New Walk Baths (The Albion Tepid Baths)

Leicester’s first indoor pool was built In the 1840s at Nos 3/5 New Walk and extended through to King Street. The Albion Tepid Baths, as they were known, were constructed by Mr John Pretty Clarke, who lived in New Walk and owned a cotton-thread factory, which employed 250 people, at No. 32 King Street. The private swimming bath was forty feet long by twenty one feet wide and the tepid water was fed into the pool from the owner’s factory.

The site of the baths as seen from the New Walk side, 2015

Sadly, the town was still without any public baths, though the corporation had power to provide bathing places under the Improvement Act of 1846.  However in 1849 the corporation agreed to subsidise the Albion Tepid Baths in return for the owner undertaking to provide cheap, public baths. Subsequently the Corporation gave Mr Clarke £100 towards his expenses. There was an obvious need for such facilities as more than 94,000 visits were made to the New Walk baths between March 1849 to September 1850.

Only men were allowed to bathe (swimming costumes were not worn at this time) and they were charged one penny, which included a clean towel. In 1869 the Corporation took over the running of the baths so that from 1870 onwards children were admitted at half price.  There was only limited bathing time available for women who were only admitted on a Tuesday morning between 8am and 12 noon. Joseph Dare, in his reports on Working Class Life in Victorian Leicester expressed his concerns:

'….during another year there has been absolutely no opportunity for the female factory worker to bathe. The time set apart for them at the New Walk was working time, in the morning, when it was impossible for them to attend. Now, what is wanted is, that, at least, two whole evenings each week should be reserved for the female operatives to bathe after working hours.’

The baths served the town for more than 30 years until the baths in Bath Lane were opened and the Albion Tepid baths were demolished in 1880. The site of the baths was bomb damaged during the Second World War and is now Fenwicks’ car park.

Post Office Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1855

The Albion Tepid Baths in New Walk are worthy of particular notice. They are constructed on an improved plan, and by the assistance of steam apparatus the water is raised from a pure spring 90 feet in depth, and by a judicious arrangement, the plunging bath, extending upwards of 4,200 feet, is constantly supplied and 9,000 gallons of water are received and emitted in an hour. There are several compartments for hot, vapour, and shower baths, which can be instantly heated to any temperature; and the baths are furnished with dressing rooms and every accommodation requisite for visitors.

With thanks to Bridget Masters.