York

31 Days of History: Public bathing

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It’s hard to imagine now, because we as a generation take so much for granted, but I’m sure many of you can remember when bathrooms were not a common feature of a standard household. For those growing up in the post war period in the early 1950’s, a house had a yard with stone floors, and an outside toilet at the back of it.

The ‘Slipper Baths’, located where the Minster Veterinary Clinic is on Northfield Lane just off Leeman Road, was a house with a live in warden, containing 6 male baths and 6 female baths. Leeman Road was a popular choice of residence for the men that worked on the railways. Many of the firemen and the drivers of the ‘loco’s’ chose Leeman Road to live around because of the ease of the commute. The workers would finish their shifts on the trains, caked in coal and soot, and make their way to the Slipper Baths to wash before heading home for the evening. Soap, flannels and towels were available for those who had not brought their own. Of course, ever mindful of the cost, most people would arrive clutching a bag containing all they would need. The water came out from huge brass outlets, with limited hot water being released first, followed by unlimited cold to top the bath up. The warden turned the water off with his key, moving from cubicle to cubicle turning the valve. This was the route to many problems as he was the only one with a key and, if a couple of people were called forward to use the baths at once, the warden was required to start and stop the water throughout the building. Water gushed out of the taps really fast, and even once you said that was enough, you knew that the warden being there to stop the water that instant was unlikely.

Bill, 78 years old gave his account of the increasingly popular Slipper Baths. “I remember standing there, watching the water rising, knowing that if I was to remove the plug, the speed of the water pouring out of taps would be far faster than the speed it could drain.” Smiling to himself, Bill went on to talk about one of his favourite games, which involved locating the room his friends were bathing in, and shouting for the warden to add more cold water. Bill would never disclose the real number of his bath, knowing that revenge would closely follow. Often some poor unsuspecting stranger would get a sudden splurge of cold water in their bath.

By the early 1960’s, public bath houses were still an important amenity for many working class men and women, however housing conditions started to improve and the development of gas water heaters enabled most houses to start installing their own baths within the houses. What had once been seen as a luxury to be enjoyed once a week now became a modern amenity and the Slipper Baths around the country started to close.

Did you ever use the Slipper Baths in York? Send us your photos to once@oneandother.com

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