and 1,500square yards of artificial marble were used.”

Whether the baths were good value or not is not for me to say. Evidence from local and national newspapers suggests that the baths were used for a variety of sporting and social events.

Local residents and schools were able to use the facilities until the baths finally closed in 1973. The building was demolished 2 years later. The image below shows the site as it is today.

Google Maps 2021


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