RETRO: Splashing out on a favourite escape

Sheffield School Swimming Team at Heeley Baths 1951
Sheffield School Swimming Team at Heeley Baths 1951
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It was opened in 1909 after costing £14,000 to build – and generations of Sheffielders would tell you it was well worth ‘splashing’ out for.

Heeley Baths is one of the oldest public pools still in use in the city.

Heeley Baths sauna 1967

Heeley Baths sauna 1967

For more than a century, people have been coming here for a swim in the water and a sweat in the sauna. In the early days, residents who didn’t have a tub in the house would head along for a scrub and a soak in the long-gone slipper baths.

Now, next week a state-of-the-art, 28-piece on-site gym will open complete with treadmills, bikes, rowing machines and purpose-built changing rooms.

And to celebrate the £15,000 makeover of this city institution, in Broadfield Road, Midweek Retro today brings you these images capturing the venue’s history. They include school swimming teams from the 1950s (decked out in natty wool costumes), a rowdy-looking gala day from the ’70s and three relaxed chaps enjoying the sauna during the ’60s.

“Heeley Baths has been a key part of community life for the last 105 years,” says today’s general manager Mark Cowen.

“When it first opened, the original building consisted of a swimming pool, a Russian sauna, slipper baths and a laundry. And today it’s still incredibly popular with our customers who take great pride in its heritage.

“Thousands have learned to swim here, we host hundreds of parties every year and it is often used by several generations of the same family. It’s a small place but it’s certainly a city jewel.”

It’s changed in those 105 years, of course. There’s no laundry or Russian steam room these days, the stained glass windows at either end of the 25 metre pool have long gone and the women’s entrance isn’t used any more. The vending machines also no longer sell Texan bars, the post-swimming snack of generations of children.

“Having said that, there are plenty of features which remain,” says Amanda Wild, spokesperson for Sheffield International Venues, which runs the pool. “The changing cubicles still line the side of the pool so you can see your own booth while you swim. It remains good value for money, of course, plus the exterior is the same. It looks beautiful.”

The heritage also includes being the local pool of several past Yorkshire champions, including Keith Dexter, Rachel Gillat and Brian Clarke, and one-time English Schools Champion Glynn Mattam.

Mr Mattam, of Gleadless, is 76 now and still swims at Heeley Baths after first taking the plunge there, aged 10.

He said: “People will tell you there’s something very special about the place, without being sure exactly what it is.”

However, it’s had its share of drama too. During World War II, it was used as a makeshift nursery complete with air raid shelter, while, in December 1925, a rent collector from Dore died after apparently turning up the temperature of the Russian bath too high. Frederick John Adams, 69, was found slumped on a slab after whacking the heat to 130F.

“We take health and safety more seriously these days,” says Amanda.

The place underwent a revamp in 2008 ahead of its centenary a year later. Changes included a new roof and glazing, insulation and improved changing cubicles.

Now, as the 10 strong-staff prepare for the latest phase in the pool’s history, bosses are confident it will continue to be as popular.

“People love the heritage but we combine that with a modern, 21st century facilities,” says Amanda.

n Gym opens Monday. An open weekend with free pool and gym sessions takes place April 25-27.

n Send your pictures and memories to colin.drury@thestar.co.uk