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Haggerston Baths: Caretakers’ daughter shares fascinating memories of pool’s history

PUBLISHED: 14:39 30 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:36 28 November 2017

The opening of Haggerston Baths in 1904, when the vice-chairman of the committee, Alderman EJ Wakeling, took the first plunge and swam the whole length of the pool underwater. Picture: Hackney Archives

The opening of Haggerston Baths in 1904, when the vice-chairman of the committee, Alderman EJ Wakeling, took the first plunge and swam the whole length of the pool underwater. Picture: Hackney Archives

Photo: Hackney Archives

As the consultation on Haggerston Baths’ decidedly dry future kicks off, the Gazette looks back at the pool’s 114-year history.

Haggerston Baths.Haggerston Baths.

At the opening of Haggerston Baths in 1904, the chair of the public baths committee dived in and swam a length underwater.

Janet West was just six years old when her mother and father were appointed as its caretakers in 1948 and the family moved onto the site.

Janet has vivid memories of the baths – the building was her family home for six years.

They lived in temporary accommodation for a while as bombing had damaged the pool roof and a flat was being created for her family at the top of the building.

When all the work had been done, there was a grand re-opening which the mayor attended.

"It might be exciting for the kind of people that are moving into Hackney, but it’s not a swimming pool, is it?"

Mike Coysh

Janet’s mother, the “matron of the baths”, had been a swimming instructor. She performed a synchronised swimming display with a friend who had travelled from Yorkshire.

“It’s funny to think about now,” she said, “because my mum was about 50, and her friend about the same.

“My mum was mortified because my dad announced that their combined ages came to more than 100. I thought it was great but Norma, my sister, was so embarrassed by the whole thing, being 12 or 13.”

At the ceremony, the mayor presented her mother with a Perspex powder bowl that had a silver lid.

“The knob you lifted the lid up with was a cube shape with a model pink rose inside it,” said Janet. “My mum kept it on her dressing table for as long as I can remember.”

Haggerston BathsHaggerston Baths

Janet, who went to Queensbridge School, remembers how there was a flat area outside above the men’s slipper baths.

“The slipper baths were in rows,” she said. “They had a deep bath, a bench to put clothes and a towel on, and a wooden slatted rack to stand on.

“They were open-topped so my view downwards from our flat roof afforded me an excellent view of rows of men relaxing in their baths!

“Eventually I asked my mother why all these men were having a bath and she was horrified when she was shown my very interesting discovery.”

It was not long before the windows and corrugated iron were replaced by a higher structure of frosted, wired glass.

Janet West as a child overlooking Haggerston Baths. Picture: Janet WestJanet West as a child overlooking Haggerston Baths. Picture: Janet West

They moved away when her father retired in 1954. Janet now lives in Chelmsford.

Needing repairs, the building shut in 2000 – and has stayed empty for 17 years. The council has just launched a consultation on its shortlist of two options for its future, neither of which involves a pool. Campaigners from Save Haggerston Pool are disappointed – but still have fond memories.

Mike Coysh and Liz Hughes joined forces to head up the campaign in 2000 after they turned up to use the pool in Whiston Road and found the doors locked.

Refusing to hang up their goggles, they began a community campaign set up to bring life and water back to the pool.

Mike’s children swam competitively three times a week there as members of Haggerston swimming club, of which he was chairman. Liz was a casual pool user.

Janet West today.Janet West today.

Mike said: “We turned up with our kids for swimming one evening along with a whole load of other kids, and it was locked up, It was for health and safety.

“A street party was organised for campaigning for the pool in Laburnum Street. A lot was done.

“A couple of times over that 16- or 17-year period, there was capacity within the community to move it forward – we’ve had architects, engineers, a lawyer who were willing to put time and energy into it, but the council wouldn’t commit them to anything.

“We don’t feel the proposals are something that would excite a lot of local people. It might be exciting for the kind of people that are moving into Hackney, but it’s not a swimming pool, is it?

“We have lost hope, to be honest. Those of us who have been involved for so long are saying: if there is someone who would like to pick up the baton, they are welcome to do it.”

The baths became delapidated after its closure in 2000. Picture: Save Haggerston Baths campaignThe baths became delapidated after its closure in 2000. Picture: Save Haggerston Baths campaign

Two developers have been shortlisted to redevelop the Haggerston Baths building, and both will present their schemes before a question and answer session chaired by the Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville.

It takes place on April 12 from 6.30pm to 8pm in Centre 151, at 151 Whiston Rd - next door to Haggerston Baths.

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