Marshall Street baths – a much-needed indoor swim

“Marshall Street is one of the most beautiful indoor pools in the country. Since swimming is the most popular participation sport in Britain, it seemed astonishing to me that London could still be losing valuable and much-loved public pool like this from public ownership.”

So wrote Roger Deakin on his visit to Marshall Street Baths to compete in a game of water polo and speak with locals about Westminster Council’s plans to close the pool as part of a wide-ranging redevelopment project. Deakin touches briefly on the fact that the pool was closed not long after he swam there, after a proper developer withdrew its support for the council’s plans.

At the time of Roger’s death in 2006, Marshall Street Baths were still closed, not to reopen until July 2010 as part of a modern leisure centre. I remember clips on the local London news of Soho locals, avid swimmers, campaigning hard against Westminster Council’s plans. Footage of the stunning marble pool drained and left to rot.

There’s no denying though, that the redeveloped Marshall Street Baths look the part. I arrived on a rainy lunch time, barrelling in and shaking my brolly down in the reception. Doubtless Roger would have been appalled at the £5.65 charge for non-members, but I chose not to baulk and made my way through the swanky changing rooms and out into the pool area.

And what a pool it is. The marble design is stunning, the barrel-vaulted ceiling lending the place an air of grandeur. There’s no denying though that the updated glass walls and the fact that views of the pool from the street (as mentioned in Waterlog) are restricted, make for a more sterile atmosphere. But powering through a series of lengths, taking time to gawp at my surroundings, it was infinitely more pleasurable than visiting your average local swimming pool.

Leaving, I noticed that the walls of the corridors are lined with the history of the place, from its inception in 1850 through to the struggle to keep it open. Little is obviously made of the politics surrounding the long closure, but at least there’s something there to commemorate these historical baths.

Roger would not recognise this place now. Nor, I imagine, would he approve of the way in which private developers have coupled with the council, helping to hike up prices. But with the lanes full of committed swimmers, I’m certain he’d be delighted that Marshall Street Baths is at least open for business once more.

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