The Bath House, Gwydir Street, Cambridge
- 1927, February: Public baths opened. The area was one of the poorer parts of the city, so the baths were an important amenity.
In the late 30s, a bath cost 4d.
- 1969: Sauna added.
- 1975: The Bath House was losing £7,000 a year. A bath cost 10p
to the public, but the real cost was £1.09. A sauna cost 70p. Villages like Bourn lacked main drainage even in the early 70s, so the baths were still providing essential amenities for some. One customer said -
"I've never had such fine baths -
masses of piping hot water, and at the first sign of it cooling,
you'ld call the attendant and he would fit his lever to the tap on the
outside of your cubicle, and yet more hot water would come.
I think there were constraints about how much water, or how long you
could stay in the bath.
I don't remember anyone ever singing in the baths, but the place had
an echo-y acoustic that picked up every movement you made in the water
and seemingly amplified its sound; calling the attendant, and the
attendant's cheery responses, resonated like a trumpet blast."
- 1977: The St. Matthews General Improvement Area was declared.
- 1978, June: The council turned down the Burma Star association's
plan to use the building. The St. Matthews Neighbourhood Association (SMNA) was
A regular newsletter went out (2000 copies distributed) financed by a monthly
waste paper collection, the
paper being stored in a hut behind the Bath House which became a home for a vagrant
and a smoking
den for small boys until its removal.
When the City Council revealed plans to demolish The Bath House to make a
car park the SMNA and Cambridge Friends of the Earth formed the Bath House
Trust. A founding trustee was Robert Rhodes Jones, MP.
- 1978, September: The Bath House Trust acquired the lease of the
Bath House, and on 15th Sept opened the building to the public. Some groups
were prepared to move in even though conditions were rough -
initially there was no heating or running water, but loads of pick-axes. The groups worked voluntarily to improve
the situation while negociations began in order to get a grant. They were given
a 6 month rent-free period (which ended in March 1979) in order
to make it habitable. It was a very cold winter. £500 was
received from the city lottery fund towards a Calor gas heater (there was
no mains gas!). Donations of furniture and equipment were gratefully received.
The Sauna room became the Main Meeting Room. The area where the baths were
was once going to be an Artist's studio but later became the Tenant Support Service's suite. Friends of the Earth occupied the Laundry for many years, basing their
(government-sponsored) Home Insulation Project there. The plan to have a
Workshop and Tool Exchange centre never came to fruition, but newsletters, paper
collections, noticeboards and adversity generated a community spirit.
- 1978, December 22nd: Bath House Benefit Concert in Fisher Hall
- 1979, September: "Community centre cost draws protest" (Cambridge Evening
- 1980: The City Council agreed to give £12,000 towards conversion. Coun John Phillips accused Cambridge City Council of "giving away
money like confetti".
- 1982: Ready! Cambridge Friends of the Earth, Community Relations Council, Cambridge Youth Club,
Gingerbread and the Community Press were the initial office users. The Cambridge
Union and Neighbourhood Law Centre had regular meetings too. The Bath House
acquired a Bedford van available for local hire.
- ???: Employed a part-time worker.
- 1996?: The organisation's name changed to the Bath House Association.
- 1998: Gained charity status - reg no 1068989.
|1998-2007: Gingerbread and the Community Press soon moved to other premises and were
replaced by Cambridge
Darkroom and the Marine Action Centre. A great variety of groups have come
and gone over the years, and an even
greater variety have held regular meetings in the hall. A toddlers group
has nearly always been present.
Externally the building changed little. Internal
space has been re-organised more than once in the last 20 years - the original boiler room became a darkroom initially, then the kitchen and darkroom swapped places, then the darkroom became a small meeting room.
By 2007 CamFed and Lifecraft were the occupiers, with Arco Iris (a
community samba band) regular hall users.
The Bath House is mentioned in the odd biography and in literature. See for example Matt's Simpson's poem, "The Bath House". Reports of any sightings
Updated March 2007