7th January 2017

The Health Hydro Swindon

Whenever I walk into the Health Hydro Swindon (aka Milton Road baths) I’m transported back in time to my childhood in Derbyshire. For in Cresswell we had a mini version of the Health Hydro in the form of a Victorian swimming baths.

Ours wasn’t on the scale of Swindon’s Health Hydro. But it was built with the same principles in mind and had a similar style. I remember the glazed bricks just like the ones in the Health Hydro. I remember too the changing cubicles along each side of the pool. And the bathrooms where locals with no washing facilities in their homes would come for a bath.

We never referred to going swimming – we always referred to ‘going t’baths.’

As with the HH in Swindon, many local children learnt to swim in this pool. We went there on a coach from our school in Whitwell. During school holidays we’d walk across the fields with our swimming gear under our arms to ‘go t’baths.’  And all these memories are evoked each time I walk in to the Health Hydro. I love it.

Swindon health hydro

As the Victorian Society once wrote

What an amazing thing the Swindon Health Hydro is. And it’s a hidden gem: passing it on Faringdon Road you get no sense that the building is open, and it looks more like a railway works than a swimming baths.’ And they’re right. It IS amazing.

And, as they also point out,‘I can’t help thinking that improving the Faringdon Road front, replacing the railings removed in the war, would make everyone notice it a lot more, and perhaps come in for a dip!’
More here: https://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/health-hydro-swindon

What others say about it

Do check out this post from Frances Bevan on her Swindon History Blogspot:
This blog offers a great potted history of the hydro and gives some idea of how forward thinking all of this was at the time:

‘Keeping up with the times, the Medical Fund committee installed both Turkish and Russian baths.  The Turkish bath with dry air heated rooms, followed by a full body wash and massage was seen as being ‘of great value as a sanitary and cleansing agent.’  The Russian baths were a variation on this theme, a vapour bath created by the throwing of water on hot stones, followed by a massage that involved being hit with a besom made of birch twigs and leaves.  In the battle against disease and premature death, anything was worth trying.’

Then rounding up this post is this offering from Chris Humphreys of the Swindon Advertiser. Again well worth a read and a good gallery of pictures.


The Health Hydro’s place at the heart of a healthcare revolution

‘… Indeed, when Nye Bevan, the architect of the NHS, was seeking inspiration for what such a service might look like, it was to Swindon his gaze was drawn.

“There it was,” he is said to have remarked. “A complete health service. All we had to do was expand it to embrace the whole country….’

But what did the Health Hydro mean to the community?

As Graham Carter once said on a social media post:

‘I think it is important to stress that the Health Hydro is far more than baths.

That, alone, would be good reason to protect and keep them, especially as they‘re a rare example of Victorian baths, still in use in the building’s 125th year.

Milton Road baths was conceived as a cutting edge health centre. And that made it a cradle of the NHS but 101 years older. And, even in recent times, it’s housed a wide range of health and wellbeing practitioners, before SBC (the Conservative administration) began running it down.

Over the years it’s served as a hospital for First World soldiers. And the boarded-over pool hosted dances and rollerskating events at which generations of young Swindon people met their partners. And much more besides. It’s a gem that has suffered from poor marketing for years.’

See also for more health hydro related posts: https://swindonian.me/category/artscultureheritage/the-health-hydro/

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