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Bruce Street Baths, Bruce Street, Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire

Imagine Clydebank during its industrial heyday. It was an internationally important shipbuilding centre as well as famously producing Singer sewing machines and with those came all the various ancillary products. There were thousands of workers perpetually grubby from their labours. Homes, usually in tenements, rarely had their own plumbed baths, let alone indoor toilets. So if you wanted a bath (if you could bother after many hours of hard labour and just wanting your tea a nap before the next shift), you washed in a basin on the kitchen floor. Swimming in the Clyde was an option although the weather and increasing pollution hindered this. Public baths sprung up in Victorian cities in response to similar conditions across the country. Many were quite substantial and Bruce Street Baths were amongst them. Some such public baths were grand. Bruce Street Baths are not one of the more ornate, but were nevertheless very impressive. Many such baths have been lost or are at the point of being lost, yet through great efforts of local communities, some, usually the grander ones, have been saved.

Main baths. These still exist much as you see them here.

Today if you visit the adjoining Clydebank Town Hall you will come to a pleasant naturally lit art gallery, the Garden Gallery. While it is pleasant and faces out at a small enclosed garden, there is something odd about the enclosing wall. This is because that outer wall is the remnant of the slipper baths. From Bruce Street you may guess, correctly, that it was higher. Alongside it is the gabled end of a larger building and that is of the completely intact main baths. The two were in fact parts of a combined facility. The gap that now forms the garden also had a narrow modern section that was part of the between floors and between the police station and basement level cells. We begin to realise that all this was once part of a larger complex, one that covered almost the whole block.

This civic building complex comprised the town hall, council chambers, offices, a main hall and some secondary halls, the police station, cells and the Bruce Street Baths. And therein lay an issue when seeking to renovate the complex. Listed Building criteria clearly define that anything within the curtilage of a property is included in a listing. However West Dunbartonshire Council wished to demolish the baths. To them it was a separate property and not listed. The listing text made no specific mention of the baths. The Strathclyde Group of the AHSS was one of several groups who protested the impending loss.

With the restoration, renovation and extensive alterations to the Clydebank Town Hall, proposals were put forward to demolish the baths. The building was listed “B”, wasn't it? - so it could not be demolished. There is some ambiguity in such cases of complexes comprising various buildings. The council deemed that only the Town Hall was so listed and therefore the baths were not could be flattened. Enter the scene, Martin Docherty (who was to become an MP). With his efforts and support from various individuals and groups part of these baths, ie the main swimming pool was to be listed separately as “C” category and is now protected, if a little belatedly. But perceptions change. With the town hall now well spruced up and both very pleasant and practical, there is now new interest in the main baths. Even if that building cannot be returned to its originally intended function (there is a new sports centre nearby with a pool), other ideas are being considered for its future. A gallery or a museum are the most popular. It is not necessary to extensively alter its historic form in order to facilitate such ambitions. A floor could be inserted across the pool leaving a basement below and extensive display space above. Contemporary interventions if imaginatively and sensitively done can provide great new sustainable and exciting opportunities.

Quite who designed the baths is unclear, but is usually attributed to the Master of Works of the Clydebank Burgh Council. It was opened 1932. The town hall was designed by the Glasgow architect James Miller in 1902. While the baths appear to be by the same person, the similarity in style appears to rather be an attempt to blend them in well.

This photo shows the main baths on the left with the slipper baths to the immediate right. The modern tower was the stairs to the court and cells. Beyond that are some tenements.

The Bruce Street baths had two components. “Slipper baths” are those including regular baths, saunas etc. ie where one went in ones slippers after a hard day (or week) of work when such facilities were rare at home. An alternative (and more accurate) explanation is that the name comes from the shape of bath with one side curved up high to lean against. These baths adjoined the main bath : the swimming pool. The facilities provided for cleanliness, relaxation and exercise.

Photo of massage cubicles with mouldy carpet before demolition.

The Bruce Street Baths are therefore a very significant part of West Dunbartonshire's cultural and architectural heritage. Hopefully a long-term and sustainable use can be found.

Buildings at Risk Register Scotland : http://www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk/details/913895

Imgur website : http://imgur.com/a/qi3kq#0: This includes a great deal of the now lost section including the adjoining cells, saunas and bad language scrawled on the walls.

HES - listing : http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB51432 HES llisting including a description of public baths in Scotland.

BBC : http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/glasgowandwestscotland/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8336000/8336787.stm : A description of tenement life.

Daily Record : http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/lidos-victorian-pools-turkish-baths-6509844: A description of Victorian baths.

The Herald : http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12370373.The_race_to_save_our_pools/

 

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