Friday, 7 October 2016

Down in Deptford thinking about Eltham Baths

Now I never went to Eltham Baths which is a pity but by the time we had washed up in Well Hall in the spring of 1964 I had plenty of other ways of using up my time.

In fact thinking about it I can remember only one day spent at a pool and that was the open air one down in Welling on one gloriously hot summer’s day in 1967.

So my memories of Eltham Baths are limited to those few times it was my turn to pick my sisters up and the odd ride past on the 21 down to Lewisham.

Instead my fondest memories are for the swimming baths at Deptford which was a grand old building and one which made you feel special had all the magic and grandeur of any Prince’s palace.

It was off the main road just past the Town Hall and seemed even to a seven year old an odd location.
Laurie Grove is a narrow enough street and the baths were sandwiched between houses.

But what it offered was magic enough.

It began as you entered and were hit by that mix of warm air, the smell chlorinated water and noise.

And even before you had bought your ticket and gone through the turn style the hot sticky atmosphere made your winter clothes stick to you, which continued as you walked along the pool side to the changing rooms.

The bigger of the two contained a water shute along with diving platforms which were both a terror and an abiding source of attraction for the young and a constant challenge to achieve the slide or dive without being stopped by the attendant.

But for many the Baths were less a place of fun and more an essential to everyday life.  Like many others it offered had a set of slipper baths for those who no bath at home.

Nor were these the only ones.  Just behind where we used to live was the old Peckham Health Centre and along with its own big pool it also had baths.

Now we were lucky in that we had a bathroom but my friend Hugh and his siblings would make the short journey across the road armed with soap and their own towels once a week.

And it was there in the Health Centre that we had our swimming lessons made all the more enjoyable by those odd incidents like the day Paul Driver fell into the baths fully clothed and for ever after was known as Dribble.

It had opened in 1926 a mere babe compared to the Deptford Baths which had opened in 1898 and just missed its centenary closing in 1991.

By comparison the baths at Eltham were just a newcomer.  They were opened in 1939, closed in 2008 and demolished three years later.
Still those down there at Laurie Grove have survived and while no one can splash and shout inside its impressive facade, the building has been retained and is well worth a visit.

Picture; ©  Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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