News from Played in Britain

Swimmers celebrate reopening of Soho's Marshall Street Baths

September 24 2010


The Gala Pool at Marshall Street

The Gala Pool at Marshall Street - restored by Finch Forman architects (photo © City of Westminster)

Sue Hudson

Celebrating after thirteen years of effort - Sue Hudson of the Friends of Marshall Street Baths (Photo © Simon Inglis)

Restored and back in its familiar niche - Walter Gilbert's bronze at Marshall Street Baths (Photo © Simon Inglis)

After thirteen years of campaigning, consultation and reconstruction, one of central London's most celebrated public swimming baths has been triumphantly reopened by the Lord Mayor of Westminster. Sue Hudson from the Friends of Marshall Street Baths (left) paid tribute to all parties involved in the £11m redevelopment and hoped that other pool campaigners around Britain would gain encouragement from their efforts.

Echoing her words were Michael Palin, a stalwart supporter of the Friends Group, and the Paralympic Gold medallist Giles Long. In an emotional address, Sue Hudson's only regret was that other Friends had not lived to see the baths reopen, including Roger Deakin, author of the legendary book Waterlog.

Opened in 1931 and since listed Grade II, Marshall Street Baths was designed by the pool specialist architects AWS and KMB Cross. The building, which was originally part of a complex housing two swimming pools, a suite of 73 slipper baths, a health clinic and a waste collection depot, is tucked away in the back streets of central London, and for years was a favourite haunt of Soho residents and local workers. In the late 1940s the marble-lined gala pool hosted a display of swimming and diving by the Hollywood star Johnny Weismuller.

Following its closure by the City of Westminster in 1997 plans were announced to turn the site into a private health club. However, years of lobbying and consultation have resulted in the main pool reopening as a public facility, with the area once housing the second pool turned into a large gym. Elsewhere offices and the former slipper baths area have been converted into dance and exercise studios. The £11m redevelopment has been mainly funded by the conversion of other parts of the complex and site into apartments, by the Marshall Street Regeneration Company.

But there is no doubting the centrepiece, and that is the 100 foot long, marble-lined gala pool, lovingly restored by Finch Forman architects, with its original vaulted ceiling, ornate plasterwork and Walter Gilbert bronze of a merchild and dolphins (see left) back in place at one end of the pool. It is undoubtedly one of the finest historic pools in Britain, and well worth a visit.

For residents of Westminster, entry to the pool is £1.85 for adults (free for juniors). Charges for non residents are £5.25 for adults and £2.15 for juniors.

For more information on the history and context of Marshall Street, and its architects, see Great Lengths.

For information on the leisure centre (which is run on behalf of Westminster) by Nuffield Health, visit www.nuffieldhealth.com


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