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Original Corporation Baths. Millgate
Photo: RON HUNT
Views: 1,612
Item #: 33568
Postcard showing the original Wigan Baths, Millgate

Comment by: Carol on 28th February 2022 at 17:41

This is the best photo I've seen of the old, old baths. I went there as a child

Comment by: Thomas(Tom)Walsh on 28th February 2022 at 20:32

Bath Time.

Circa 1950.

By
Tom Walsh.


In a time when many houses have two bathrooms with a loo to boot, it's easy to forget that not very long ago the majority of houses in Wigan had outside lavatories, and bathing facilities consisted of a tin bath. Younger people will find it difficult to believe the turmoil that ensued at bath time. The first job was to make sure the coast was clear, and a warning to fellow family members not to come into the kitchen during the ablutions. Most families with children also had smaller bathtubs, younger members had the relative luxury of taking their baths in front of the fire in the parlour. For the larger (tin) bath the water was heated in the washing boiler, which doubled as an 'immersion heater'. Some slightly better off families had most modern of 'mod cons' a geyser, a contraption fitted over the kitchen sink that gave instant and continuous hot water, luxury personified in days before central heating and indoor conveniences! If a quick bath was needed the the water might have to be heated in pans on the gas cooker. If a double quick bath was the order of the day then a strip wash would have to suffice. One lady in an adjoining street would dunk her child in the dolly tub after finishing the weekly wash ,she described the procedure as ' 'The Order of the Bath'! My Mam and others Mothers found this practice concerning, and thought the washing powder, usually 'DAZ' and the added 'Dolly Blue' might cause skin problems. I saw him in town a few years ago he looked perfectly alright. If the new biological powders had been available then it might have been a wholly different story!

Another feature younger people will find incredulous, the old swimming baths in Millgate also had another facility, a series of private cubicles containing a bath which would be filled by the attendant using a key spanner, kept in his overall pocket, guarded like the Crown Jewels, so that he, and he alone determined the depth and temperature of the water. In the time before pit head baths this amenity must have been a godsend for miners. People would sit on a bench in the waiting area waiting for a cubicle to become available, I've used this service very often in my teenage years the price was 6d (two and a half pence) it saved having to prepare the tin bath ,and move half the kitchen furniture! Unlike the swimming baths I don't think there was a time limit, the fact that you couldn't top up with hot water meant the temperature of the water would act as its own timekeeper.

The swimming baths on the other hand had a strict time regime, on entering the lady who took the entrance payment would issue you with a different coloured elastic band, this was put on your ankle, and an announcement would come from on high, a disembodied voice would shriek "Blue bands time up", or whichever colour was due. To be fair in quite times a lot of leeway was
given, but at busy periods the time limit was enforced as strictly as curfew in wartime!

The attendant in the Men's Pool was Mr. Spooner, known to one and all simply as 'Spooner'.
He ruled with a rod of iron, no lad would even think of disobeying him, if you did you'd finish up on Millgate quicker then you could say 'Jack Flash' .You had no right of appeal and it was pointless trying to get your parents to sympathies. In those days whatever those in authority said was sacrosanct . If you did grumble to your parents about your banishment from the pool, the best you would get was "You must have done something wrong followed by "It's Mr. Spooner to you" .
Today I'm afraid in many cases the opposite is true, in such a scenario the child's story would be believed without a second thought. A full inquiry would be demanded to ascertain why little Johnny or Mary was spoken to so harshly and if any longterm damage might of been inflicted by the earwigging!

I mentioned Spooner, sorry Mr Spooners, attitude to discipline, and there no doubt he was a disciplinarian. He was a tall man, or at least he seemed tall to me as a youngster. He had a definite military bearing with a neat little moustache. I used to think I could detect a sense of humour, often if anything amusing happened or anything funny was said I could see the flicker of a smile, mind you it was only a flicker, before his face rejoined its normal stone faced countenance.
I had the pleasure of meeting him years later, he was as nice a man you would ever wish to meet, I realised then that he had to adopt a no nonsense attitude to keep in check upwards of 80 children. He must have dreaded school holidays with a vengeance, six weeks of almost constant chaos!

I mentioned earlier the Men's Pool, again many will be surprised that there were two completely separate pools. One half day a week mixed bathing was permitted, this took place in the women's pool which was much smaller than the mens, and didn't have the balcony that the mens pool had . There were changing cubicles on either side of the balcony with a communal one at one end . It was from that lofty position that Mr Spooner could keep a beady eye on proceedings

This pool could also be converted into a dance floor, the pool had a floor laid over it ,and hey presto you had a ballroom it was a wonderful use of resources. It was hired out for private functions, available for weddings and such like, in fact it's full name was ' The Baths Assembly Hall' I remember attending the 'St Patrick's Annual Children's Ball' there. I often wondered as a child if the pool was emptied before the dance floor was laid over 'the plunge'. I never got the answer to that particular conundrum! At one of the dances I remember asking a teacher about this poser, back came the reply " It's for me to know and you to find out!". In those days this was the standard answer when the teachers didn't know the answer themselves! I also asked the lady in the kiosk the same question, her reply, equally unhelpful "that would be telling". Someone in Wigan must know the answer to this mystery that occupied many St Patrick's children's imaginations on their annual treat, along with countless thousands of couples who danced the night away, also wondering what lay beneath the polished floor.

Comment by: RON HUNT on 28th February 2022 at 20:56

"SPOONER" became the caretaker at the Thomas Linacre School. I think it was the year, or two, before it merged with the Grammar School.
In the first year at the Thomas Linacre.First lesson every Monday morning we went to the baths for swimming lessons which were taught by "SPOONER" We spent more time stood on the side doing the motions of the Breast Stroke .I remember it was always FREEZING and so where the showers. After 12 months I had not learned to swim. On my summer holidays, at our hotel in Bournemouth, which had a swimming pool, I could swim like a fish..

Comment by: Veronica on 28th February 2022 at 22:01

I never seemed to be away from the baths at school and during the holidays. We used to go for swimming lessons as well as Swimming Galas against other schools. I remember the life saving procedure diving for a 'brick' and also swimming on my back with my one hand under the 'drowning ' person's chin and using the left arm to swim with. The 1st question always stayed in my mind, " How would you approach a drowning person? Answer : From the rear and with caution. Thank God I never had to save anybody.! The building brings back many memories.

Comment by: Cyril on 1st March 2022 at 00:32

Tom, surely the water would be left in the pool when covered over with the wooden boards, not only would it take an age to re-fill, it would be far safer in the event a board gave way for a person to fall into 6'6" of water; than for them to fall that height onto a hard tiled pool floor.

I remember those lessons Ron, complete with a cork float, I remember getting a certificate but can't remember how far or which strokes you had to be able to swim before gaining it. The inside of the baths and the pool was always freezing and those attendants thought it great fun to spray lads with even colder water from a hose pipe.

Comment by: walt (nth Yorkshire) on 1st March 2022 at 07:21

My memory is Wednesday's only, mixed bathing, all other times lads and lassies were kept separate in male and female pools . Changing into swimwear in cubicles high up on the balcony, leaving your basket and collecting your token. After an hour or so hearing the whistle and being called out, "time up" , standing in the showers under the hot water until being told to get out. Where did those days go ??.

Comment by: Veronica on 1st March 2022 at 09:40

The certificate I got Cyril was that we had to swim 20 lengths of the pool, as well as doing the life saving. My certificate is long lost...

Comment by: Veronica on 1st March 2022 at 09:45

All the swimming I did in those days stood me in good stead. I still swim every week, apart from this winter. Never do less than 30 lengths, I need to get back to it.

Comment by: Edna on 1st March 2022 at 09:58

Lovely stories in these comments , bringing back loads of memories. Can you imagine going to the baths age 10 with a friend, no adults with you.Not heard of today.I remember those St Patrick's Ball's. Learning the dances in school.Were has time gone?

Comment by: Elizabeth on 1st March 2022 at 16:19

You're so right Edna,nearly always went here with other girls of my age,about 8 or 9,then walking back home,must have been out hours.Just couldn't even consider it today.Remember going with my Auntie a couple of times as well,and she took us to the Bodega for a milky coffee in a glass cup,thought we were everybody !

Comment by: Maureen on 1st March 2022 at 16:24

Oh yes This photo brings back so Mams memories,use to pay 6d for lessons but my Dad got me a life belt from Army and navy stores in Wallgate and I taught myself,the lady that taught the lessons once appeared on 'What's my line' I think she was Polish.
I also went to the other baths there I can still see the hundred of white tiles..I think that was sixpence a time..at home we only had a little pantry and I still have a photograph of where I'd written on it " Dad don't come into the pantry as I'm having a bath"
We'd just had a geyser install in the pantry and thought it was so posh so when I couldn't get to the baths as I said I would shut myself in the pantry and have a wash all over with pears washing soap..those were the days eh!

Comment by: Maureen on 1st March 2022 at 16:55

I must mention the little shop facing the baths,I know this conversation has come up before but when we came out the said shop sold small brown loaves for a penny each...boy oh boy were they good.....there is a photo somewhere on WW of the inside of the little baths,I must look for it.

Comment by: watchalot on 1st March 2022 at 17:36

when i passed my bronze medallion in 1957 we got a free pass for 12 months for the baths

Comment by: Veronica on 1st March 2022 at 18:00

There was also a toffee shop on the corner on the same side Maureen. There was a bell on the rubber mat as you went in. I used to like the milky bottle toffees. A pleasant old lady ran the shop.

Comment by: irene roberts on 1st March 2022 at 18:28

Oh my word, what wonderful memories! I remember going to the old baths on Millgate as a young girl, but only once, I remember there were wooden-backed hard scrubbing brushes to scrub your heels! I only went once but can still see it in my mind's eye. My late brother Ronnie, (nearly 20 years my senior), remembered the water being covered over to make a dance-floor and my other late brother, Colin, (12 years my senior), remembered going for a bath as we had no bath at home.

Comment by: Maureen on 1st March 2022 at 19:29

Veronica,that shop on the corner,I'm sure when I was in my teens it was cafe or something like that,I've often tried to picture what I remember ( if that makes sense)..I do realise that I'm older than you as well...it was coming up to Christmas and my Mam bought me a red velvet dress from Jax which was at the top of Makinsons Arcade but facing the traffic.after Christmas we went in the corner shop that you mention..a blonde girl came to me and said " I wanted that dress that you wore at the Emp,and then I'm sure there was a juke box in there as well..I would love to know if I've dreamt everything..it's always bugged me.

Comment by: Veronica on 1st March 2022 at 22:07

I only remember it as a toffee shop Maureen, in the fifties. In the sixties like Irene's brothers I used to go to the private baths as we didn't have a bathroom. There I was with perfumed bath cubes, and one of the ladies in wellies used to fill the bath. Later on I went in the new showers. I remember JAX though. I bought a suede coat from there once.

Comment by: Elizabeth on 2nd March 2022 at 08:33

I can remember Jax, Maureen, it was a nice shop.

Comment by: Edna on 2nd March 2022 at 09:36

Ho! Veronica, the smell of those scented bath cubes, we took to the private baths.We thought we were the bees knees, and the talcum powder.Talking about smells bringing back memoriesI I can still remember the smell of Wright's Coal Tar soap my dad used to take to the baths.It always reminds me of him.I still buy it when I see it.

Comment by: Maureen on 2nd March 2022 at 11:03

Going a bit off subject ,but we don't have any nice clothes shops to go to nowadays do we..Primark doesn't seem to have any ( nice) women's clothes somehow.

Comment by: Veronica on 2nd March 2022 at 15:54

The cotton pyjamas are ok though Maureen . I didn't really want to give that away but I got three pairs of pure cotton pj's for £18 ! They wash wonderfully. You would pay that for one pair at Debs and M&S...keep that under your hat! Plus they are nice. ( I bet they've all gone!) Edna Lifebouy always reminds me of my dad, and Gib's Toothpaste. In a round tin.

Comment by: Maureen on 2nd March 2022 at 17:55

Veronica,a couple of years ago I did get some pajamas from there,they as you say wash wonderfully but they're too warm for me,I will however look out for the cotton ones,I think they would suit me better.

Comment by: DTease on 2nd March 2022 at 19:32

I remember the Brylcreem machine. I think it was 6d per dollop!

Comment by: Pete Barker on 2nd March 2022 at 19:59

I recall using those baths regularly with my late younger brother in the early to mid 1960's. We had previously been used to the also now long gone Rochdale baths . This Wigan baths were indeed archaic and had obviuosly been built well before the Rochdale baths in the IIRC early 1930's ? These Wigan baths had a peculiar and possibly unique colour scheme for when you could use the baths. This scheme didn't seem to be strictly enforced, or wasn't for we then young kids. One memory I do have from those baths was, when using the showers. There were water pipes high up in the showers, and we as kids used to have great fun throwing the wooden backed scrubbing brushes with great force, to hit the rats that used to trot along these pipes regularly. You couldn't make it up !

Comment by: RON HUNT on 2nd March 2022 at 20:29

DTease I think it was 2d a squirt.

Comment by: Philip Cunliffe on 3rd March 2022 at 10:06

My Dad , Norman , who once lived at 32 Millgate in his mother’s grocery shop, took me to the baths in the 1960s. My overriding memory is the soup you got in plastic cups as you left.61cfd

Comment by: Dave johnson on 3rd March 2022 at 14:36

I also remember the soup machine, we used to get oxichen. You would start the machine on chicken and half way through move the selector to oxtail yumee!

Comment by: Philip Cunliffe on 5th March 2022 at 17:14

My Dad , Norman , who once lived at 32 Millgate in his mother’s grocery shop, took me to the baths in the 1960s. My overriding memory is the soup you got in plastic cups as you left.61cfd

Comment by: Jarvo on 7th March 2022 at 13:35

Wigan old Baths: Oxtail soup to die for with the large white dial.

I never learned to swim there. I likened it to an Army barracks.

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