25 thoughts on “Swimming Baths, Bath Lane, Stockton

  1. Stockton Baths – A Cholera Prevention measure?

    Cholera outbreaks in Britain brought into focus the need for providing communal public baths. Before the middle of the 19th century, the rich had servants to fill their baths with jugs of hot water, while the poor washed as and when they could with water obtained from a communal water pump supplied by a local stream or river. Most homes did not have bathroom’s, so slipper baths were built by Councils to provide the working classes a place to bathe with hot and cold water provided. In 1858 Stockton Corporation built a council owned baths, soap, flannels and towels were available for those who had not brought their own. Swimming costumes and towels could be hired including ‘ladies drawers’. The early baths were separated into first class and second class rooms. The charge for a first class bathroom was 6d, and for a second class room it was 3d. Up until 1960 most households in Stockton still did not have a bathroom, with many making do with a tin bath in front of the fire, so public bath houses were an important amenity for many working class men and women, the development of gas water heaters enabled most houses to start installing their own baths within the house and soon thereafter the Communal slipper baths started to close.

    (Derived from from http://www.references] Living in Britain during the middle of the 19th century was precarious especially if you happened to live in the poorer areas of the city. Rampant overcrowding, lacklustre sanitation, and an overall absence of disease control created the perfect breeding ground for all manner of pandemics. One disease that held a particularly harmful grip on the population was cholera. During the decades between 1830s and the 1860s, cholera cast a wide net of death and destruction. Within the span of thirty years, it ravaged communities, created widespread panic, and was responsible for nearly forty thousand deaths. Cholera is a water-borne disease. Once someone contracts the disease, they can experience symptoms ranging from extreme dehydration, to diarrhoea, to vomiting. If not treated immediately, cholera can lead its victim into a prolonged and painful death. Cholera flourished due to the lack of an efficient sewage system. Most large city’s waste poured directly into the local river, which in essence, became a giant sewer. People where literally drinking and bathing in each other’s waste! The Community owned public baths originated in the Victorian era when bathing and cleanliness were considered ways to prevent Cholera epidemics.

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  2. Going to the old swimming baths in the 1950s and early 1960s was the ‘poor man’s’ baths, as Billingham baths had a 7’6″ deep end, and Thornaby baths a 9′ deep end! Stockton could only muster a 6′ deep end. It also invoked a trip to the stray dogs behind the old police station, where dogs were kept a week in order to see if anyone would either claim them or want to procure one. Finally, it also involved going into ‘Pete’s Snack bar’/ Staples butchers, to have a slice of dry bread dipped into hot onion gravy! I think this cost 1 old penny.

    Good memories.

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  3. I used Stockton Baths up to age 8 by which time it was 1952. The cold, the smell and the colour of the water were the main reasons I never learned to swim there. I did learn later at Thornaby. I still carry the scars from cutting my knee wide open on the metal steps at the shallow end. The attendant was furious I was bleeding into her pool and couldn’t get me out quick enough. School lessons from 1955 when I started at Grangefield were at Billingham which was much bigger and cleaner. I remember a PE teacher Mr. White, dive in fully clothed at Billingham when a boy called Jones got in to difficulties.

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    • I have many happy memories of the baths were I learned to swim and dive at the age of 11 in 1931 walking there from Newtown school. When I started work at the age of 14 I went there every Sunday morning in the summer has the water was drained away and fresh water was pumped back in and was very clean but had that smell of chlorine, was glad when the bigger new baths were opened in Church road which was more up to date.

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  4. This was our go to place for swimming in the summer hols! We all had to get out of the pool so the attendant could buckets of chlorine in , which was done quite often in the summer ,we all came home with red rimmed eyes!

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    • A late survey says it is not the chlorine itself that effects your eyes, they say it is when urine & sweat of humans mixes with it, hence the showers before & after, so the guilty ones now know what they caused, the survey also said the Americans are the biggest offenders.

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  5. Stockton Baths also had slipper baths. That was a god send for people who had no bathroom in their homes and had to make do with a tin bath in front of the fire. Each bath was in a cubicle with a lockable door, giving privacy. One always hoped to get a cubicle that had the taps inside rather than on the wall outside. If you had one with the taps outside it meant getting out of the bath in order to ‘top up’ the hot water. I remember using those baths in the late 1950s/early 1960s when I lived in Portrack.

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  6. This place was icy-cold and the swimming water was too. It was either Norton High Street Junior School or Grangefield Grammar School For Girls who bussed us to this place for life-saving swimming lessons. I can’t remember which. It felt like we’d not come indoors!

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  7. My hazy recollection is that a bus took us back to Richard Hind, although as Derek says, we walked down after lunch from the canteen in Marlborough Road, just off Yarm Lane after “dinner”, as I still tend to call it. By 1953, when we joined Richard Hind, there would have been a bit more money around for school buses and petrol was no longer rationed.

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    • There is no mystery as to why we were bused to the Baths, it was wartime we had to be all together and accounted for, we could not be let loose to roam Stockton on our own in case of a raid. German planes probed the coast and Tees bay right up to May 1945, they brought V1 buzz bombs and released them over the North Sea. Leaving school without permit was definitely a no no.
      Being counted everywhere by the prefects especially on school buses was something we were used to, one fly in the ointment was the periods we had in St Peters hall. Tech Drawing with Egy Plummer, some English periods with Miss English and PT with Bill Williams the Egyptian swimming champion (never did find out how) so it was a walk down the street and freedom, we also had our school lunch in St Peters then were free to walk back or roam, it was usually roam.
      Odd times the bus did not turn up so we got double maths or French not a fair exchange to my mind.
      Stockton and Billingham Baths were a godsend in teaching most of us youngsters to swim, in many places I was stationed in the Army swimming would be the main relaxation, I swam the Suez Canal many times between boats going up and down does that make me the Egyptian champion?
      When I became a prefect and had to count heads on the school bus I realised how hard it is when they all wore caps and dodged from seat to seat, a few clips on the ear were handed out though I was never one to report lads to the headmaster, a quick clip and it was over, it was allowed in those days.

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      • We walked to the playing field Philip, it was the Ropner Park so just down the road. There was a large open area behind the Bowling Green that was our Cricket pitch football and Rugby field. Those not into sport got to run down and around the lake, the weather had to be very bad for us to miss sports, if that did happen it was St Peters Hall our Gym with Mr Williams, Boxing Fencing with Epees and Cutlass, Cumbrian Wrestling none of which would be allowed under todays H&S. yes we got bruised and sometimes the odd scuffed knee or elbow though it was usually laughed off, you did not show weakness to your mates.
        We were outside kids and it showed when we went in the forces, I got A1+ most got A1 now they have to send recruits to PT school before they can start to train, was life harder? no to us it was normal, I think my Grandchildren miss out on a lot.

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  8. The Swimming Baths was combined with a laundry, in which the local housewives could come and wash and dry clothes. This was very important as many of the houses only had one cold water tap, and a coal fired “copper” to provide hot water. They also often had no real space to hang out the washing.

    Unfortunately I never went in the laundry part of the baths, but I saw local women, pushing old prams laden with washing from as afar as Portrack. Does anyone know what went on inside?

    The hot water for the laundry was provided from a big industrial boiler of the Lancashire or Cornish type that was in a sort of basement, just on the nearside corner of the baths ( obscured by the car). There was an old bloke, acting as a stoker, dressed in blue overalls, who did the firing. He had the time to chat with any of the kids who seemed interested.

    The water in the swimming baths got some heating, but I recollect the temperature was around 60°F (15°C). The cost of a session of 45 minutes was about 3 old pence, but the water was so cold that after about half an hour, the usual procedure was to get out and stand or run about. Then, when the end of the session was coming up, to go back in for the last five minutes, when the attendant would order you out of the water..

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    • Many houses in the area were back to back had no yards or copper boilers, there was one fire in the kitchen come living room and we tipped the coal ration in a cubby hole beside the fire, the poor housewife would need to scrub down as it was impossible to tip two bags without causing dust.
      The baths had slipper baths and lots of the locals got their weekly bath there, for your money you got a piece of soap and a threadbare towel, if there was a queue then it was a very quick bath. Those Municipal Baths were a life saver to the locals.
      When I was at Richard Hind we got a bus to the baths and that was wartime, they did not always turn up so we would have our swimming gear and end up doing double maths or French, I never thought that a fair exchange as cold or not I loved swimming. Mother and her friends would walk us all down the Mill to Billingham baths weekly during the warm weather so modern to us and the first time I saw proper showers before and after swimming loved them ever since.
      Once looking into the Laundry at Stockton Baths all you could see was steam with loud singing coming out of it, I think the ladies using the laundry also used it as a sort of social club, it served its purpose in keeping people clean and healthy. At the time the motto was “we may be poor and have nowt but we are clean” Hollystone was King as those ladies scrubbed the fronts daily including the pavement, a proud lot in Stockton.

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    • I often had to go to go to the wash house section of Stockton baths to help my mother fold all the heavy washing, then push it back home to Buxton Street in a pram. The pram was also used, by me, to bring the cinders from the gashouse for my Gran in Elliott Street, Portrack. Prams had many uses back in those days beside baby carrying.

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      • The last time I visited the wash house was in 1958 or 1959, carrying washing for my aunty. Fortunately, only to and from my Nan’s house in Bowser Street just around the corner from the baths. Bowser Street was in the process of being emptied, prior to demolition, and my Nan was one of the last to leave for Roseworth Estate where we were living at that time.

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    • When I was a kid in the 50s, the laundry was known as the ‘bag wash’, probably because the women took their washing there in bags, usually pillow cases. I used to accompany my mother there from Parkfield with her bags which she pushed in an old pram, the same one we would use to fetch cinders from the gasworks. Inside were a lot of big washing machines and these enormous drying units that contained heated bars that pulled in and out for loading and unloading. The women would wash the clothes in the washing machines, hang them in the dryers and wait around until they were dry, for what seemed to me as a kid as an interminable length of time. I remember the place being full of steam and lots of noise and chatter. My father went to the ‘slipper’ baths once a week as I recall, whether he needed it or not!

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  9. Remember going here as a pupil at Richard Hind in the middle 50’s. We walked down from Richard Hind (in our own time! i.e. lunch hour) and lined up alongside the building waiting for the staff member to arrive. I sure Fred Starr must remember this.

    Years later as a teacher I took my own primary class down here. Firstly from Harrow Gate Junior School and later from Frederick Nattrass Junior School

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    • I’m glad someone has the same memories as me. People have disagreed with me but like Derek we had to walk both ways to the Baths from the RH school. That was in 1949.

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