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What future for the old baths building?

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Buckley’s historic old baths building is to be given a new lease of life and townspeople have beeen asked for their views on its future.

A campaign was launched by Buckley Town Council to transform the building into a facility that can be used and valued by future generations.

“It offers superb potential as a multi-function community facility for the town and its surrounding areas now and into the future,” said Councillor John Thornton, Chair of the Town Council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee.

The historically-important baths were built by the local Miners’ Welfare Committee with funds generated through a one-penny-per-ton levy from local mine owners, part of a national scheme designed to alleviate poor living standards in mining communities.

The £5,000 donation towards the construction cost was the largest sum ever distributed in Wales by the Welfare Committee.

Opened in July 1928, they were constructed on the site of a bowling green at the rear of the then library and reading room, and operated by a Management Committee made up of members of the former Buckley Urban District Council and local miner representatives.

The facility included six slipper baths for personal bathing and hygiene since many houses at that time lacked proper bathing facilities.

The baths were finally closed in 2005 following the opening of the new baths facility at Buckley Sports Centre.

Families, individuals, businesses, schools and other community organisations are being encouraged to get involved in the debate and submit their views on how the former baths could be transformed into a valued, multi-use community asset.

The Buckley Baths Review Sub-Committee has been set up by the Town Council to assess the feasibility of the ideas put forward. It will then work alongside Flintshire County Council and the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation to draw up a shortlist of options that will then be submitted to Flintshire County Council for planning discussions.

The old baths building could be considered on its own or form part of a larger scheme incorporating the former library and reading room building.

Cllr Ellis added: “We have an opportunity to add real value to the quality of life of the people of Buckley and its surrounds now and in the future, and it’s an opportunity we want to make the most of.”

Cllr. Thornton added: “We need to cater for population growth in our area. A predicted 23% of all new residential build in the County over the next ten years will be in and around Buckley, creating as many as 3,000 new residents.

“The decisions we make now will affect the facilities and opportunities available to those people and their families well into the future.”

Potential uses already suggested include a day care centre, indoor market, meeting/training facilities, an event and performance venue and a facility for sporting activity.

Following final approval, it is expected that a self financing charitable trust will be set up to operate and manage the facility. The trust would include representatives of Buckley Town Council, Flintshire County Council and the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation.

Dave Thomas is Regional Manager with the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation which retains an interest in community and personal welfare services within mining and former mining communities.

"Buckley baths didn't just cost money: 1.2 million tons of coal had to be dug out of the ground to pay for it. It is only right that they should be used for the benefit of local communities,” he commented.

“Although mining is no longer part of the local industry, the impact of mining and its legacy for local communities and people will be around for many generations to come.”

What you’ve been telling us so far…

Pete Morris, 59, Bistre
“I remember how we used to go to the baths when I was in school. I’d like to see the building used as a museum. Buckley used to be a big place of industry – there were nine different Brickworks as I remember. The museum we already have inside the library is not the best and it would be good for people to be able to find out more about the town they live in.”

Barbara Smith, 46, Buckley
“We need something for the people – a social centre where we can go and have a coffee and a natter. If not, it would be good to have a Council building for Buckley residents to go to and sort out their housing matters. We used to have that, but now people have to travel to Mold.”

Laurence Beavan, 75, Buckley
"A bigger museum would be great. We have nothing that is testament to Buckley’s industrial heritage. We no longer have any great industry so it would be good to celebrate a time when Buckley had a big input into the industrial world. Buckley even had its own dialect at one point which drew on the origins of the Staffordshire, Lancashire and Welsh inhabitants. It’s a distinctive and unique dialect that should be remembered and documented -  a new museum would help to achieve this.”

Patricia Ellis, 38, Buckley
“It’s was a shame to see the old baths go because they were a part of Buckley for many years. There’s not much for the young people to do – they should think about turning the building into a community centre or a youth centre.”

Hazel Parry, 51, Buckley
"Not many people know this, but the actual building is one of only a handful left in the UK in that particular style. Its roof and fascia are unique. It would be great to see the building turned into a museum - Buckley no longer has any visual representation of its brickwork and mining heritage which is an important part of its history. There is 15 tonnes worth of artefacts from Buckley in storage in Liverpool that could be put into a museum – it would be great to see that happen.”

Sean Wynne, 27, Buckley
“If they’re going to use the building for anything it should be for the young people in the area . There’s not much for the kids to do round here and a lot get into trouble because they’re bored. It’d be nice to see it turned into a youth centre or something like that.”

Andre (correct) Berry, 47, Buckley (Pic to follow)
“It’s a significant heritage building and needs to be preserved. Its exterior façade is somewhat iconic on the high-street. So long as it’s preserved, then that’s what matters, but it would be wrong for a historic building to be closed to the public.”

Lynne Evans, 44, Buckley
“As far as I’m aware Buckley was the very first public swimming baths in the whole of North Wales. My father used to tell me that on Saturdays the baths would be so busy that there was hardly room to even stand in the pool, let alone swim. People would come from miles around. It’s unfortunate that they have closed down, but the building should definitely be put to good use. It could possibly be used as a place to celebrate Buckley’s history and preserve its identity, because it is slowly being lost.”

Gareth Baker, 39, Buckley
“There are a lot of organisations and help groups that would benefit from a meeting place within Buckley; many have to travel to mold or further afield to do so. I think it should be open for use as a conference and meeting centre.”

Do you remember…?

The opening…
The baths were formally opened on Thursday 28 June 1928. They were built by a local firm, Hayes Bros and Buckley’s name became widely known for its new facility, being one of the few towns in the area to have such an asset.
The opening was celebrated by ‘an exhibition in the art of swimming, fancy diving, ornamental swimming and high diving,’ given by members of the Chester Swimming Club.
The swimmers included, Mr. Frank Dutton; Mr. A. J. Moody - Ex champion of Chester; Mr. E. Robson - Ex champion of Gateshead; Miss Ada Moody - Lady champion of Chester and Miss Lily Robson.
The baths included a high diving platform, two spring diving boards, dressing cubicles, six slipper baths, shower baths and seating accommodation for 150 people.
The baths used to open on Easter Monday and closed at the end of October, with opening hours from 9:00a.m. until 9:00p.m.
Buckley Baths were officially re-opened on 28 April 1962 by Mr J.S. Parry, Chairman of the U.D.C after an extensive renovation scheme costing the significant sum of  £20,000 at a time when a house could be bought for around £1,000. The renovation was paid for by Buckley UDC. 

The handover…
The Miners’ Welfare Committee gave the baths in trust to Buckley Urban District Council. The baths were then managed by a committee made up of Buckley UDC Members and miners’ representatives. The baths were regularly inspected on behalf of the Miners’ Welfare Committee.

After the war…
Buckley Baths were extensively used by soldiers returning from the 1939-45 war. They were given free access to help them bathe and recuperate.

Swimming in the clayholes…
The lack of pithead baths and the absence of adequate bathing facilities in the homes of local miners weren’t the only reasons behind the baths’ construction. There were also concerns about drowning tragedies due to people swimming in the clayholes.
The swimming club…
In July 1928, within months of the new baths’ opening, a meeting was called to start a swimming club. The following officials, all local businessmen, were appointed, Mr. F. Griffiths, Chairman; Mr. G. P. Metcalf, Secretary, and Mr. C. Kelsall, Treasurer. Mr. Bert Bellis was elected Captain for the season.
Over the years the club has gone from strength to strength, having had competitions in the Welsh Championships with many successes. Also swimmers and water polo players have represented Wales.
The swimming club coaches…
During the first sixty years of swimming at Buckley baths, there were only five swimming coaches, many of them local legends! In the Buckley Amateur Swimming Club Diamond Jubilee commemorative booklet, Mike Jones – who took up his turn in the role in 1987 - describes his predecessors as follows:
Latham Catherall 1928 - 1965. ‘A remarkable man he was, he coached many outstanding swimmers and polo players.’
Ken Davies 1965 - 1967. ‘Ken joined the club in 1935 and is still serving the club - he is now President. A truly remarkable man - words cannot describe as to the effort he has put into swimming, waterpolo and life-saving.’
Ken Jones 1967 - 1984. ‘Ken worked very hard, produced several Welsh Champions – a record that cannot be argued against.’
Ken Owen 1984 - 1987.  ‘Ken was dedicated to Buckley Swimming Club during his years as coach, the success we had was limited due to the strength of our neigbours Mold-Holywell-Wrexham.’
The late Fred Johnson was Club Secretary for 40 years.

Club presidents included: Doctor David Fraser, Mr G. Brimblecombe, Mr K. M. Davies.

The water polo team…
The team began with friendly matches with Chester players helping to make up the team. They joined the North Wales League in 1937. After the war the team also played in the Liverpool and District League, attaining success in both leagues, topping the division on a number of occasions. The Men's Squadron team, in the 1950s won both North Wales and Liverpool leagues and in fact went for about eight years without being defeated.
Included in the list of Welsh champions of water polo players, record holders and internationals are:
International swimmers
A. Day (also record holder W.A.S.A.)
J. R. Williams (also record holder W.A.S.A breastroke)
W.A.S.A. Championship winners
J. R. Williams
A. Day
R. M. Jones
K. M. Davies
W.A.S.A. water polo representatives
P. Fox
J. G. Peters
K. M. Davies

The slipper baths…
The slipper baths (for use by those with no bath at home) were housed in six cubicles each with a bath with open taps. The baths superintendent gave you the top to the tap to turn it on and off.  It cost 6d. (Towels were available for hire, as were swimming costumes for the pool.  You had to take your own soap.  The superintendent cleaned out the baths afterwards.

The cartoon…
Who remembers this? The cartoon appeared in the third – and possibly the final – edition of the Buckley Magazine published in 1946. The cartoon was produced by ‘WOM’. Does anyone know the cartoonist’s real identity?

The hero…
As the appointed  supervisor. Latham Catherall was in charge of the Baths in the role of Baths Manager from 1928 until his retirement in 1965.

In December 1959 he was presented with a Royal Humane Society Resuscitation certificate to mark his ‘humanity, promptitude and skill’ in ‘restoring to life’ a young male swimmer at Buckley baths in June of that year.
The post of Baths Manager was also held by Allan Jones and Ken Jones.

With thanks to the Buckley Society www.buckleysociety.org.uk and Mary Wright for all their help and support in providing historical information and photographs, and to all those who allowed their photos to be used in this campaign.

For up-to-date information on the Old Baths Building please refer to the News and Events section of this Website. 


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