Fore Street swimming baths, Fore St, Ipswich IP4 1JZ

Fore Street swimming baths were opened to the public in 1874.  The site had been donated to the Borough by the local businessman and philanthropist, Felix Thornley Cobbold, who also contributed £1,200 towards the £4,300 building costs.

To the north of Fore Street, in St. Clement’s parish, was a conglomeration of densely packed terraced houses, known as the Potteries, which were occupied by workers from the town’s nearby docks, Cobbold’s brewery and Ransomes’ works.  These cheaply built houses had no bathrooms or indoor toilets. Residents had to share what few communal toilets there were.  Water was drawn from communal wells which were prone to contamination of waste from the toilets.  With the high population density and lack of hygiene, disease must have been widespread.

Cobbold understood the advantage of a fit, healthy workforce which could raise the productivity and therefore profitability of his business ventures.

Similar conditions prevailed throughout industrial Britain.  This was eventually recognised by the government which introduced the ‘Baths and washhouses’ act in 1846.  This was amended in 1878 to encourage the construction of indoor pools.  Between 1880 and1914 over 600 Baths were constructed in Britain.  The Fore Street swimming baths are the second oldest operational swimming pool in the country.

The imposing façade of the building, facing on to Fore Street, is constructed in stone.  The central portico bears the simple inscription ‘BATHS’ above the entrance.  The double doors are flanked on either side by 3 ‘porthole’ windows.  To the left of the doors is a brass plate bearing the following inscription:

‘These baths were erected by the corporation of Ipswich.  The site and £1200 towards the cost being the gift of Felix T Cobbold Esquire. – Samuel Richard Anness Mayor.  T.W. Cotman Architect.  T Parkington & Sons Builders. March 1894.’

The rest of the structure is constructed, more economically, of brick.  The roof is tiled with slate topped by a glass skylight running the length of the pool area.

Links: Historic England listing