Friday, 25 July 2008

Ealing Baths

Back in the days when not every house had its own bath, the local authorities provided public baths. These were in the same building as the swimming pool, which, once in Junior School, I would visit with my class once a week. These were in the Longfield building behind Ealing's rather splendid Victorian Town Hall.

The class would travel by coach (a Bedford Duple, if I recall) down the Uxbridge Road, and we'd troop off to the changing rooms. The swimming pool was to the right of the baths, a row of cubicles, a white enamelled bath in each. It was here that the working classes could sit and soak in warm, soapy water, and get clean for sixpence.

Those were the baths (which, having a bathroom at home, we didn't have to use). Then there was the pool.

Now... was there such as thing as First Class and Second Class pool? I can vaguely remember... or was this at Acton? One with a balcony? No trace on the Net...

The adjacent pool was white tiled, Victorian, smelling strongly of chlorine (if I close my eyes I can imagine the smell), with changing cubicles on either side (male to the left, female to the right). There was a pile of wooden (later expanded polystyrene) floats for learners to grasp as they propelled themselves with their legs, a lifebelt or two, some nets on sticks to remove debris. All was well-run, but showing signs of age. This swimming pool was a far cry from the modern, Olympic-length pools that the council would build in Northolt and Perivale. But at the time, in the early 1960s, pools like this were the norm (I also swam at the Brentford and Acton pools, both of similar vintage and style).

As well as the chlorine smell, the other characteristic of pools of this age were the pool attendants - chaps called Reg or Vic, wearing white slacks, white vests, white plimsolls - trim of physique, in their forties or fifties (probably ex-Army PT instructors). Their chief attribute was their tuneful whistling. They would use the unique acoustic properties of the swimming pool to optimal use whistling popular melodies from the 1930s and '40s.

Apart from school trips to the Ealing Baths, I'd also go from time to time with my father and brother, especially in summer. I'd be dressed in shorts (over my swimming trunks), sandals and t-shirt, so I'd be into the nearest empty cubicle to get undressed, and in the water in seconds.

Note: This was an age of social trust. No one nicked things from cubicles. You'd just find an empty one, leave your clothes (and watch,wallet and keys if you were grown up), go for a swim, and, having remembered your cubicle number, you'd return to find it all there where you left it.

Things obviously got worse by the time Northolt and Perivale swimming pools were opened; these had lockers, with keys, that you safety-pinned to your trunks.

Below: Ealing Town Hall, 1900. The baths were directly behind, entrance from Longfield Avenue, the road to the left of the Town Hall.


9 comments:

JohnF85 said...

You are right about more than one pool. One was 3d, where all the kids went and then there was one for either 8d or 1s I can't quite remember, because that's where the adults went and it wasn't as much fun as the 3d Longfields as we used to call it!! Wonderful memories. You are also right about your stuff not being nicked even if it was busy and you had to share a cubicle with someone!!

Tony Cowburn said...

I used to swim there regularly as a child in the 1960's, and I recall at least 3 pools, possibly 4.

On the extreme left on entry turnstile was the five pennies (5d entrance fee) pool, which was not particularly deep at the 'deep end'. The story was that there had originally been some diving boards, before my time, but they had been removed after an accident in the not-deep-enough end when a diver had broken their neck. (Of course this may have been just a story by parents or teachers to frighten young children.... But it is certainly true that there were no diving boards, and the deep end was only about 5 feet.

Next to it was main pool, with diving boards (up to 5m I think) and a spring board. It did indeed have changing cubicals down each side, male on the left, female on the right. There was a high roof and a balcony, with more changing cubicals down each side, and some 'open plan' area with some early lockers at one end of the balcony. There were toilets just off of the other end, on the ground floor, which were not heated, at all. This pool was termed the nine pennies, being 9d entrance fee, which changed to one shilling either before or after a certain time in the evenings!

The next pool was the three pennies (3d entrance, and as another user commented this was a quite shallow pool that was good for learners. I have a feeling there was another pool next to that one, the 'Longfield pool', which was even shallower, and lower cost, maybe 2 1/2 pence? But I never used these pool(s), so my recollection of them isn't nearly as clear as the other two.

Keith Littlejohns said...

I lived in Ludlow Road on the Bentham Garden Suburb and Ealing Broadway was an important part of my extended home turf in the 1960s. My mother was manageress of a dry cleaning shop in Springbridge Road, which meant that pre-teens and as a teenager I spent a lot of time in and around EB. The ABC Cinema, particularly the ABC Minors Club on Saturday mornings kept me occupied whilst my mother was working in the dry cleaning shop and the swimming baths were another attraction that I very often used likewise and most often with my mates.

There were three swimming baths behind Ealing Town Hall, "Longfield" which had a 3d entrance fee and was incredibly shallow with a maximum depth of 3ft - As Tony mentioned this bath was good for learners and is where I learnt to swim properly (as opposed to doggy paddle at the seaside) at 7 years of age during school swimming lessons when attending Montpelier School; The next bath up "Juniors" or "Second Class", either term was commonly used, had, as Tony remembers, a 5d entrance fee (big old pennies) via a turnstile. This bath was certainly around 5ft at the deep end and devoid of any diving boards; The final bath was the "First Class" occasionally called "Adults" and had a two tier payment system 9d and 1shilling depending on time of day and day of week. This bath was used by the more serious swimmers and was sometimes closed in the evening to the general public when the local swimming club had exclusive access. This bath had two diving boards, one a spring board and the other a high board structure with platforms at different heights. I can also concur that innocence abounded regarding theft of personal belongings that we left in dressing cubicles, we just never gave it a thought.

Unknown said...

Great memories. Me and my brother learned to swim here with the cubs and then at Saturday morning lessons with Swimming teacher Mr Dunville. We also lived on the Brentham Estate (Fowlers Walk) and went to Montpellier School. Happy days

Keith Littlejohns said...

Happy days indeed! I had a good school friend from Montpelier days who lived at 97 Fowlers Walk, name of John Boyce. His father was the manager of Barclays Bank in Ealing Broadway and a very serious bowls player at Brentham Club winning a number of trophies. John lived at the same address all his life and sadly passed away in 2011.
Keith Littlejohns

Giles Raine said...

I remember the hot drink vending machine that sold everything form hot oxtail or tomatoe soup to hot chocolate, coffee or tea. If the machine was working all of the drinks tasted the same

Giles Raine said...

I was always scared of the end pool as my mum had told me the baths were closed during WW2 because of a Polio outbreak and that they used the baths as a morgue!

Giles Raine said...

I also remember that after swimming on a Saturday we would stop in Woolworths opposite the townhall to buy broken biscuits (less money)

Unknown said...

As I remember it, there were actually FOUR pools in the complex - three in the main building, designated 1st, 2nd and 3rd class - and the Longfield Bath in an adjacent building. The 1st class was largest, with the 2nd class to its left, and 3rd class to its right in the main part of the building.