Hello listeners. I’ve been a bit quiet on here of late – I’ve been rather poorly. Slowly feeling less like one of the living dead. Anyway – what we have here is a link to the website of Swindon photographer Elmar Rubio who has taken some rather fabulous photographs of our rather fabulous and special Health Hydro. Here it is:
This screen shot of a tweet from Mr Shifrin explains just why the Turkish baths and the Health Hydro are so special. Our Victorian Turkish baths are the oldest existing and functioning in THE WORLD.
If you’re curious as to how his interest began: ‘In Bath in 1990, he happened to notice a decorated initial B on a stained glass door panel in a health club which had once been a Turkish bath. This was his introduction to the strange world of Charles Bartholomew who (falsely) claimed to have built the first modern Turkish bath in England. Finding that no one else had made a study of the Victorian Turkish bath, he determined that this was how he would spend his retirement.’
A blog from Historic England featuring our very own Swindon Health Hydro:
‘Completed in 1891 for the Great Western Railway Medical Fund, Swindon’s Health Hydro played a big part in the formation of the National Health Service. It was paid for with compulsory deductions from member’s wages, giving them access to a dentist, hairdresser and surgeon as well as swimming and bathing facilities. Designed by JJ Smith it used red brick from the GWR brickworks; two Victorian swimming baths survive in almost their original condition.’
The Swindon Civic Voice AGM for 2017 is happening soon: 19th October to be be precise.
I’m mentioning it here because the business of the AGM will be followed by what promises to be an interesting talk. If you’ve got any interest at all in the Health Hydro in Swindon this is for you. SCV have secured Malcolm Shifrin talk about the history of the Victorian Turkish bath. And of course the the health hydro is on such!
But you can be assured listeners that there are groups and people in Swindon that care about Swindon, about its history and its heritage and do all they can in whatever way they can. Always. But never more so than at the moment. So, in no particular order, we in Swindon are blessed to have – and no doubt there’s others not mentioned here:
Swindon Civic Voice and the Mechanics’ Institute Trust.Note that although I just happen to have written about the two together in this particular blog post – https://swindonian.me/2016/02/26/swindon-civic-voice-the-mechanics-trust/ – they ARE separate and quite different organisations. Both are charities and both need your membership subscriptions to continue the work they do. Their websites and Facebook pages are below.
So, with a little help from a conveniently handy (geddit) piece of Swindon’s public art standing proudly outside the Arts Centre – see below – a round of applause for all their sterling efforts. Thank you – all of you.
Well listeners, as you know we’ve got a bit of a ‘how do you do’ and a ‘state of things’ going on with the Health Hydro. It’s a ta ta that looks set to run and run so I’ve dedicated a category to it on this here blog as a repository for sharing various pieces of writing about the building.
Then we come to this post from Frances Bevan on her Swindon History Blogspot: http://swindonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/milton-road-baths.html?spref=tw This blog is 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 Carters said in a recent Facebook 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 are a rare example of Victorian baths, still in use in the building’s 125th year.
It was conceived as a cutting edge health centre, which is why it was a cradle of the NHS (but 101 years older), and even in recent times housed a wide range of health and wellbeing practitioners, before SBC began running it down.
Over the years it has also been 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.’
Whenever I walk into the Health Hydro I’m taken 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 was similar in 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 were taken 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.
An article from the Victorian Society about the Health Hydro: http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/health-hydro-swindon/ The article opens with this: ‘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 which were removed in the war, would make everyone notice it a lot more, and perhaps come in for a dip!’
‘Local residents turn to social media to protest again redevelopment of Health Hydro as GLL agree to New Year meeting.
More than 700 people have voiced their concerns on via social media and online over the past 36 hours, over proposals by Leisure provider, GLL, who operate the Health Hydro in Milton Road to build 30 flats inside the building.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Greenwich Leisure Limited wanted to redevelop part of the Hydro’s interior into residential accommodation
Sally Henson who has set up the “Save Swindon Heritage” Facebook group, which has got over 350 members in 2 days, said “The building (Health Hydro) is of national importance, we need to keep our heritage, not destroy it, that why I feel so strongly something needed to be done.”
There has been widespread criticism of the plans since the proposal was leaked on Boxing Day. GLL, the company who operate the Health Hydro and a number of other leisure facilities across the town have said it is just one of a number of options the company were pursuing.
Reacting to the news, Councillor David Rennard, Leader of Swindon Borough Council told our reporter Dave Woods “GLL has come forward with a proposal. They need to consult with all relevant parties and produce a sustainable business case before it can be taken seriously.“
During a Swindon 105.5 Community Radio News Special which aired on Wednesday evening, it emerged that GLL have agreed to meet community groups in the New Year. The meeting, on January 6, will be chaired by South Swindon MP Robert Buckland.
Mr Buckland said “ GLL should engage with local groups and users of the facility to ensure it can continue to have a future. This building is of national importance, and we should look at getting a National Heritage Lottery bid for any renovations needed.”
“On January 6th I will be bringing GLL’s Regional Manager and community groups together at a meeting at the Hydro, to end any misunderstanding, dispel worries which appear to be emerging and get a clear sense of direction for the future of the building”.
Local resident Hayley Jackson who set up an online petition against the plans said “In just 12 hours the petition has gained over 700 signatures which I think really illustrates the passion and support behind this cause.” Ms Jackson continued “If you have some time spare over a cuppa, take five to read the comments on the petition, you’ll be glad you did.”
We approached GLL for a comment, but no one from the company was available.’
‘… Prominent local historian Graham Carter (http://www.swindonheritage.com) said: “At what should be an exciting time for Swindon because of various ambitious projects to restore and celebrate the town’s rich legacies, instead 2017 seems destined to be a year when the energy and resources of volunteers like ourselves will need to be spent on defending what we already have.
“We strongly object to the way decisions are made about matters affecting our town and its history, and believe the time has now come for those who value our heritage to stand up and make their voices heard.”