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A life of grime -  The public baths at York Hall

Unlike the kids of today we spent most of our free time outdoors, and we got mucky. Very very mucky. Also, unlike today’s kids, very few council houses had a bathroom (or an indoor toilet for that matter). The dirt we collected on our knees and elbows while playing on the bomb sites actually got ground into our skin. Washing our clothes was all right, mum had all the modern appliances. A washboard, a Butler sink and a wooden rolling pin to stir them about a bit. A quick wash down at the kitchen sink or an occasional dip in the tin bath would suffice during the week but was a task us kids did our best to get out of. Don't forget there was no hot water and we had to boil up kettles and saucepans. On Saturday mornings it was round to the York Hall in Old Ford Road to sit in a crowded square shaped waiting room. As one persons number was called everyone slid up one place along the wooden benches to wait their turn. Then finally make the journey down the long steamy corridor to your cubicle.

The weekly scrub

No taps in the cubicle

Only one or two families had a bathroom in our street. We had two stone floored yards, one of which had an outside toilet in it. That incidentally, is why most people kept an enamel bucket or a China piss pot (Gerry) under the bed. You didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night busting for a wee and have to go out into the freezing cold and dark to do it!
Up until a certain age the old tin bath was used to get the bomb site grime off of us, but when you get to be a few years away from your teens the last thing you want is your Grandmother who happened to live downstairs, or the next door neighbour, coming up unexpectedly and seeing you washing your private bits in the kitchen! Not that it made any difference to them. They had seen it all before over the years. When this stage of near puberty was reached and we knew what embarrassment was, it was time to start the weekly trip to the York Hall Baths. As well as being a boxing venue it had two swimming pools, slippers baths, and a Turkish bath. The Turkish baths were to be avoided, as even in those days they were frequented by some very weird people. Our mums never explained why they were weird, but we had an idea about it! Anyway, you paid your shilling, got two towels and a small bar of soap and waited in line on the benches to be called. Yes, we used to actually form an orderly queue in those days, unlike today!

Once inside your cubicle the water gushed out from a giant brass outlet and started to fill an enormous bath till you told the attendant it was enough. He turned off the water with his key from outside and that was it. Well that was supposed to be it, but the trouble could always start here, yes, before you even dropped the bath cube in and began soaking. The trouble was that there was only one key and that stayed with the attendant as he went from stopcock to stopcock topping up or starting filling more empty baths.
It all starts to go wonky when a few numbers are called out at once. This meant that several baths were being filled at the same time by the attendant and his single brass key. Now the water gushed out of the oversized taps so fast, that when four or five were going at once, it sounded like Niagara Falls. So if the man with the key was too far down the aisle he wouldn’t here your shout. You stand there watching the water rise to the top of the bath knowing full well that even if you pulled the plug, the water flowing out, could no way match the flow of the water pouring in! I am sorry if this is getting a bit long winded, but the memories are flooding back (excuse the pun) as I write this. Looking back, I suppose the man had it all under control, but kids tend to panic. I did!

More hot water number eight

Right, you were lucky that time. A sigh of relief as the key man hears your shout and returns to turn off the water. BUT, you never realised in the panic that it wasn’t hot enough. “More hot water number eight” you shout after making sure that you have let enough out via the plug hole to make room for it, and the noise has died down for a bit. “Okay son, mind your feet” (they always said that). A clank of the key and out it gushed. Now you pray he doesn't wander off again, or you'll have to ask for more cold to even it up! "OK mate, that's enough". Another sigh of relief as the flow stops.
You start scrubbing and wonder if your mates ticket has been called yet. “You in yet Ron?” you shout. “Yeah, just after you” came the reply. “what number you in?” you enquire. “Number fifteen. What number you in?” Ron shouts. “Number eleven” I call back.
Now you may have noticed that I told him I was in cubicle eleven when I was in fact soaking away in number eight. There is a very good reason for this. It's because in a minute I’m going to holler for more cold water in number fifteen and lay there giggling as the unexpected freezing liquid gushes in on poor old Ron (the man never tells you to mind your feet when you ask for cold). Having given him the wrong number for my cubicle, when he returns the compliment the poor old sod in number eleven gets the cold shower! To make it worse, if Ron had been alert when I asked for his number, and he too, falsified his information, there are now two poor unsuspecting old geezers effing and blinding over the wall! It was chaos sometimes when we went mob handed. We would never do it with hot water though, they would be boiled alive before the key could shut it off! Anyway, we came out smelling sweeter, all ready to start getting grimy again.

The pranks