Saturday, 2 April 2016

43 The Bathing House

43. The Bathing House (photos: Thomas Rothwell & T Baxter prints, Ann Hatton) - 2 April 2016

The 1974 reform of local government in Wales divided the county of Glamorgan into Mid, South and West.  In order to build County Hall (now the Civic Centre) for West Glamorgan County Council, an old building on the seafront was demolished.  This stood at the Mumbles end of the present Civic Centre, having been built in the eighteenth century as the Bathing House.

During the eighteenth century some medical persons recommended sea bathing and drinking sea-water as beneficial to one’s health – particularly for those who were already unwell!  Visits by the gentry to seaside towns like Scarborough, Brighton and Margate became popular, and from roughly 1770 Swansea had ambitions to be “The Brighton of Wales” - before copper smelting and the development of the port ended such aspirations. 

A 1762 Act of Parliament enabled the Burrows, which lay to the south of the town, to be enclosed, and a plot was leased by cabinet maker and builder William Angel on which he built the Bathing House.  The Corporation purchased it in 1789, improving and extending it with a new wing.  The building was leased to various people to provide dining, dancing and accommodation for gentry and the more refined visitors.  The 1802 Swansea Guide enthused that the Bathing House was “commodious for visitors, and from an excellent ball-room commands a fine view of the Bay and Somersetshire Coast …  Board and lodgings a guinea and a half per week, ditto for servants one guinea per week…” (£1 1s 0d).

Bathing machines (wooden huts on wheels) would be provided by the lessee, and were stored at the Bathing House.  John Morris of Clasemont sent to Weymouth for a model of the best type of bathing machine available - these would be drawn into the water to enable bathing to take place shielded from public view, with a flight of steps for bathers to enter the water.  They were not available solely from the Bathing House but could be rented from some local people.  An 1811 description stated: ‘one of the machines is so admirably constructed that a lady may bathe without a guide in perfect safety, and, though completely enclosed from view, have the same advantage of sea-water as with the common machines.’  With the tide ebbing so far out there were different rates for bathing depending on whether it was high water or low water.

Visitors sought amusements like walks, rides and excursions: the Duke of Beaufort had constructed a walk on the Burrows, gardens were laid out and trees planted; from 1785 Swansea had a theatre in Wind Street, from 1807 there was also the New Theatre in Temple Street, and later the Assembly Rooms in Cambrian Place.  But being over half-a-mile from the town centre, the Bathing House was not conveniently sited, and bathers needed to negotiate pebbles and stones to reach the machines.

From 1817 the Bathing House was converted into Swansea’s Poor House – a House of Industry – with part used as an Infirmary.  The 1851 ‘Guide to Swansea’ described it as being “to afford warm and cold sea-water bathing, and medical and surgical relief to the sick poor, from every part of the kingdom”, when it was being run as a charity.  It was demolished in the early 1980s.

The Bathing House’s best known lessee was Ann Hatton, known as Ann of Swansea, a younger sister of actress Sarah Siddons.  In 1799, with her second husband William Hatton, she leased the Bathing House for £34 4s 0d, until Hatton died seven years later.  Ann wrote rather verbose Gothic novels and poems - Dylan Thomas felt she managed to keep her verses “on a nice drab level of mediocrity”. 
On the wall of the Civic Centre facing Swansea Bay she is commemorated with a blue plaque, which also states that it marks the site of the Swansea Bathing House.


  1. Interesting. Had no idea the Civic Centre was built on the site of the former workhouse...thanks for this!


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