Vestry Street Baths
With the expansion of large manufacturing towns in the 19th century the need to provide bathing facilities for the people became a matter for great concern. In the Joseph Dare Reports on Working Class Life in Victorian Leicester, Dare was full of praise in the 1870s for the fact that the council proposed to improve bathing facilities in the town:
'I have heard, and hope the report is true, that the Corporation have determined to erect commodious baths for the toilers in our shops and factories. The town, hitherto, has not been very well provided with bathing places. With the exception of one retired spot on the river, and the public bath on the New Walk, there are no proper places set apart for this healthful exercise, so necessary in large manufacturing towns.’
The Vestry Street Baths were the first purpose built public baths to be opened in Leicester. They were erected by Leicester Corporation and opened on 8th June 1891 at a cost of about £16,000. The Baths offered many facilities including 38 slipper baths and for many people this would have been the only place they could go to have a bath as hardly any houses were equipped with a bathroom. A slipper bath was a bath tub shaped like a slipper, with a high rising back, designed to keep the water hot for longer and to protect the modesty of the bather, even though they had separate cubicles. Soap and a towel were provided for a small charge
Vestry Street Baths also boasted a first-class swimming pool, which was 30 yards long by 11 yards wide and second-class swimming pool, which was 17 yards long by 9 yards wide. The standard of the bathing water in Victorian times was a far cry from the warm, chlorinated water we are accustomed to nowadays. With no water filtration systems until the 1920's and many of the bathers none too clean, the water was often filthy and would probably be changed no more than once a fortnight or even a month.
As well as being enjoyed by the citizens of Leicester for general bathing, the Baths were also the chosen location for many swimming contests. James H. (Jack) Tyers, of the Osborne Swimming Club, Manchester, was an English swimmer who had great success in the 1890's. His first taste of fame came on 19th September 1892, when, in the Corporation Baths, Vestry Street, Leicester, he swam 100 yds with three turns in 1 minute 54 seconds, beating all previous records. He went on to win the English 100 yd and 220 yd championships from 1892-97, and the 440 yd, 500 yd, half-mile, and mile championships from 1893-96.
With thanks to Bridget Masters.