Public swimming baths, built 1935-6 to the designs of J. C. Prestwich & Sons. The engineers were Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners.
Reason for Listing
Mounts Baths, built 1935-6 to the designs of J. C. Prestwich & Sons, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it is a particularly good example of a Modern Movement swimming pool with its bold, stepped façade in pale, finely jointed ashlared stone;
* Interior: the interior spaces and decoration are notable, especially the Art Deco hot rooms, which are vividly decorated in black and ivory tiles; and the striking pool hall, dominated by a graceful series of parabolic arches, resembles a cathedral nave flooded with light from the tiered clerestory;
* Engineering interest: it is an early example of the use of steel-reinforced concrete parabolic arches which allowed for the tiered clerestory windows, providing natural light and ventilation;
* Use of materials: it makes use of new materials that had become available from the 1920s.
* Architectural context: it is part of an imposing group of civic buildings in Upper Mounts that makes a powerful statement of municipal pride, and as such forms a significant addition to the public realm;
* Historic interest: it is associated with W. J. Bassett-Lowke, chairman of the committee overseeing the new civic centre in Northampton, who is considered to be one of the most important promoters of Modernism in the country.
The first public baths in England, which were built as a result of the 1846 Baths and Wash-houses Act, provided laundries, slipper baths (for individual bathing), and small plunge pools for communal bathing. The popularity of the plunge pools, for swimming as well as bathing, encouraged local authorities to provide larger and more sophisticated swimming pools. An 1878 amendment to the Act further allowed authorities to close pools during winter and convert them for use as a hall. This had been the original plan for the baths in Northampton but it was abandoned because of the additional cost. The baths had been proposed in 1930 as part of a new civic centre on the site of the recently demolished prison on Upper Mounts. The scheme also included a fire station with accommodation, and a police station and courts, now the Magistrates Court. The chairman of the committee overseeing the new baths was the wealthy businessman and councillor W. J. Bassett-Lowke who had previously commissioned Peter Behrens to design his house New Ways in Northampton (1925-6), probably the earliest example of German Expressionism in England (listed at Grade II*). A competition was launched in 1931 and won by J. C. Prestwich & Sons of Leigh, Lancashire. Their original designs from 1931-2 were later modified in 1934. Ernest Prestwich was in practice with his father J. C. Prestwich in Leigh, Lancashire. In the 1920s he had been a planner for the Lever Brothers Port Sunlight complex, and in the 1930s he worked on major civic centres in Rugby, Portsmouth and Swansea. The tender for Mounts Baths was won by the local building firm A. Glenn & Son of Northampton, and the engineers were Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners which was established in 1922 and went on to become one of the largest firms of its kind in the country.
Construction of the baths in Northampton commenced in May 1935 and the building was opened to the public in October 1936, at a cost of £52,000. Vivian Bassett-Lowke, the niece of W. J. Bassett-Lowke, swam in the opening gala and went on to win a medal in the Empire Games. The baths were featured in 'The Architect and Building News' (23 September 1938) and 'Architecture Illustrated' (April 1940). Both articles reproduced a plan of the building which shows that there was provision for an open-air pool at the back but in the end this was never built. Instead, in the 1970s a single-storey extension was built to provide space for a teaching pool. At the same time the diving boards at the north end of the main pool were removed to make room for access through glazed doors to the newly built sauna; and the laundry room on the north end of the east suite was converted into a dance studio. Other alterations to have taken place include the addition of a glazed screen in front of the refreshment area under the balcony at the south end of the pool. The male slipper baths have been removed; the area containing the female slipper baths has been converted into a gym; and a new desk has been inserted into the reception area. In 1998 the interior of the baths was redecorated during closure for asbestos removal, and the original steel side windows on the two long sides of the building were replaced with aluminium.
MATERIALS: the principal (south) elevation is faced in ashlared Bath stone. The sides walls are mostly glass in a reinforced concrete frame and the end walls are red brick laid in English bond. Internally, the pool hall has eight arches of reinforced concrete and is finished in Cullamix. The pool and the dado is clad in faience, except for the pool terraces which are in alundum cubes. Vitrolite panels and ceramic tiles are used elsewhere.
PLAN: the single-storey element forming the south side of the building contains the entrance, flanked by two offices and staff rooms. Immediately behind these is a full-width corridor, now with a modern reception desk but originally containing the central ticket office and buffet which led left and right to the male and female sections respectively. Behind the reception is the main pool hall measuring 33.8m by 17.7m, aligned north-south, containing a pool measuring 30m by 12m. The hall is flanked by single-storey ranges containing shower rooms and rows of dressing cubicles, originally men used those on the west side and women those on the east side. The north end of the east side contained the laundry, since converted to a dance studio. The east range is wider as it also contains the Turkish baths and associated rooms, including the boiler house and the plunge bath. The rear, single-storey, red-brick extension, added in the 1970s to provide a teaching pool, is now used as a toddler pool.
EXTERIOR: the south elevation has a long single-storey office and corridor block under a flat asphalt roof. The block consists of five bays, each one three windows wide, with projecting second and fourth bays. The inner window bays of these projecting bays further project slightly. The regular fenestration consists of large, multi-glazed steel casements. The recessed central entrance bay has three double-leaf glazed doors with timber glazing bars and steel handles finished in orange. The doors are flanked by steel casements. On the left of the entrance bay is the foundation stone, carved with the following inscription: ‘THIS FOUNDATION STONE WAS LAID/ BY HIS WORSHIP THE MAYOR/ ALDERMAN J. BURROWS. J. P./ THE 12th DAY OF SEPT MCMXXXV/ J. C. PRESTWICH AND SONS. ARCHITECTS A. GLENN AND SONS. LTD. CONTRACTORS’. The Bath stone facing continues on the return walls, followed by the long, single-storey, subsidiary side ranges in red brick. Behind the single-storey front rises the tall triple-stepped façade of the pool hall, the central bay pierced by three tall square-headed lancets with multiple steel glazing bars. The return walls of the outer steps are lit by a six-paned (two by three) aluminium window, replaced in 1998.
The long, stepped east and west sides of the pool hall are divided into eight bays by reinforced concrete framing. Each step has aluminium clerestory glazing in three tiers of diminishing size, corresponding to the triple-stepped façade. The rear (north) elevation is also triple-stepped and lit by three tall square-headed lancets. The brick boiler house, at the north end of the outer east range, has a flat roof and tall tapering brick chimneystack.
INTERIOR: the walls in the entrance corridor retain their stone-coloured faience tiles and two large Art Deco raised panels depicting a male and female swimmer, positioned either side of the reception desk (added in 1998) to denote their respective areas. The doorways in this area and along the flanking corridors are finished with wide frames of black vitrolite, and the plaster ceilings are divided into square panels by shallow triple-stepped edging. The original ceiling in the entrance area is concealed behind a suspended ceiling.
The dramatic pool hall is dominated by eight parabolic reinforced concrete arches, spaced at regular intervals. Outer piers of reinforced concrete rise from the sides of the arches to support the heavily-glazed, stepped outer walls. The hall has a tall dado of stone-coloured faience, above which are Cullamix tiles (spray-coated in 1998 to improve the acoustics). The sides and bottom of the pool are clad in blue faience tiles. At the south end is a modern glazed screen with an upper seated balcony, whilst the north end has a smaller set of glass doors leading to the sauna which was added in the 1970s. Along the east and west sides of the hall are three doorways framed with vitrolite panels leading to the facilities in the flanking ranges.
The outer east range containing the boldly decorated Art Deco hot rooms is largely intact. The Turkish room is clad in ivory ceramic tiles with door surrounds and banding in black tiles. The rectangular plunge bath has raised sides edged in black tiles. To the east is a shower room and lavatories, and to the north is a series of three hot rooms, all of which are decorated with the same ivory and black tiles. The steam inlets are covered by galvanised steel wall grilles.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.