Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Tower Hamlets (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 37925 80963


TQ3780 EAST INDIA DOCK ROAD (south side)

788/25/10128 Poplar Baths


Former public baths, slipper baths and vapour baths. 1932-4 for Poplar Borough Council to the designs of Harley Heckford, Borough Engineer and R W Stanton, Chief Assistant. Reinforced concrete frame to main `first class' pool, floors and other internal structure, with exterior of brown and red brick, partly supported on separate steel frame and with stone dressings to front and concrete to upper parts of stepped side elevations. Asphalt roof with many rooflights. Brick chimney to rear.

Large first class baths intended for use as swimming pool in summer and as an entertainment hall in winter, with stage. To side, separated by changing rooms and former slipper baths a smaller 'second class' pool intended for swimming all year round. Boiler house to rear. Below the changing room block is a suite of vapour or Turkish baths with plunge pool. Ancillary offices to front.

The front elevation is a monumental tripartite composition, of three stepped brick masses, with stone plinth and cornice and stone surrounds to steel centrepiece. The effect of the massive brick pilasters and pylons is rather Egyptian, although reminiscent too of contemporary Dutch architecture and the work of Sir Giles Scott, with banded brick cornice over second floor and deep brick mullions to the full-height steel staircase windows on either side. The tripartite centrepiece is of two storeys, with large windows to first floor former cloakrooms separated by steel panels from 2 + 3+2 rhythm of double doors with angled steel handrails. In the centre is the borough crest and the original signage 'PUBLIC BATHS'. Side elevations simpler, with bands of windows under rendered lintels. Above the first floor the giant glazed roof steps up in three flights, and the steel frame is expressed on the rear elevation, blind save for two large areas of glazing to either side, and smaller areas either side of ancillary entrance to the filtration plant.

It is the interior which gives the building its special interest. Ten-bay first class pool under reinforced concrete hyperbolic ribs, which support the glazed roof structure that was innovative in bringing natural light into swimming baths. The pool has been infilled and the spectator seating areas removed, but the tiled stage surround with borough coat of arms over survives, as does tiling to the rear wall. Second class pool has conventional roof lights in flat roof. Entrance hall, with staircases either side, fully tiled to shoulder height (banded to stairs), with granolithic tiled floors and steel staircase balustrades over tiling. Similar staircases lead down to tiled Turkish or vapour baths, extended 1937 with foam baths, and with lounge adapted with washing facilities in the 1960s and original stepped plunge pool. In the entrance hall one slipper bath (bath tub) survives as a memorial. Foyer ceiling murals of 1985 by David Bratby, showing the history and function of the baths.

Poplar Baths were the first to bring the concept of the stepped rooflights supported on a reinforced concrete hyperbolic frame to a British swimming pool. The idea has a long pedigree - the idea of the stepped great glazed roof going back to the Crystal Palace, that of the hyperbolic concrete arch to the Orly Airport hangers (also demolished). The two ideas came together in exhibition hall design, in the Gothenburg Exhibition Halls (demolished) and the New Royal Horticultural Hall, Westminster (grade II*). There is also a precedent in the listed pool at the Butte-aux-Cailles, Paris, of 1922-4. Poplar was the first building in Britain to develop the idea for a low-cost civic building, and it stands above its contemporaries in architectural importance. 'One of the finest and best equipped baths of comparable purpose in this country', Architect and Building News, 19 January 1934, p.103. It had a number of imitators among progressive authorities, few of which survive. Since its closure in 1988 the building has become increasingly appreciated by architects and critics, among them Piers Gough, who described it as 'a stunning building with its Hollywood style interior and beautiful vaulted ceiling.'

Sources Architect and Building News, 19 January 1934, pp.103-7 AA Files, vol.22, Autumn 1991, pp.1-15 Survey of London, vol.XLIII, Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, London, Athlone Press, 1994, p.164-7.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
'Survey of London' in Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs The Parish of All Saints: Volumes 43 and 44 Poplar,, (1994)
'Architect and Building News' in Architect and Building News , (1934)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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