Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thames (NZ): Public Swimming Baths at Victoria Park 1905-1927

In the early years of the goldfields, Thamesites were able to swim at Curtis' salt water swimming baths, Curtis Wharf, at the end of Albert Street. In the 1880s, the condition of these continued to deteriorate and rot, until they were no longer fit for use. During these years there were continued calls for public baths to be built in the town. Financing and location were contentious issues over the decades.

Observer, Volume XXV, Issue 32, 18 February 1905, Page 1
After years of speculation, and public opinion that the town needed baths, 1904 finally saw some headway. In July 1904 the Thames Borough Council was presented with the proposed plans for the baths at the foot of Cochrane Street. They were drawn by Mr E F Adams of Thames.

Details of the baths were reported in the New Zealand Herald (8 July 1904). They were to have an average depth of 8ft. The greatest length would be 81 feet and the greatest width 63 foot. The base of the pool was road metal with sand on top. There were to be thirteen dressing rooms and a room for the caretaker. Several months later, Mr Adams reappeared at a Council meeting with some slight improvements to the plans. These were outlined in the Thames Star 19 November, 1904. The baths were to be pear shaped and there would be 14 feet between the baths and the railway line. The plans were agreed to by the members present. Tender notices for their construction, then appeared in the newspapers around the region.

CONSTRUCTION OF BATHS: The Council decided to accept the lowest tender for the construction of the baths, this was received from Mr James Wells (1234 Pounds 3s 6d). The next problem was the financing of the pool, given that the loan they hoped for did not eventuate. The solution was to call for tenders for debentures of 100 Pounds each. (See cartoon above re financing) By March 1905, work had begun with excavations and piling undertaken. Mr Adams was supervising the construction, and pointed out that more time may be needed to allow the mullock to settle.

Thames Star 28/11/1905
Mr Wells told the Thames Star 20 April 1905, that the baths would contain 136,750 gallons of water full, and the weight of this would be 610 tons. Work continued, but in July it was discovered that the baths were leaking, and further rendering would be required. Problems continued and in September Mr Adams reported to Council that he was spending considerable time at the baths, overseeing and trying to fix problems with a band of men. His opinion was that the clay had not been adequately broken and items such as quartz, timber and other debris had not been properly removed.

OPENING OF THE THAMES PUBLIC SWIMMING BATHS: Work continued and was finally completed, with the baths officially opened 30 November 1905. At the opening, (reported in the Thames Star 1 December 1905), Mayor Burns and Hon J McGowan delivered speeches before the schoolboys were allowed to have a free swim. "The Hon J McGowan congratulated the district upon the possession of such up-to-date baths" and that "the baths were in the direction of cleanliness, and cleanliness was next to godliness." Interesting to note that a separate time was set aside for females only - 1pm to 3.30pm daily. In December a by-law was advertised that including the fact that the baths were to be known as "The Victoria Bath." Details of concession costs were also included, the charge for each person over 16 years of age was 3d. (Thames Star 12 December 1905)

WHAT DID THE BATHS LOOK LIKE? There are a couple of photos that appeared in the Auckland Weekly News that show the pool surrounded by the high boarding and a small walkway around the edge boundary. (Photos below) The only outside photo to date appears in a photograph taken of the Victoria Park South. Often this very end section was known as the Victoria Park, southern extension. The pool is located south of the Thames Tennis Club courts and the house, which could have at times been occupied by the park and pool caretaker. The angular, pear shaped structure of the pool is evident in the shape of the outer fences, seen in the pool building behind the house, in the photograph immediately below.

Photograph taken in early 1900s by William A Price.
Source: Victoria Park, Thames. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 :Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-001166-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Description: THE START FOR THE BALLOON RACE AT THE THAMES SWIMMING SPORTS. FEB 29, 1908.  Source: Auckland Weekly News 12 MARCH 1908 p016
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19080312-16-2
Source: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19080312-16-1
1906 there were reports of a new cottage at the Victoria Baths, and also work done on drains to the house and wash house. The outlet was under the railway embankment at the back of the baths. (Thames Star 2 March 1906)

The baths were seen to have a favourable affect on the population and February 1907 saw the formation and first carnival for Thames Swimming Club.

March 1912, the wooden culverts that provided drainage at the pools, were replaced with tile pipes and connected with the concrete culvert in Cochrane Street. (Thames Star, 8 March 1912)

1913 opening hours were: 6am to Sunset and 10am to 12am Ladies only. (Thames Star, 19 November 1913)

February 1917, two life buoys were presented to the pool. One of these was given by My Higgins of the Wharf Hotel It had special meaning to him as it was from the SS Moa, and had been used to save his life. (Thames Star, 17 February 1917)

Three bathers nearly drowned on 22 January 1918. Ms Davy got into trouble when she was out of her depth. Her sister attempted to save her, and when she also got into trouble, Mrs Morgan Hayward went to their rescue. The girls were in danger of drowning Mrs Hayward as well, Mrs Towers the caretakers wife came to the rescue and pulled the unconscious bathers out. Mrs Towers directed the subsequent first aid measures, which had a happy ending. (Auckland Star, 23 January 1918)
Mrs Emily Towers received a Humane Society Award for the rescue of three bathers at the Thames Pool. (Thames Star, 10 August 1918)
1919, the Council added a water chute at the pools for bathers enjoyment, which was well patronised. (Thames Star, 21 November 1919)

By 1919, the hours of operation were more complex. They were outlined in the Thames Star 23 December 1919. It included separate times for males, females and for mixed bathing. (copy on right)

During the school holidays January 1920, the pools were well attended. It was reported in the Thames Star 23 January 1920, that to date 200 children and 1500 adults had used the Municipal Swimming Baths during the holidays.

CLOSING OF THE POOL: In 1925, it was realised that the baths had a limited future and the possibility for a new site was raised. 1927 the Thames Swimming Baths were closed as they were unsafe. Although public meetings were held, no agreement could be reached over the building of a new pool in the town. (Thames Star 21-22 April 1927)

In the Auckland Star, 22 March 1929, the Mayor of Thames was quoted as saying the baths were rotten and beyond repaired, so there was no hope of them reopening. Schools in Thames were very concerned that they were not able to teach children how to swim and tried  to get permission to use the old pools, but the situation stood - the pools were too unsafe to re-open.

Over the following years, Thames would be without a public pool until the Thames High School built their pool in the 1930s.

LOCATION OF THE BATHS: Part of the Cleaves Map of Thames, early 1900s, show the location of the Public Swimming Baths. They are clearly marked at the end of Cochrane Street and the intersect with Brown Street. This is opposite the Thames School of Mines.

In the 1947 view of Thames taken by V C Browne, there are markings south of the house at Victoria Park, that are similar to the shape of the old Thames pool.

TODAY: This end portion of Victoria Park has been redeveloped and reconfigured. South of the Tennis Courts is: The Thames Squash Club, The Thames Bridge Club, the Thames Small Guage Railway and Public Toilet block.

Source: Google maps

UPDATE 23 January 2015: Special thanks to Christine at TCDC who has located a plan of the baths

29 January update: Special thanks to Lyn for finding a different map view.
Source: Plan 15273 by E F Adams 1909.

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