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Wild Times at Thornton Baths
The old swimming baths at Thornton Heath are now just a memory. The land it once occupied a vast building site upon which a new £7.5 million leisure centre is being construction. The baths were opened on 16th June 1897. In addition to the swimming pool which contained 60,000 gallons of water in a 66 foot by 33 foot pool, the building also contained four private baths for use of women and six for men.
The baths were either First Class, for which bathers were charged 6d (6 old pence) (2.5 new pence). Second class cost 3d. The Classification of first and second class service depended on the time that had elapsed since the water had changed.
In the winter months the swimming pool was covered over with boards and the room became a ballroom.
It also features a fascinating photograph of a large gathering of Jehovah's Witnesses who assembled on 29th July 1956 when the pool was used for a mass baptism.
A less peaceful meeting took place at the baths in 1913 when the suffragette campaigner Mrs. Despard came to speak before a packed hall of women. A large mob of men gathered outside the baths to protest and were successful in gaining entry to the meeting. They stood at the back of the room from where they could continually barrack the speakers. As the meeting proceeded they started to stamp their feet and sing comic songs. They managed to stop the meeting and the speakers left the stage.
Mrs. Dispard described the men as being "the worse for beer and more knowing clearly what they were shooting and booing for". Despite the disarray caused by the male protesters, Mrs Despard considered her visit a great success. She reported that "women who had never belonged to any Suffrage Society came up to our organisers and begged to be enrolled as members of our league".
As Mrs Despard stood outside the baths waiting for the police to clear a way through the mob to her car, numerous women pushed their way through the crowd to beg her to return and hold another meeting. "Of course I will", she replied. So with laughter and good wishes, she bade her "brave friends" farewell and departed as the male members of the crowd pelted her and her companions with stones.
Further pictures can be found in the Book of images of Norbury, Thornton Heath and Broad Green.