Local historian and author Brian Bennett reflects on the rise of Buckley Baths…
The word “institution” is used liberally, but if any organization deserves this title, it must surely be the former indoor baths at Buckley.
Built in 1927-28 by local builders MM. Hayes Brothers of Buckley and opened in July 1928, with funding from the North Wales Miners’ Federation, whose members from all neighboring coal mines paid into a fund of x number of pence for each tonne of coal extract. This was also aided and administered by the Andrew Carnegie Trust Fund, which incidentally was responsible for building and funding the town’s free library nearly 30 years previously.
It has been estimated that at least 1.2 million tonnes of coal were mined at this rate to pay for the facilities, making them the first indoor pools, certainly in Flintshire, if not all of North Wales.
Even though the baths were funded by the Miners’ Federation of North Wales, it was in all respects a community project, with schools and the general public soon enjoying the facilities, along with the mining fraternity of the district , but whether they had to pay to bathe after their initial contribution could not be verified.
A point of note is that the first female swimmer to use the new pool was a young teenage Winnie Cropper (née Hayes), the builder’s daughter.
Inside the newly opened Buckley Baths, circa 1928. Photo courtesy of Brian Bennett
Note the circa 1928 image of the newly opened swimming pool, along with the individual cabins, girls on the left and boys on the right, which would later be removed and replaced with more common facilities circa 1960. Note the “deep end” sign . , indicating that it is six feet deep, down to three feet at the shallow end.
A certain fact to emerge, was the popularity of Buckley Baths, not just in the township, but in the wider area generally with schools, for example, coming from as far afield as Flint, Hawarden, Hope and Mold among others. taking advantage of the new built facilities.
Thus between the educational bodies and the general public, the thermal baths have indeed been fully exploited.
Something that became abundantly clear was the fun and excitement the premises brought to a wide area.
In compiling this article, I had the great pleasure of speaking to Ms. Ella Towell (née Snead) who worked at the venue for many years and also had an interest in the venue, even until it closed in 2006.
One fact I was unaware of was its opening dates in the early days – early April to late September – closed all winter, which was the case until about 1960 – which were open Monday to Saturday, but always closed on Sundays.
Ms. Towell (no pun intended), has been involved in the establishment for many years.
Buckley Swimming Club in 1947 with Ella Towell in the centre, middle row. Photo courtesy of Brian Bennett
She specifies that being employed at the beginning, that is to say in the years 1940-1950, one was responsible for the payments, the hygiene, the washing, the drying, the rescue, the discipline, the rental towels and bathing suits and security amongst other duties for the princely sum of around £2.10s.0d. (£2.50) per week.
This for about a 60-hour work week!
She describes her time at the baths as extremely busy – rewarding, but happy days.
A particularly busy time was on Saturdays and school holidays, when I was told there were so many bodies in the pool there was no room for water, and monitoring each individual was a arduous task.
Many youngsters were politely kicked out after their time was up, only for them to disappear down the locker room steps, and along the dungeons (a name given to the boys’ communal section), and up the back steps to once again disappear into the masses.
The baths were operational during World War II, summer only, and it was noted that POWs working in local industries (mainly Italians) enjoyed a weekly bath.
One part of the building fondly remembered by older residents is the infamous “slipper baths.”
These were six private rooms with a large enamel bathtub, larger and deeper than conventional tubs. These could be hired for pennies per session, and for many Buckleyites of the day this was their one and only opportunity to take a hot bath; at that time, very few private homes contained a modern bathroom.
Buckley Baths, an institution for generations. Photo courtesy of Brian Bennett, and right, before they closed in 2004.
So, for a small fee, mother and children could usually enjoy a dream session that most other townspeople could only dream of.
At that time, shampoo was an expensive luxury, so for about 1 day (a penny) a small bar of carbolic soap could be purchased – very effective, but would certainly be shunned by young people today.
Back at the general pool, towels and swimsuits can be rented for around 1 day (one penny) per session.
This offer was very popular with many – certainly bathing suit hire, as the cost of this equipment was often out of the price range of local bathers. These costumes were made of wool and after a few minutes submerged in water they became very heavy and bulky. This practice, even if swimwear would be washed and dried, would almost certainly not be acceptable today.
As mentioned earlier, the baths were an institution, not just in the city but for miles around.
Generations of Flintshire residents have fond memories of the pool. Unfortunately, after more than three quarters of a century, with mounting maintenance and structural problems, the old baths had to close – thankfully replaced by a new, larger pool on the Elfed School complex.