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The Old Baths – Christina Byrne

Social History Essay on Clydebank by Christina Byrne

bruce street baths main pool

Bruce Street Baths Main Pool

Go for a swim these days and you’ll find yourself in something called a Leisure Centre.  Swish and sophisticated it will have rooms with sprung dance floors and wall to wall mirrors for aerobic classes, a gym with lethal machines to trim, tone and torture, possibly a roller-skating rink and an indoor bowling green.  There may even be a massage parlour.

Clydebank has such a place -the Play Drome with a choice of three pools.  There is the full size Olympic type pool for goggle-wearing serious swimmers.  Fun-seekers cavort in the leisure pool, mock surfing courtesy of the wave machine, and the tinies splash safely in their own little pond.

It’s a long way from the good old days when Bankies could opt to swim either in the Old Baths which were old, or the New Baths which were also old but not as old as the Old Baths.

The Old Baths were in Hall St. next to the Fire Station and opposite the Police Station.  The pool was small with worn granite steps leading down to its chipped tiled base.  

There was only a three foot space between the changing cubicles and the pool and the area was always awash and treacherous.  The draught from the ever open outside doors made the changing cubicles hell below zero with doors that started twelve inches from the floor and finished well below shoulder height.  What was supposed to be a curtain but was often a torn rag failed to protect one’s modesty. Slipping into a swimsuit involved a type of crouching contortion but it was achievable.

Having changed it is always a good idea to wash before the dook.  

Showers?  You must be joking.  A massive stone bath, steaming and heaving with assorted weans was situated in the little passage on the way to the toilets.  You were lucky if you managed to dip even a toe in.

Despite the lack of mod cons, the Old Baths were very popular and we queued eagerly in the street, jostling to be first through the turnstiles for the chance of a cubicle with a snib that worked and a half decent curtain.

Sessions were just under an hour and it was cheap, I think about sixpence.  We would have to dress and come out then get in that queue again for another turn.

Eventually the Old Baths were closed to the general public although for many years they continued to be used for clubs and schools.

The New Baths in Bruce St. were a bit more upmarket in that there was a bigger, deeper pool, an area for spectators, more tiling and showers.  There was a diving ‘dale’ and a springboard, there were fewer draughts and it had cubicles upstairs.   

As the years passed both swimming pools needed extensive maintenance to keep the buildings and interiors in good order.  Like most pools the roofs were almost entirely glass and when they began to deteriorate the end wasn’t long in coming.

The Old Baths closed several years before the Bruce St. pool.  It remained open for a while after the Play Drome was built but Clydebank Council couldn’t or wouldn’t find the money to upgrade it.  

The Old Baths were demolished, the Fire Station was converted into flats.  There was talk of the New Baths being stripped out to be opened as the new Clydebank Museum but recently there has been talk of demolition.  Will this happen?  Only time will tell.

Christina Byrne

Image by Jeremy Watson

More images of the old Bruce Street Baths by Jeremy Watson

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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