Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: October 04, 2019
Webpage updated: October 04, 2019




Following the cholera visitations, an inquiry into the sanitary condition of Plymouth, the results of which were published in 1847, showed, among other important facts, that there were more than 11,000 people in the Town who were living in single rooms and who were thus obliged to wash and dry their clothes in the same rooms in which they cooked, ate, slept, cradled their children and nursed their sick and infirm.  That fact alone, it was considered, proved there was a great need for wash-houses for the poor.

Mr G W Soltau first brought the matter before the Town Council and after much discussion, Mr W Frean put forward a motion that they purchase ground upon which to erect the public baths and wash-houses.  Land adjoining the Scott's brewery in Hoegate Street was purchased but the Council subsequently felt that it was undesirable for them to risk such a large outlay on the project and it was dropped.

In December 1848 the committee of the Plymouth Health of Towns' Association wrote to the Council asking them to grant the building to the Association, in return for which they would raise the funds to erect wash-houses without the baths.

His Royal Highness, the Prince Albert, who was Lord High Steward of the Borough at that time, headed an impressive list of contributors and he, along with the Earl of Morley, became the Patrons.  Within a short time the treasurer, Mr Mennie, had received donations, loans and subscriptions amounting to a little over 480.

In March 1849 the local architect Mr Foster was engaged at his own expense to prepare the plans and the following October the committee accepted the tender from Mr Dwelley for the construction.  Contracts were also entered in to with Messrs Haden, of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, for the the supply of a boiler and warming apparatus, and with Messrs Keyrg and Company, of Nottingham, for the provision of a patent wringing machine.  A plan to erect two or three hot and cold baths had to be dropped even though it would have cost only 100 or so.

Although a contemporary source states that the wash-houses were opened on Tuesday January 20th 1850, in fact that was the date on which 'a public meeting in connection with the opening of this establishment' was held in the Guildhall.  It was certainly reported in early February that during the first four days it was opened, 28 people brought their clothing to be washed on the Monday (which suggests that the first day was in fact the 19th); on the Tuesday it went up to 53.  It increased still further on the Wednesday to 58 but fell back on the Thursday to 48.   It was claimed that the numbers 'have been so great that it has not been very easy for the superintendent to keep perfect order.'

Mr Thomas Stevens presented the Wash-house with three tons of coal and the Gas and Coke Company donated two tons of coke.  Mr George Eastlake donated 5 5s and others donated sums ranging from 2s 6d up to one guinea (1 1s).

Mr William Jollow was the manager in 1890.

The Baths continued to run at a loss to the Corporation until the 1970s.  The Wash-house section closed in 1974.  The opening hours of the Public Baths was reduced to 34 hours per week, with the male and female attendants working on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.  By the 1970s only 576 people used the Baths every month, although many of these people were regulars who came perhaps twice a week.  It cost 33p for a Bath, including use of a towel and soap.  A shower cost 28p.  Finally, in December 1977, when the baths were making annual loss of 4,200, the Council resolved to close the baths on March 31st 1978, after 128 years of service.