The history of bath houses in Brighton

Bath houses, offering either simply a private dip in enclosed sea-water, or a steam or ‘Turkish’ bath for medicinal purposes, were extremely popular in Brighton in the late 18th century and throughout the 19th.

In 1736, Margate became the first seaside resort to have an enclosed sea-water bath. Public slipper baths, for the use of residents whose homes had no sanitation, were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; some were still used as late as the 1970s.

Artillery/Battery Baths/Hobden’s:
Artillery Place, near the West Battery. Opened by Nathan Smith in 1813, they became Hobden’s Royal Artillery Baths in 1824. In 1864, they were rebuilt when the Grand Hotel was completed and direct access was made between the two buildings. The baths were demolished in 1908 and the hotel’s ballroom was built on the site.

Awsiter’s Baths:
The first baths to be constructed in Brighton were built on the western side of Pool Valley by Dr John Awsiter, and designed by Robert Golden, in October 1769. They consisted of six cold baths, a hot bath, a sweating bath and a showering bath. In 1768, he had published a pamphlet ‘Thoughts on Brighthelmston concerning sea-bathing and drinking sea-water with some directions for their use’, in which he advocated the use of individual indoor sea-water baths, as well as the drinking of sea-water, mixed with milk and cream of tartar, as a cure for a number of afflictions — including infertility. Sea water was pumped into the baths by a pump-house that stood on a groyne extending 100 ft into the sea; the pump-house was demolished in 1829, when Grand Junction Road was built. Awsiter’s eventually became Wood’s Original Hot and Cold Sea-Water Baths, then Creak’s Baths. They were demolished in 1861, to make room for an extension to Brill’s Baths.

Cobden Rd
Public slipper baths were opened in April 1894 by the mayor, Sir Joseph Ewart, in a red-brick building with shell and dolphin decorations at the corner of Islingword Rd. When many of the houses in the Hanover area had bathrooms installed, the demand for public baths receded; Cobden Rd baths were closed in 1976 and converted into flats. The building was used as the Hanover Community Centre until 1982 and then as a resource centres, before being converted into flats in 1985/6.

Ditchling Rd:
No.93 housed Corporation slipper baths from 1891 until about 1932.

Lamprell’s (later Brill’s Baths):
The first communal swimming-bath in Brighton, opened in 1823 on East Street, by Abraham Johnson Lamprell. The baths had a circular domed building nicknamed ‘the bunion’, housing a large ladies’ baths which, curiously, had a balcony that accommodated 400 spectators. An inscription in Latin around the pool told the bathers that the water was ‘as fresh as the sea, but safer’. In 1845, Charles Brill (Lamprell’s nephew) inherited the baths and they became Brill’s Baths. In 1861, Brill opened a new ladies’ seawater bath in a nearby Gothic building on the west side of Pool Valley, on the site of Awsiter’s baths. They were given the royal seal of approval: they were opened by the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess May of Teck — later Queen Mary — took her first swimming lessons there.

In 1869, Brill built a new gentlemen’s bath, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, in a red-brick building at 76-79 East St which extended into Pool Valley. The circular pool, 65 feet in diameter, was the largest in Europe at that time and its 80,000 gallons of seawater were brought in from Hove, as Brighton’s was thought to be polluted. The Baths was the home of the Brighton Ladies Swimming Club, formed in 1891. Brill’s Baths were demolished 1929, but the name lives on with the tiny Brill’s Lane, between East St and Grand Junction Rd.

Mahomed’s Baths:
Built in 1821, near the site of the present Queen’s Hotel. Medicated steam or vapour-baths, called ‘shampooing’. In 1822, Mahomed published ‘Shampooing, or benefits resulting from the use of the Indian vapour-bath, describing cases of asthma, rheumatism, sciatica and lumbago cured by his methods. The book also featured poems praising him. One was called Ode To Mahomed, the Brighton Shampooing Surgeon:

‘While thus beneath they flannel shades
Fat dowagers and wrinkled maids
Re-blown in adolescence,
I marvel not that friends tell friends,
And Brighton every day extends
Its circuses and crescents’

The business was continued by his son, Arthur Akhbar Mahomed, into the 1870s.

North Rd Slipper Baths:
Opened in 1870, closed in 1976, built on the former Barrack Yard site. A 2nd class warm bath cost twopence, a cold bath a penny; 1st class baths were sixpence for a warm bath and threepence for a cold bath. At their height, the baths were filled nearly 16,300 times in six months alone. A special feature of the North Rd baths women’s section was a Jewish Mitveh, a kind of ritual cleansing bath; it was the only Jewish immersion bath on the South Coast. The pipes were straight, rather than bent, so they could not become contaminated, and used rainwater.

Victoria Baths:
Opened on May 24 1888, on the east side of Park St, as slipper baths for the local poor. They closed in 1979 and Sloane Court now stands on the site.

Williams’s Royal Hot and Cold Baths:
Opened in 1803 on the south-west corner of the Old Steine. Eventually demolished in 1856 to make room for the Lion Mansion Hotel (now part of the Royal Albion Hotel).