Bath Time

Peg Clayson reminded me about tin baths when she wrote, “When we moved into 108 Albert Street it had a bathroom! We were lucky because I don’t think there was another house in Regent, Victoria, Albert or Sydenham Street that had one. They would have had a Tin Bath that hung outside on a fence or wall. That’s what all my friends had, so I was considered posh. My father used to have a bath at the Horsebridge.”

Whereas I had been fortunate to have always had a bathroom wherever I had lived this took me back to the time, as a young lad, I stayed with my maternal grandparents for a while in Felling, Gateshead. They lived in a typical mine-worker’s row of terraced houses, where each house was had a separate dwelling on the ground and first floors. My grandparents lived on the first floor in three rooms plus a scullery which led out to a rear staircase down into a shared yard. Everything centred on the kitchen with its coal fired range and yes, I was given a bath in a galvanised tin bath, filled with kettles of hot water heated on the range. I’m sure carbolic soap and a scrubbing brush was involved but that might be the grimness of the memory having grown in time!

The point is that ordinary houses of that period, the 19th century, were built without bathrooms and the tin bath would have been brought in from the garden on a Saturday night when the family would take their turns in it, starting with the children.

As the years passed many of these houses would have been altered to accommodate a bathroom. In some cases a bedroom was sacrificed and in others an extension was built to house a bathroom at the end of the kitchen.

Peg’s excitement about having a bathroom was tempered by the fact that it was a stand-alone brick one in the back yard. This meant that her father had to fill it with buckets of hot water from the Copper in the scullery and when she had bathed he would wrap her in a towel and carry her back into the house for her mother to dry her. Hard enough with one child, but there were several more.

In discussions with local historians it seems that many took a bath much less regularly. The consensus of opinion, particularly amongst boys, is that they all smelled as bad as each other so no-one really noticed!

Peg mentioned that her father had his bath at the Horsebridge. Today that would conjure up an image of him sitting in a bath in the Horsebridge Centre’s main gallery, or perhaps bathing off the Horsebridge slipway, but in fact it would have been somewhere in between those two points, at the town’s Public Baths.

The Baths were in a building, also housing toilets, on the opposite side of Sea Wall to the Pearson’s Arms, where now the gated dwellings stand that were built to fund the Horsebridge Centre.

Originally the position of, and possibly the same building as, the Whitstable Pure Ice Works which was founded sometime after 1873 by George Warner using recently developed techniques. Previous to that ice had to be brought in from Norway. George moved his plant to Canterbury in 1910 and at some stage later the Public Baths were built by the Whitstable Urban District Council.

The Baths seemed to have been popular, but over the years as more houses had bathrooms the demand decreased. In March 1975, with mounting costs of replacing failed boilers, Canterbury City Council decided to close the Baths. It was noted at the time that there were still 500-600 houses in the town without bathrooms, but the fact that only 6 baths per week were being taken at the Baths sealed their fate.

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