History of the baths

In 1975 the Chester City Council announced the closure of the old City Baths, scheduled to coincide with the opening of the Northgate Arena Leisure Pool, which was then under construction. The local swimming clubs realised that the new Arena Pool would be unsuitable for competitive swimming and water polo, which meant that the old baths had to be kept open to ensure the future of the sport in the City.

With this objective in mind an action committee, consisting of four members each from the Cheshire Dolphins and Chester Amateur Swimming Clubs, was set up. The original members of the action committee being: P. Dawson, M. Bowler, P. Measures, A. Howie, T. Neve, K. Rowlands, P. Fisher and F. Morris.

After a number of meetings and much discussion the Local Authority were adamant that they could not afford to operate both the new and old pools, but accepted a proposition from the action committee to allow them to manage the old baths independently for a trial period.

The action committee convened a General Meeting at which the Chester Swimming Association was formed. A constitution was drawn up and charitable status applied for. A lease was subsequently agreed to and signed by both parties which resulted in the Association taking over the management of the Baths on the 14th April 1977.

Due to much hard work by the volunteer labour force, the first few years were so successful that the City Council had no hesitation in extending the lease. A situation which has continued to the present day and hopefully will continue in the future.

"The Duke of Westminster, pictured at the opening of the Social Club at the baths with Councillor John Ross and Association Chairman, Philip Dawson [1977]."

Since 1977, the Association has implemented numerous improvements to the building, which include the installation of gas fired heating, the building of a licensed Social Club, the provision of a cafeteria and kitchen, the building of a gymnasium, the installation of a new water filtration system and the strengthening and refurbishment of the pool halls and structure.

The Association hires out the available water time to clubs, schools and various other organisations, which generates sufficient revenue to operate the Baths in a sound and viable manner. The main beneficiary of the Association's success has been the City of Chester Swimming Club, which of course has supplied the majority of the Association's membership.

By Bernard Wall [A former Chester City Guide]

In 1883 a strange object was put on The Dee at the start of the Groves, just round the corner from The Bridgegate.

What I am referring to is the bathing premises made to float on the river. It had changing rooms and an awning on top and was known as The Floating Bath.

It had a deep end and a shallow end and river water was let in - and also mud or silt, so much so that after five years wider holes were made to speed the flow of river water.

At this time there was a growing interest in swimming, more people reaching the seaside by train and more people at home seeking swimming baths in towns. Eleven years after its launch, that is in 1894. Chester Amateur Swimming Club was formed, based on The Floating Bath, which was open in the summer only.

At their first AGM, the members invited Mr R. A. Yerburgh MP for Chester, to be president. He responded by donating a trophy for a race across the river and back close to the original suspension bridge.

The bath was open 6am to 9pm with separate sessions for ladies. A season ticket cost five shillings then.

In January 1899, a very strong tide caused the bath to break loose from its moorings. There is a photo of it caught on the top of the weir. Considerably damaged, it was nearly scrapped, but they repaired it instead. I However, it was sold as scrap shortly after the opening of indoor baths on Union Street in 1901, to which the club transferred.

Meanwhile, in 1896, as membership of the club increased, another annual race was set up in the river from by the Suspension bridge to the baths. In 1897 they got leave to have a football to being playing water polo in the baths.

By,1898, The Corporation was making place with John Douglas the architect and his partners for the indoor baths, which we still have in use. This was a novel project for this versatile architect and he probably conferred with others building municipal baths in other boroughs just then. He is known to have asked for extra money to ensure his baths did not leak! He was used to designing comfortable farmhouses and plain cowsheds, so now he designed a typical smart Douglas Frontage, upper half black-and-white and utilitarian pool halls behind.

One swimming bath 25 yards long and safe for diving is named "Atlantic" cost 2d per session then The second pool "Pacific" was 20 yards long and slightly superior costing 6d to go in. The Atlantic had galleries for spectators.

There were also "slipper baths" in which individuals would wash themselves clean. Useful! then when many homes had no bathroom.


Some people think of swimming as good exercise for young or old or as fun of a sociable kind, while others think of it as a competitive sport like athletics or football. Yet others learn to swim partly to be able to save oneself if pitched into water, accidentally. Chester Public Baths in Union Street have served all these purposes since opening in 1901. with warm water all year long, the Atlantic 25 yards length, the pacific 20.

In 1902 the Chester Swimming Club, which began in 1894 at the Floating Bath described last week, transferred to the indoor baths and soon developed their activities. In this they were helped from 1904 by Albert Moody, who was appointed manager by the council. Unlike other folk, he believed all children should be taught to swim. He started his own; his daughter Ada became a star, his son Willie swam at two years-old, and a son and a grandson followed him as baths' manager.

The club held competitions among themselves and joined associations who held inter-club matches. Among many outstanding members in 1908 was Wilf Edwards, champion at 100 yards in trudgen stroke, selected for Olympic Games.

In 1920 the club ended the year with a spectacular gala typical of the time, complete with bands playing and a polo match. There were swimming, diving and plunging contests and exhibitions. In this period, J. E. Thomason won the mile 13 years in succession and Ada Moody 100 yards for 10 years. In 1935 she married polo star Vic Beaman at a popular wedding.

Back in the 1920's the ladies did not appear usually with the men. Apart from championships they had their times for swimming and their own ladies' club until 1928, when a joint club was set up. The ladies dressed in regulation one-piece costumes. By 1930 men were wearing briefs.

The Second World War upset things of course but afterwards they revived. However water-polo, avidly watched earlier, ceased to attract as young people developed other exercises and TV coming in drew folk away from former entertainments.

At this stage about 1960, my personal contact with the baths began. When our family came to live in Chester, they needed swimming lessons and we had to arrange some as their junior school didn't.

I joined-them at Union Street for a time, and, years later, a physiotherapist helpfully sent me there to exercise an injured shoulder.

The 1970's was a critical time because the council determined to close Union Street Baths when they opened the Northgate Arena, with its odd-shaped leisure pool and training bath apparently a better option.

But keen swimmers and trainers wanted Union Street kept open as well, as the Arena's second pool was not deep enough for diving. So those concerned formed Chester Swimming Association, a trust claiming charity status, and offered to run the premises as council tenants. This was eventually agreed and is the situation now.

The Association has improved the filtration process, added a gym and a cafe and replaced the slipper baths with a clubroom and bar adorned with historic photos and trophies. The use of the baths is shared by various clubs for old and young, school parties, training courses for beginners and more advanced. The premises are open daily from 6am to 10.30pm and pay their way.

The main club still holds competitive events, but major events have to be held in some pool 25 metres long - 25 yards not enough now!

Everton has the required length and so does Ellesmere Port Epic Centre. Anyone wishing to swim in Union Street must register with one of the clubs or training courses.

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Union Street, Chester,
Cheshire, CH1 1QP

Chester City Baths 2012