Bramley baths, Leeds

Well, this was a great start to the 1000 year swim! There has been so much interest in the event from national and local media, and people are keen to tell me about why this pool matters to them. Bramley Baths is the last open survivor of eight pools built by Leeds City Council from 1899-1900, and I could see as soon as I got there why it has been listed.

Broad Lane, Bramley, Leeds, West Yorkshire. Opened 1904.

Listed Grade II on 11 September 1996

A handsome building in local stone, its chimney is a local landmark. The facade is decorated with the city coat of arms, and has the owl finials of the city, reflecting the strong sense of pride which brought these community facilities into being.

Designed by the architect J. Lane Fox, the baths were opened on 17 October 1904, and re-opened after refurbishment on 20 April 1992. That was a good job in that it preserved so much of the character of the building, which has some beautiful stained glass and the original oak ticket desk in the entrance.

The outside of the building today still looks pretty much as it did in 1904. Pool Manager Brian Mills proudly showed me copies of photographs taken from the commemorative brochure published at the time. He clearly loves his pool, as do those who use it. Inside, of course, there have been some changes, but the large pool hall with its balcony is still there, as are the changing cubicles around the pool side underneath. The tiling is all modern, though in keeping with the original, as are, I think, the large stained glass windows at each end of the hall.

Gone are the slipper baths, as they are in most surviving baths complexes, but this area has been converted to a gym, keeping the delightful cast iron decoration. It looks a very agreeable place to work out!

I took the No. 16 bus from Leeds station to get to Bramley Baths. Weaving through the streets of Wortley and Armley you can see some of the changes that have taken place in Leeds over the years. There are large areas of new-ish housing, put up in the 1960s and 70s to replace terraces of back-to-backs, some of which still survive. To my eyes the back-to-backs look much more appealing, giving a tight urban character instead of the acres of meaningless lawn you see surrounding such depressing buildings as ‘Wortley Towers’.

The bus weaves past quite a number of interesting buildings, such as the old Armley Branch Library and Police Station on Wesley Road (designed by Percy Robinson and opened in 1902, though the it is dated 1901 on the outside!). The forbidding-looking Armley Prison (designed in an appropriate castellated style by Perkin and Backhouse, 1847 and later) is a Leeds landmark, as is the striking church of St Bartholomew, Armley, (1872-77 by Walker and Athron) restored a few years ago with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Thursday 24 July: 7.40am. My day starts with an interview for BBC Radio Leeds. Presenters Andrew Edwards and Georgey Spanswick have been asking listeners to call in with their memories of Bramley Road baths, and there are some fabulous stories.

I arrive at Bramley Baths at 3pm for an interview with BBC TV’s Look North programme, only to discover my swimming trunks were not in my bag… thankfully I was able to buy some at the ticket desk as nude swimming wasn’t really what I had in mind! I’m really showing far too much flesh for my liking already.

The swim itself is at 7pm, but not before I’ve done an interview and photo shoot with the Yorkshire Post (see Friday 25 July 2008, page 2), who are also going to put a short film on their website. The pool manager has very kindly roped off a lane for me so that I can swim uninterrupted, though I do manage a couple of words with other swimmers who are a bit mystified why I should receive such special treatment. Now they know!

Thanks to Brian Mills and all the staff at Bramley Baths and to my cheer squad: Colin and Alisoun Cunningham and Colin and Hetta Morath.

See also:

‘Historian’s pool challenge’ BBC TV Look North, 24 July 2008. (video)

Joanne Ginley, ‘Historian dives in at the deep end with swimming pools challenge’, Yorkshire Post, 25 July 2008, and see the Yorkshire Post video.

Tony Gardner, ‘Historian starts 1,438-year swim at Bramley Baths‘, Yorkshire Evening Post, 26 July 2008.

Cherril Cliff, ‘A brilliant day for the baths‘, Yorkshire Evening Post, 2 August 2008. Tells how the baths got saved in the 1990s, having been derelict.

See the list entry on Heritage Gateway.

See the Bramley Baths website. (Leeds City Council)

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