The Friends of Swindon Health Hydro
est. 1892 as The Medical Fund Baths & Dispensary

July 2021

Swindon Health Hydro Newsletter -A Swindon Health and Leisure History Milton Road Baths The health hydro in Swindon

Swindon Health Hydro Newsletter No 3 – from the friends of Swindon Health Hydro edited only for SEO and YOAST purposes.

Restoration and relaunch

We do hope that you’ve heard by now that Swindon Borough Council received £5m from the government’s Towns Fund to restore and relaunch the Health Hydro. Along with the £1.5m already allocated by SBC for outstanding maintenance this gives a realistic sum to work with. The tricky job of spending £6.5m to best effect now begins!

Though it may appear that nothing is happening, a great deal of work is being planned behind the scenes to build up a programme of work that ticks all the boxes.

Towards the end of the year we’re hoping to hold some involvement events. In the meantime we will endeavour to keep you informed. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions we would love to hear from you.

Email: friendsofhealthhydro@gmail.com

Showcase

Starting this month we will be showcasing a different feature of the Hydro in each newsletter. This time we would like to highlight the stained glass windows in the building.

You do not need to visit a church to see some truly magnificent stained glass windows in Swindon, just take a walk around the Health Hydro. 

The windows were all made in the GWR works by Mr T Rice and his team of highly skilled craftsmen. What this tells us, beyond the skill of the men and the obvious beauty of the stained glass panels they created, is that the workers had enormous pride in their work, crafting things of beauty for this utilitarian building. The windows look as magnificent today as they did when they were installed nearly 130 years ago.

Stained glass saying Ladies Turkish Baths

A featured article from a health hydro supporter

Recent years have seen significant progress with regard to the Swindon Baths and former Medical Fund Society medical centre in Milton Road. But now we must all keep our eye on the ball to ensure that the prospective ‘renovation’ achieves what Swindon deserves for the future. By that I mean something which Swindon people aspire to today. Something that builds on the physical heritage as well as the social achievement of past generations of Swindonians. Recent steps forward include:

1. The Friends of Swindon Health Hydro group has formed to champion the building.

2. The Friends proposed the recently awarded (by Historic England) heritage listing upgrade to Grade 2* (from 2)thus affording the building extra protection.

3. The inclusion of the baths in Historic England’s Heritage Action Zonlinking the central GWR sites.

4. Swindon Borough Council (SBC) have budgeted £1.5 million for building ‘repairs and maintenance’.

5. Significantly, £5million has been awarded as part of the government’s Towns Fund, applied for by SBC.

People could be forgiven for thinking the Baths are safe, but a close eye is needed on the future. A few months ago the Adver ran a piece that suggested the Swindon Baths as ‘the town’s very own Bath Spa’. That facility isn’t a project to aspire to. It ran massively over its projected budget and provides ‘high end’ expensive facilities in a town with a very different population to Swindon. One with significant international tourist appeal visiting a range of nearby heritage attractions like the Roman Baths. The Milton Road Baths has a unique character that deserves appreciation for what it is and for what it means to the people of Swindon. Swindonians who have so long lobbied to have their railway heritage properly understood and appreciated.

Window hight above the dispensary
Window above the dispensary

What should we be looking for?

The recent Conservation Report outlined the key features which merited the grade 2* listing. One of these is the Small Pool. Right up until four years ago this pool saw crocodiles of school children enjoying their weekly swimming lessons. This opportunity was not only one experienced by local railway children since 1896. Newcomers to Swindon shared this pleasure too. That pool is one of the unifying features of life in Swindon before and after 1986, when the Works closed. The Small Pool should be a top priority for repair and re-opening. Why should we have less provision for children that we did in 1896? (NB: ditto the Oasis – says me – Born Again Swindonian)

The expressed aspiration by the Council for a wider health and well-being provision echoes even more recent innovation. Innovation lost in the thirty-four years since 1986. It’s a function downplayed at the time as the Council emptied the premises of the range of voluntary organisations housed there. The objective being to clear the premises for lease to a privatised ‘leisure operator’. A policy driven by the government policy of cutting local government funding.

The Swindon card

Who remembers the Swindon Card? It supported widespread access to leisure for Borough residents with limited income, in the interests of improving health? From 1986, the £300,000 put aside for renovation of the Mechanics’ Institution*, got spent in the next two years to fix the Bath’s roof and replace the boiler. Altogether, there was an investment of £750,000 or so in modernising the services on offer, including the swimming pools and Turkish Baths. The re-naming as the ‘Health Hydro’ reflected the long understanding in Swindon that bathing formed a key aspect of health and well-being.

*Before the Council declined to take it one for £1

Practitioners such as osteopaths and a well-woman centre developed by local charity volunteers were developed too.

These services and therapies replaced the doctors’ surgeries. They saw re-location to Carfax Street (and recently again to Islington Street). We easily forget how quickly things have changed in Swindon as the town has expanded.

So, the first objective should be to restore to Swindonians the level of provision that they long enjoyed and paid for themselves. Once renovated, wider promotion in the modern town should provide the income needed to provide for programmed maintenance in the future. Thus this level of deterioration should never occur again.

Now seems a good idea to bring together past users and community organisations to engage in discussions and review ideas for future use of this massive complex of three buildings. The future must belong to the people of Swindon, not only today’s Council or GLL.

The Friends of the Milton Road Baths will need support – so if you’re so inclined get in touch with them!

Between them the small pool at MRB and the Oasis, form touchstones of many Swindonian’s lives. Are we going to have a generation of children in Swindon that don’t learn to swim for lack of facilities?!

Other things in need of support

I only wish that Milton Road baths were the only thing needing support. But sadly there’s a growing list: the Oasis, the museum and art gallery – let’s not forget the Mechanics’.

Indeed it’s easier to list what doesn’t need supporting/saving in Swindon these days. There’s a depressing thought!

On the topic of the Oasis: https://swindonian.me/category/the-oasis/

Heritage open days

The Health Hydro is taking part in Historic England’s Heritage Open Days weekend on 11th – 12th September. More details to follow.

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