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The Old Swimming Baths

The old Swimming Baths, Ashton under Lyne
The Old Swimming Baths, Ashton under Lyne.

The Corporation Baths at the Henry Square end of Stamford Street were opened in 1870 at a cost of £16,000. It was one of the first and largest municipal swimming baths.

The building, designed by Henry Paull and George Robinson, is constructed almost entirely of brick, with some stone decoration. It was built in a Byzantine style and has a 120 feet high tower which housed the flues from the steam boilers and heaters.

Two pools

Sixty per cent of the building was occupied by the main Swimming Bath. The pool was 100 feet long and 40 feet wide and was originally used mainly by male bathers, with a three hour period on Thursdays for ladies.

In the eastern section of the building was a smaller pool, 27 feet long and 15 feet wide, for the use of female bathers. During the winter months, when the main bath was closed, the smaller pool was used by men and women at different times. There were also private bathrooms and Turkish baths. Part of the building was used as a police station and a station for one fire engine.

When the baths were built, the pools did not have a water filtration system, but were refilled weekly, making use of the water supply from the newly-opened Swineshaw Reservoir. The water was replaced on Tuesdays. The charge for swimming was six pence on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but only two pence from Friday to Monday, when the water was somewhat dirtier! A water filtration plant was eventually installed in 1915.

Skating rink

Between November and March each year, the main pool was covered over with a wooden floor, built on wooden supports placed on the bottom of the pool. The room was then used as a skating rink, concert hall and meeting room. The skating rink measured 116 by 50 feet with a raised stage area at one end. When chairs were set out, the ground floor and the gallery could seat more than 4,000 people.

The building was closed when the newer baths were opened in 1975. The building suffered from vandalism and had been allowed to deteriorate. It is, however, a Grade 2 Listed Building and has been retained as a feature of the St Petersfield development.

Hugh Mason

The building is now referred to as Hugh Mason House. There is a mistaken belief, repeated on some web sites, that wealthy mill owner Hugh Mason built the baths for his Oxford Mills workers and that he donated £16,000 for the building costs. This not at all correct - a few years earlier Hugh Mason had opened an Institute building on Ann Street, close to his cotton mills, for the recreation of his tenants and workpeople. This had included bathrooms and a small swimming pool 26 ft by 16 ft, which is probably how the confusion has arisen.

A report on the poor sanitary conditions of the town in 1843 mentioned the need for public baths. The council started to develop a plan for such baths but the plans came to nothing.

It was not until 1870 that the baths eventually opened, at the public expense, at a final cost of £16,000. It had been hoped to raise money for the building by public subscription, but there were not enough people willing to start off the contributions, so the council was obliged to take out a loan to meet the costs.

Fortunately, the land was provided by the Lord of the Manor, the Earl of Stamford and Warrington, who granted the site free of rent for perpetuity.

Hugh Mason, who was an Alderman on Ashton Council, had in fact been a dissenter over the enormous costs of the project, and he had pointedly stayed away from the grand procession and foundation stone laying ceremony. It is ironic, therefore, that the building now bears his name. The decision may have been influenced by the misunderstanding mentioned above.

Hugh Mason did, however, donate some extremely handsome prizes for the first swimming gala to be held at the baths.

ornate Victorian brickwork on facade of Old Baths
Details of the ornate Victorian brickwork on the facade of the Old Baths.
The old Swimming Baths, Ashton under Lyne
The Old Swimming Baths, Ashton under Lyne, overlooking Chester Square.

The future

In 2014 work is beginning to restore the building and put it back into use. The main hall will be retained (rather than dividing it into different levels), which will enable people to see the elaborate roof structure.

Modular units for small businesses will be constructed inside the main hall. This will enable the offices and meeting rooms to be heated efficiently without having to heat the entire vast space. The smaller spaces to the eastern end of the building will also be renovated and put into use.

roof interior of Old Baths
Elaborate hammer-beam roof structure.
interior of Old Baths
Balcony running around side of baths.
interior of Old Baths
Interior view, January 2014.
artist's impression - image: PlaceFirst
artist's impression - image: PlaceFirst
artist's impression - image: PlaceFirst
Artist's impression of the proposed interior of the main hall. The final design may well be different. Image: PlaceFirst Architects.

Click to see old photos showing the interior of the Old Baths.

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