Today, it is hard to imagine Britain without its network of public pools and leisure centres. Many of the athletes competing at London 2012 were first introduced to their sports at grass-roots community facilities. Subsidised and open to all, they form the backbone of the nation's sporting infrastructure.
Before the passing of the Baths and Washhouses Act in 1846, access to indoor pools was much more limited. Almost all of the nation's pools were private institutions to which customers paid a subscription or admission fee in order to swim. The cost of using these types of pools was generally quite high, rendering them inaffordable for most working men and women.
The Baths and Washhouses Act encouraged local authorities to raise money - either through loans or donation - to erect public washing and bathing facilities that would be affordable for everyone. The baths were to be run at cost: all income was to be used to meet expenses. The Act also required the baths
Although there was no obligation upon parishes to adopt the act (local authorities were able to vote against its adoption), it was generally well - even enthusiastically - received. St Martin in the Fields was the first parish in Westminster to respond to the Act by opening Orange Street Baths in 1847. Other local authorites soon followed suit, with the Parish of St Marylebone opening its Baths on Marylebone Road in 1849.
This section tells the story of some of Westminster's baths and pools. Select an option below to find out more...
Swimming in St Marylebone in the Victorian era
The story of the swimming pool in Marshall Street, Soho
Civic pride and swimming pools in Paddington
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