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  Exploring Southwark and discovering its history

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Wellington Public Baths, Old Kent Road

The Wellington Public Baths on Old Kent Road were the third public baths to be built in the Borough of Camberwell as a result of the Vestry adopting the Bath and Wash-houses Act of 1946.  (For further information on the Act and Camberwell’s adoption of the Act see here.)  Camberwell Public Baths and Dulwich Public Baths had opened in 1892 but the opening of the third baths to serve Peckham was delayed until 1905.  It was situated  on the corner of Old Kent Road and Marlborough Grove and perhaps derived its name from the Duke of Wellington public house situated opposite on the south side of Old Kent Road.


The building was very grand in appearance though typical of municipal buildings of its time and boasted the first Turkish Baths and vapour baths to be installed in municipal baths in London.  A representative from the South London Press met with the architect Mr E Harding Payne a short while before the baths opened and had a tour around the building starting with the Turkish Baths in the basement.  He reported:


“We descended to the basement and soon perceived how the skill of the architect had pressed every inch of the space, so to speak, into service.  The baths are easy of access for either men or women (on alternate days), the entrance staircase being arranged just at the back of the ticket office in the Old Kent Road.  The whole will be well lighted and ventilated from top-light and from areas, through ventilation being thereby obtained.  The cooling room is provided with couches for 12 persons, and low screens will be arranged round these.  The plunge bath, quite a large one of its kind, and reminding one of the Roman models, is 23ft by 7 ft 6ins and varies in depth from 3ft at each end to 4ft 6 in in the centre.  There is a shampooing-room and three hot rooms are provided en suite.  The Russian vapour, or second class bath, is also excellently arranged and here bathers will be able to enjoy an unaccustomed luxury at a comparatively cheap rate.


“The first class swimming bath – a magnificent specimen of its kind, and provided with a loft vaulted roof, is approached by a marble entrance hall and corridor, which however, will only be used on occasion when, at the close of the swimming season, the bath, covered in by a splendid flooring, is hired for public meetings, entertainments, and miscellaneous social functions.


“The second class swimming bath is likewise a model of its kind, and contrary to the view of some professional critics, is provided not merely with ample but liberal lighting facilities.


“A tour of the wash-houses and the hundred and one necessary accessories of this department impressed the visitor with the completeness as well as the extent of the undertaking.


“A few of the special features of the great undertaking may be enumerated.  Water will be obtained from a well specially sunk.  An independent installation of electric lighting has been arranged for.  There is a special pumping machinery for the drains.  And a cold water tank, capable for storing 60,000 gallons, has been placed over the wash-house, carried by girders and stanchions.


“It is a big, if costly enterprise, and with its imposing exterior the building is in many respects a noteworthy accession to the architectural amenities of South London.”

(South London Press, 16 September 1905)


The building was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War and the site left empty for a number of years.  A residential development, the Bath House, has recently been completed on the site.