Opened in 1884 to provide bathing facilities where people could wash after a hard day’s work in Carlisle’s dusty mills and factories, the James Street baths quickly became a popular feature of city life. Records show that by 1957 over 100,000 people were using the baths for swimming, washing and – in the case of the Turkish baths – steaming.
Carlisle’s Public Baths to close
Commenting on the closure, Julie Minns Chair of the Friends of Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths said, “So many people have spoken to us about their memories of the baths that we felt it was important that there was an opportunity to say goodbye. Whether you learnt to swim at the baths, jumped off the old balcony or supped hot Bovril in the cafe, do please come along and help us say thank you to a building that has served eight generations of Carlisle residents”.
Built at a cost of £7,750 with profits from the nearby Corporation owned gasworks, Carlisle baths is the second oldest public baths in the Northwest to have remained in use. Only Liverpool’s Lifestyles Park Road baths are older.
The Turkish baths were added in 1909 followed by a ladies waiting room and slipper baths in 1920. The public baths originally comprised first and second class plunge pools, slipper baths and showers for men, and a small ladies plunge pool. The baths were extended in the late 1920s, and renamed the Pools in 1974 when a 30m pool was added.
Over the decades, swimmers from Border City, Carlisle Secondary and Carlisle Aquatics – who trained in the baths – have successfully competed in national and international competitions. One of Carlisle’s most successful swimmers was Wendy Burrell who competed in the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico.
Great big hug
The idea to give the baths a ‘Great Big Hug’ was sparked after Cumbria Distillery approached the Friends Group to star in an advert for their ‘Carlisle Christmas Spirit’. The theme of the advert is community kindness, and the Friends believe that having served the local community for well over a century, the public baths deserve a little kindness and appreciation on their last day.
“We are looking forward to taking a dip in the new pools at the Sands Centre, but we cannot help but feel a little bit sad that after Saturday no one will swim in the James Street baths ever again. After 138 years of loyal service, the least we can do is give them a big hug goodbye”, concluded Julie Minns.
The ‘Great Big Baths Hug’ will take place at 9am, Saturday 12 November. Everyone is welcome and should meet in the Matalan car park just before 9am.