Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 01, 2017.
Webpage updated: July 01, 2017




Plymouth's first indoor public baths had been opened at Union Street in 1830.  But sadly the Royal Union Baths had to be demolished in around 1847-48 when the South Devon Railway Company was constructing its terminus at Millbay.  It was another ten years before the gap in the market was filled once again.

It was in 1854 that discussions started on the provision of decent sea bathing facilities at Plymouth but it was not until September 1856 that a preliminary meeting was held between those promoting such a scheme and the local architect, Mr Damant.  The owner of the West Hoe estate, Mr Thomas Gill, promised to not only take shares in the business himself but would lease land at Two Coves to them for either 100, 500 or 1,000 years 'at a very trifling rental.'   In due course The Plymouth Sea Bathing Company was registered for 'the construction and maintenance of buildings and apparatus for hot and cold sea and fresh water baths on the West Hoe estate.'

A public meeting was convened in the Guildhall on Friday July 31st 1857 with the Mayor in the chair.  It was pointed out that although the Company was not committed to adopt the plans drawn by Mr Damant, which it emerged were five years old and for a bathing facility for invalids, but if they were to be constructed they must be built at West Hoe.  But the plans did not allow for sea bathing, which was what the meeting really wanted.   To overcome that problem Mr Damant proposed that: 'A beach could be formed between the spots known as Two Coves and the rock called the Round of Beef, and facilities made for open sea bathing.'  A canvas screen could then be erected to prevent the bathers from being watched from walkers on the shore.  The screen could be removed during storms.

It was estimated that between 400 and 500 females bathed daily under Plymouth Hoe and a similar number of men did likewise.  Given the popularity of sea bathing, the meeting approved the plan to erect the baths at Two Coves but reserved judgement on the plans previously drawn up.

A further meeting of the committee set up to establish the baths was held on September 11th 1857 and they decided that the free bathing and what they called the 'proprietary baths' should be separate.  The improvements to the free bathing places would cost 600 and the committee secured 200 each from the Town Council and the Local Board of Health towards this, leaving the remaining 200 to be found by public subscription.  A Mr Henry Bate, of 27 Gibbon Street, was appointed to solicit contributions towards the fund.

The outcome of all these discussions was that the foundation stone of the West Hoe Baths was laid at Two Coves Quay, near West Hoe Terrace, on the afternoon of Thursday July 15th 1858.  The task was performed by the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr R Hicks.

Messrs Damant and Reid designed the buildings.  Provision was made for shower, vapour, plunge, douche, and hot and cold baths, for both ladies and gentlemen, at moderate charges, each department having its own distinctive entrance and waiting rooms.   There was a large and elegant promenade saloon, commanding an entire view of the Sound, and residences for the managers as well as all necessary conveniences.   Furthermore, the building was sunk below road level so as not to impede the view of the Sound for those at ground level.  There was a 25 feet wide carriage road at the eastern entrance and a flight of steps at the western end.

The building was constructed of limestone with Portland cement dressing to quoins, etc.  The roof was constructed of iron girders, with a rough slate and Portland cement covering.  the whole building was surrounded by an ornamental balustrade.  A sea wall supporting a promenade formed a very important feature.

It was expected that the cost would be around 2,400 but that did not include the apparatus or bath fittings.  The baths were expected to be opened in April 1859.

Mr W Luscombe was the chairman of the board of directors of the Company and he greeted the Mayor, ex-Mayor, Mr F F Bulteel, magistrates, Councillors and Corporate officers when they arrived at the site.  The procession was headed by the town sergeants and corporals 'resplendent in their new cloaks and cocked hats'.

The Mayor proceeded to spread a plentiful supply of mortar beneath the ton-and-a-half foundation stone, which was then lowered into position, struck with a miniature hammer, tested with the level and declared to be "laid".