Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Public Baths

“I have a bath, twice a year, whether I need it or not,” runs the old joke, but the Victorians’ concern for cleanliness soon encouraged the creation of public bathing facilities.  In those days of overcrowded working-class housing, toilet facilities were shared, external and had little or no privacy; bathrooms were a mere fantasy!  One of the city’s early public baths which had the addition of a ‘swimming pond’ in 1869 was that established in Crooked Lane in 1851.

The earliest mention of public bathing was at the Beach.  Alexander Mowat was the owner of sea-water baths at both the Sea-Beach and the Quay, and in 1845, the well-heeled bather would pay £10/6 shillings a season for use of the facilities.

The Crooked Lane site was run originally by Archibald Grant, and the secretary was local advocate and insurance agent, D. G. Cattanach.  Mr Mowat and his partner, Alexander Mackie still ran their facilities until 1867 at the Beach and Regent Quay, the latter doubtless catering for grubby sailors disembarking from merchant ships.

1867 OS Map of Aberdeen showing the Baths in St Andrew Street/ Crooked Lane

Modesty was clearly preserved at the Aberdeen Public Baths, as a ‘female entry’ was advertised as being from 40 St Andrew Street.  Ladies could attend to their ‘toilette’ without the fear of any gentlemen spotting them in a state of undress!  

When James Angus took over as superintendent of the baths, he advertised his facilities in the Post Office directory.  In 1857, a first class hot bath or shower would cost one shilling, but if you were a bit short on cash, and liked a brisk cold dip, it would only set you back 1 old penny; salt was 3d extra!  Later superintendents, like Donald McKay (from 1862) only felt it necessary to advertise the opening times, which were from 6am to 9.30pm, daily.  His successor, William Cameron, amended Sunday openings to just 90 minutes from 7am, presumably so as not to disturb local churchgoers.

The Crooked Lane Baths closed in 1887, and transferred to larger premises at Constitution Street.  This was superseded in 1898 by the Beach Bathing Station.  Many folk would still not have baths at home even by the time the Uptown Baths opened in 1940.  Swimming is still very popular in the city, and a new pool or ‘aquatics centre’ is slowly rising from the ashes of Linksfield Academy on King Street, but the days of public bath houses have gone forever.

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