News from Played in Britain

Great Lengths book launch exclusive

March 6 2009


Going to great lengths - Co-authors Dr Ian Gordon and Simon Inglis proudly display their new book.

It is not often that authors celebrate the fact that their newly launched book has become instantly out of date, but that was case at the Seymour Leisure Centre in Marylebone, London, last night as over a hundred invited guests attended the launch of the latest title in the Played in Britain series, Great Lengths.

After speeches by John Hudson, Head of Publishing at English Heritage, and Keith Ashton of S&P Architects (sponsors of both Great Lengths and Liquid Assets), series editor Simon Inglis introduced to the audience Mike Coysh, chair of the Haggerston Community Trust.

Haggerston Baths in Hackney, east London, opened in 1904 and was designed by one of the leading baths architect of his generation, Alfred Cross. But although listed Grade II in 1988, the Baths were closed in February 2000 and have remained boarded up ever since.

Coysh and a determined group of campaigners have fought long and hard to save it for local swimmers, so it was with immense pleasure that he was able to relay the news, received that very morning, that Hackney Council's Cabinet have agreed 'To develop swimming provision in the south of the borough, including a viable, sustainable future for a re-opened Haggerston Pool.'

Surprised, excited but understandably cautious, Coysh told the launch guests how he had immediately contacted council officers, and had been assured that the expression 'sustainable future' meant that the pool will indeed be re-opened for swimming.

The decision may partly have been influenced by the huge of success of London Fields Lido (featured in Liquid Assets), which Hackney Council restored for swimming in 2006 after 18 long years of closure.


Campaign victory - Hackney Council has confirmed a "viable, sustainable future for a re-opened Haggerston Pool".

Speaking after the Great Lengths launch, Coysh said, 'We are absolutely delighted with this decision.  Record levels of use at the Lido and the re-opened Clissold Pool shows that swimming is an essential activity in promoting fitness and health. A revitalised Haggerston is a key component of any leisure plan for Hackney.'

The Haggerston news certainly provided an extra dash of excitement for the evening, which was attended by several leading members of campaign groups from all over London, including Liz Hughes from the London Pools Campaign, Sue Hudson from the Friends of Marshall Street Baths, Russ Spring from the Friends of Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham, and Gill Wright from the Victoria Baths Trust, Manchester.

Great Lengths co-author Dr Ian Gordon later commented, 'Simon and I always knew that a book like ours would be quickly overtaken by events, but with so many historic baths having closed over the last decade, it was just wonderful to receive such positive news about Haggerston on the day of the launch. Let's hope that the publication of Great Lengths will encourage other local authorities to look at their historic baths as assets rather than liabilities.'

His co-author Simon Inglis added,'In common with other campaign groups around the country the Haggerston Community Trust really have gone to great lengths to keep hopes alive for the baths, including regular meetings with the Council, holding night-time vigils, street parties and so on. They deserve enormous credit for their dedication, not only for helping save an important building but also for making sure the borough's swimmers have local facilities.'

Also in attendance at the launch was Joan Gurney, who displayed numerous historic swimming costumes from her magnificent Bathing Bygones Collection, and Alison Gale from Westminster City Council, whose display showed work in progress at Marshall Street Baths, Westminster, due to re-open itself in 2010 after being closed since 1997.

Played in Britain is also grateful to leisure operator Courtney's, managers of the Seymour Leisure Centre, for their generous sponsorship of the launch, which took place in the former main pool of the 1937 centre. By coincidence, it was designed by Kenneth Cross, son of Alfred, the architect of Haggerston. For more information of the Haggerston Baths campaign, visit

Buy your copy of Great Lengths on our website. Also, visit the Guardian website for further images and background on Great Lengths.

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