CHORLEY HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY
Campaign for Public Baths in Victorian Chorley
One the joys of research, providing that you are not working to a timetable, is that you can follow your nose and instincts. Sometimes this is little more than a distraction; on other occasions it turns up little gems.
Over the past year, as time has been
available, I have been researching the start of the Co-operative
movement in Chorley. At the moment I am particularly interested in the
first Chorley Society that seems to have existed for about 20 years
between the 1860s and 1880s. The main source of information is the
reports in Chorley newspapers of quarterly meetings of shareholders.
When reading one such report, from the Chorley Standard 31st December
1864 I had a sense of “déjà vu” when I read the following:-
The following is culled from my earlier research supplemented by some recently researched additional information and describes the debate about baths in mid Victorian Chorley.
The campaign for public baths in Chorley in the 1860s was an aspect of the Public Health debate which was taking place nationally and in large and small communities across the country. It was not, however, the first occasion that bathing had been advocated in the town for health purposes. This had been in the 1840s when baths were developed in Whittle Springs based on a spring arising from borings for coal. On a Sunday in 1846 it was reported that 2,300 people had visited the new spa and a booklet in 1847 described “plunge baths” for both sexes attracting “thousands of invalids, variously afflicted.” Attempts were made to compare Whittle Springs to Harrogate, Cheltenham and Baden-Baden, and it seems that the waters were used internally and externally for bilious complaints, rheumatism, scrofula and ulcers.
A further spring was discovered at Yarrow Bridge, but this, like Whittle Springs, experienced only a few years of popularity. Both of these springs were, of course, out of the centre of Chorley. The first baths in the town centre were reported in 1849. Mr. Livesey, in Chapel Street, had hot and cold baths for public use, with water from Chorley Waterworks. These must have been “up market”, as others were specifically provided for the working classes at a “low” price of admission.
Livesey’s Baths continued in use until the
1860s when a correspondent of the Chorley Standard in 1864 who called
himself “Pro Bono Publico,” described them as being “inadequate” and
“shortly to be private.” He claimed that public baths were desired by
doctors, surgeons, clergymen and hundreds of the town’s inhabitants. He
referred to the “late highly esteemed Thomas Tootell” who had needed to
use Livesey’s warm bath up to three times a day. The 1860s campaign was
concerned that baths should be available to benefit the health of the
whole community. An editorial in the Chorley Standard stated.
The Preston baths had been funded by the
Borough council (£11,119) and Prestonian therefore supported the
petition that had been gathered to present to Chorley’s Improvement
Commissioners to persuade them to agree to a similar project.
“The baths would be of some service in the treatment of some forms of disease.”
The petition when presented was described as
“The most numerous and respectably signed petition yet put before the Commission.”
That notwithstanding, the Commissioners
had doubts over their powers in this matter (and showed no interest in
seeking to clarify their powers) and after what the Chorley Standard
described as “desultory conversation” deferred any decision for
six months. A modern day reporter would say that the Commissioners had
“kicked the idea into the long grass!”
“We cannot close our eyes to the fact that destitution has, during the past month, been frightfully on the increase throughout these districts.....Prompt and immediate measures should be taken for providing against distress during the forthcoming winter.”
The editorial had some response in that the following week the Chorley Relief Committee “resumed their labour” and the following month there was a report of a meeting of the Oddfellows Relief Committee. In this sense of the town organising itself to withstand the hardships of economic and industrial crisis, it is possible to see the campaign for the Public Baths as an additional stratagem which might protect the health of a vulnerable population.
The typhus epidemic which afflicted Lancashire, and Preston in particular in 1862, would still be relatively fresh in local minds. Between midsummer and November 1862 there had been 227 typhus cases in Preston with a death rate of 23% and, crucially in terms of the case for public baths, it was reported that the Guardians “when a dirty person comes for relief, send him off with a ticket to the nearest bath before considering his case.”
“Ratepayers! Be not afraid of Public Baths not paying: but be assured that they will do more than pay, through what they will save in the Poor Rates.”
By March 1865 the Chorley Standard was reporting that Livesey’s Baths had “gone private” (presumably further upmarket!) but bathing was now possible at the Co-operative stores where one bathroom, containing a shower and a shallow bath was available on Sundays and in the early morning. (Presumably this was to avoid disrupting the normal activities of the Co-op stores). The Improvement Commissioners reconsidered the petition for Public Baths, but again deferred any decision. They clearly had no wish to provide them but did not wish to arouse further public debate by giving an outright refusal to the proposal.
There is then a 5 year gap in the records of the Chorley Standard and by the time they resume, there are different issues for the town. However it is clear that Public Baths continued to have support particularly as a preventative measure against disease. During the Cholera Epidemic in 1866 a petition was presented to the Board of Guardians “from certain inhabitants of Chorley praying for the interference of the board to induce the Chorley Commissioners to erect Public Baths in the town.” The Guardians expressed their support but were unable to act as they represented a much wider district, similar to the modern Borough in its boundaries.