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
Lewisham (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 37894 74904


779/0/10140 LADYWELL ROAD 10-NOV-06 Old Swimming Baths

GV II Public baths, 1884, by Wilson & Son and Thomas Aldwinkle. Gothic style.

MATERIALS: Red brick entrance front with some blue brick details and sandstone dressings with slate roof with brick chimneystacks.

PLAN: Entrance lobby to north with rooms for caretaker on the upper floors, first class swimming pool hall running north to south, second class pool hall to rear of the building and a series of changing and bathing rooms to the east.

EXTERIOR: Principal red brick front to Ladywell Road to the north comprises three sections: the gable end of the pool hall; a central round tower; and the entrance block. The first section is readable externally as the pool hall; the raised ridge lantern skylights and the raking dormer clerestory to the front, enlivened with circular and arched window panes are both visible. This section of the elevation has three large arched openings, each having a patterned brick tympanum, a sandstone lintel over three-light mullion and transom windows (again with circular and arched panes) and sloping blue brick sills. The arches have hood mouldings and sit under a moulded sandstone cornice, with arched indents. The pool hall is flanked by two smaller sections which give the impression of turrets, having sandstone capping pierced with arched openings and steep pitched slate roofs. Central tower: moulded stone bands divide the plinth, the ground floor and the first floor and the tower has five bays of arched windows with moulded surrounds under a stringcourse of blue brick which traces the curve of the arches. Those to the ground floor have patterned brick tympana and sloping sills; those to the first floor have circular window openings and small circular indents punctuating the sandstone tympana. The central window on the first floor is a sandstone two-light oriel window supported by a corbel course and capped with grey slate. The cap of the oriel is tall, and reaches up to the sandstone cornice, a more elaborate version of the pool hall section cornice. The tower had a conical slate roof but this was been removed in the C20. The final section of the façade has a pitched roof, a simple moulded sandstone cornice and an advancing bay at the east end. This has three-light mullion windows to both storeys. The recessed part has a two bay low-sprung arcade with stone stiff-leaf capitals on the ground floor and two two-light mullioned windows on the first floor.

The side elevations are in grey stock brick, with regular window openings and form dictated by the internal plan and functions. To the rear, the second class pool has suffered from an arson attack in 2006 and only its ground floor walls survive. It is therefore not of special interest. The gable end of the first class pool is visible, with its central round window and two round-headed windows beneath. This has a small amount of rebuilt brickwork at the apex. Curved end to main block. In a courtyard in the centre of the building is the tall battered boiler chimney, with a stepped brick stringcourse at its peak.

INTERIOR: Impressive first class pool hall with an open curved brace timber roof with a slender iron tie beam and a gallery on three sides with iron balustrade carried on cast iron columns. The hall is lit by the skylights which run along the ridge of the roof. The changing cubicles that would have run alongside the pool underneath the gallery have been removed. The pool has been covered over and it is thought that its glazed bricks were replaced by tiles in the C20. The second class pool hall has been subject to a serious fire and is no longer of interest. It had a shallow timber king post roof and skylights along the ridge, but the rafters are now badly burnt and the skylights have gone.

Otherwise, the interior is largely intact though very plain. Several rooms contain single slender iron columns supporting the roof, others retain small sections of panelling, but the changing and bathing rooms are on the whole bereft of the tile-work, partitioning or slipper baths that might once have been present.

HISTORY: Ladywell Baths were erected in 1884 to the designs of Wilson & Son and Thomas Aldwinkle, the latter a local architect who designed several bath houses of note. The builders were Hobbs of Croydon. The Ladywell Baths were built at a cost of £9,000 on a site procured by the vicar of the adjacent St Mary's Church. At the time, a local paper commented on the juxtaposition of church and baths that 'cleanliness was next to Godliness'. The site was chosen as it is on the main road into Ladywell from Brockley, Catford, Lewisham and Hither Green.

Local vestries were first permitted to levy a rate for baths and washhouses under an Act of 1846. Largely concerned with the hygiene of the lower classes, however, the Act only permitted slipper baths, laundries and open-air pools until an amendment in 1878 encouraged the building of covered swimming baths. Few authorities adopted the Act before the 1890s, when baths began to flourish. Lewisham Vestry, however, was notably progressive and appointed seven Commissioners in 1882, whose aims was to obtain funds and land to build two swimming pools at Ladywell and Forest Hill. By 1900 public baths were not only being built in large numbers, but also with increasing elaboration.

On 25 April 1885, the baths were opened by Viscount Lewisham, MP, who remarked that aside from the Paddington Baths (which do not survive), 'there were no others in London of that size'. The Forest Hill baths were opened the following week. The ceremony was reported in the Kentish Mercury of 1 May 1885, which described the baths as 'quite an ornament to the neighbourhood, standing in striking contrast to the ancient church behind it'. The charges for use were 6d for the first class pool and 2d for the second class. On two days a week the pools were reserved for ladies bathing.

SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: Ladywell Baths were erected in 1884 to the designs of Wilson & Son and Thomas Aldwinkle, architects known for their municipal baths, and are one of the earliest surviving public baths in the capital, built shortly after the 1878 amendment to the Baths and Washhouses Act, when vestries could raise rates to build pools, for which it has special historic interest. The building also has special architectural interest for the imposing façade to Ladywell Road, an attractive design in the muscular Gothic style, and the former first class pool interior. There are characterful details in the turret-like sections flanking the pool hall and the oriel window in the tower. The tower is distinctive, although the loss of the conical roof is regrettable. The building also has group value as a significant component of a complex of late C19 municipal buildings which are all of architectural quality.

SOURCES: Article in the Kentish Mercury (1 May 1885) Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, Buildings of England London 2: South (1994), 417 Elevations in The Builder (1 December 1883) Taking the Plunge: the architecture of public bathing, Save Britain's Heritage publication (1982)


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

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Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 2: South, (1994)
'The Builder' in Elevations in The Builder, (1883)
'Kentish Mercury' in Kentish Mercury, (1885)
'Save Britains Heritage' in Taking the Plunge: the architecture of public bathing, (1982)


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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