Yeovil Corporation Baths
Yeovil corporation baths
The building of a public swimming pool and baths in Yeovil was first suggested in March 1876 but not approved by the council until 1883. A site in Huish, on the corner of Felix Place, was purchased for a sum of £500 (about £225,000 in 2017's value) and the following year the Baths and Wash-Houses Act was adopted.
The building for the new Yeovil Corporation Baths was designed by London architect Mr Johnson who, ten years earlier had designed the Fiveways Hospital. The building contract was awarded to local builder Frederick Cox whose building company had, coincidentally, built the hospital. The foundation stone was laid in October 1884 by Mayor W Cox. Frequently known as the Corporation Baths, the new building was completed in June 1885 although there was much controversy over the costs of the building, which came to just over £1,500. The main pool was 92 feet long by 28 feet wide (but only 5½ feet deep - a 'deep end' of 8½ feet was introduced in 1933) and there were five private baths, three for men and two for women. The pool and baths officially opened in October 1885 by the mayor, Edward Helliar, and a programme of "clever performances in the baths" were given by Madame Darnley Mitchell, the 'Champion Lady Swimmer of the Clifton Baths, Margate' accompanied by the Yeovil Volunteer Band.
Of course, at this time, swimming sessions of men and women were strictly segregated - propriety apart, the poolside changing accommodation was, of course, one of the chief problems. Separate sessions for men and women were adopted from the start, as shown in the 'Scale of Charges' of 1891 illustrated below. The rules also stipulated "Non-Bathers Visiting the Baths, Half-price. No person allowed to Bathe without Bathing Dress or Drawers. Drawers Free. Bathing Dresses 2d each. Towels, 1d each."
The Yeovil Men's Swimming Club was formed in 1889 and, from County records, it is known that the Water Polo section of the men's club was a member of the County Water Polo Association in 1901 since its team played against Weston super Mare in a Junior Championship in that year. Two members of the Yeovil Men's Swimming Club, Mr P Gaylard and Mr Perry, were elected to assist in running galas in 1909 and from this time on there were two joint galas each year in the swimming pool in Felix Place.
The Yeovil Ladies’ Swimming Club was formed on 13 May 1908 at a meeting held at the Borough Restaurant. They were affiliated to the Somerset County Swimming Association in 1920 at which time the Ladies’ Club paid the club affiliation fee of 12s 6d.
Although the public baths and swimming pool were very popular initially, public enthusiasm soon waned and by 1903 the monthly income of the establishment had dwindled to a mere £2 per month (around £700 at 2017's value), causing the baths and pool to close for an extended period. The re-opening was dogged by controversy once again, this time by the introduction of mixed bathing which was still considered improper and even immoral by many. This particular debate continued well into the 1930s.
Although enlarged and modernised more than once, the Huish pool was finally demolished in 1960 when it was rebuilt. The new swimming pool was, in turn, replaced by the Goldenstones Pools & Leisure Centre which opened on 1 August 1992.
The newly-built swimming pool probably photographed when it opened in 1885. Note the poolside changing cubicles.
Boys from Kingston School receiving swimming lessons, photographed in the 1890s.
Courtesy of Colin Haine
The machine room of the public baths, containing the filtration system, chlorination system and heating system, was retained for use with the new swimming pool. Seen here in the mid-1980s.
Courtesy of Colin Haine
.... and then it was demolished in 1991.
The scale of charges for the Corporation Baths published in the 1891 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser.
An advertisement in the 1906 edition of 'Homeland Handbook' - the Corporation's official guide to Yeovil. Note that by this time the length of the pool had increased by seven feet!