Curators' Blog

Making a splash!

Ordinance Survey Map (c.1870)

With all this sweltering hot weather lately, I doubt there are many people who haven’t craved jumping into a cool swimming pool or the sea. I know we at the museum certainly have!

Back in the day, it was the River Arun and the various mill and hammer ponds in the area that would have provided opportunities for people to swim and cool off. Public swimming baths did not become an issue until the mid-19th century, when the health of the public became a concern of the state.

Various proposals appeared in the Horsham Advertiser in the 1870’s, concerning the idea of public baths. The leading campaigner was Henry Michell Jr., who argued for it in the local paper saying that he was not interested in profit, but only in the good of the town.  Very noble of him, we think!

In 1873, Henry Michell’s Horsham Public Swimming Baths opened on the west side of Worthing Road. According to the Horsham Advertiser, who actively supported the baths, there was a less than enthusiastic response from the public: the swimming pool was open air, so was seasonally operated and fed with cold spring water.  Brrrr!

As you can see, it is illustrated on the Ordinance Survey Map (c.1870) with buildings (possibly changing rooms) on three sides. In the 1873 season, just 56 swimmers had subscribed and in 1874 only 26, which as Mr Michell commented on in the paper,

… Total receipts are quite inadequate to meet current expenses. If it is therefore not thought desirable to maintain such an institution as a swimming bath in the town, I have no wish to force it on the public … 

In 1875, the paper reported that unless a minimum of 50 subscribers signed on at the pool by 21 May, it would have to close. It cost 10s. 6d. for the season and 5s.3d. for two months.

Because the cold spring water discouraged users, Michell proposed an ingenious solution. He built a large shallow open air pond/reservoir, which warmed the water ‘by exposure to the air’, and this then fed the baths. The circular pond can be seen on the map. However, by 1880 the pool had closed down – clearly they hadn’t had the scorching days like the ones we’ve had recently!

Stay cool.