Monday 17 August 2009

Old Westminster Public Baths, Great Smith Street SW1

Westminster's first public baths and wash house was part of the old library complex, designed in 1891 by F.J. Smith. The entrance was to one side, and features lovely panels of sculptured swimmers by Henry Poole, then just 18 years old.

Despite the fact that the facade has separate entrances for men and women, the swimmers are all men - perhaps it was felt that naked men and women should not mix even in allegorical carving. But surely it would have been OK to mix the sexes because they are clearly Classical Greeks and so any impropriety would have the sanction of antiquity.
The central panel has swimmers demonstrating the breast stroke and the front crawl against a glorious sunrise (it must be a sunrise: a sunset would have been decadent).
The baths themselves were demolished in the 1990s to make way for the Westminster Archives Centre.


Philip Wilkinson said...

Another fascinating discovery. Thank you.

williamandemma said...

I remember swimming here when I was a child back in the 70's. The changing cubicles went around the perimeter of the pool which had nothing to damp the waves - it always felt like you were in a tropical storm but then I was only a toddler.

Anonymous said...

I regularly swam here in the sixties - on the mens' days, obviously. It was the only place i found where I could mess about with flippers and a snorkel, and really swim without danger of being bombed or harassed by kids.

Wendy Laigne-Stuart said...

So interesting to see this. My great, great, great grandparents lived in this street, and it is lovely to be able to see things around London from here in Australia.