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Preston’s lost spa baths, fascinating discoveries

Posted on - 11th June, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News
Widnes in the 19th century Pic: Wikimedia
Widnes in the 19th century Pic: Wikimedia

Victorian towns were grim dirty places and most houses did not have baths, hence public baths became popular. Preston once had a number of wells that were fed from springs. One well that became a bathing centre was near Spa Brow off Strand Road. This was the first public bath in Preston. It was lost after World War II and then excavated in the 1980s.

1840s map of the spa baths site Pic: Preston Digital Archive
1840s map of the spa baths site Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The site of the spa baths today Pic: Google Earth
The site of the spa baths today Pic: Google Earth

Early history

The spa baths were built by William Rawsthorne in 1708. The land belonged to the town and was leased to him by the Mayor, for 39 years, at a rental of 2s per year. In the lease the premises are described as “a well or cistern for cold bathing” and “a convenient house belonging thereto adjoining at the bottom of a hill near the Marsh Mill Dam”. The spa was used until about 1860. Earlier, the new Preston baths had been opened in 1851. These were situated at Saul Street, and cost £11,217.

World War II water supply

Until World War II the site of the spa baths had been lost. However, in case the main water supply was lost, a search was performed to find the old well site. Various holes were dug in an attempt to find the entrance. Eventually this was found and a maintenance hole fitted. The site was marked with the letters E.W.S. for Emergency Water Supply. This was visible for many years on the wall of the English Electric works. 

A key to access the spa baths was left at 1 Cheviot Street. The maintenance hole covered some stone steps that led down to the mid-Victorian tiled baths. The baths again fell out of memory, until they were rediscovered again in the 1980s. The water tasted fizzy due to its high mineral content. What remained in 1987 was fascinating. Victorian baths often featured ornate tilling.

The spa remains, investigated 

The remains of Preston spa’s bath tiles and plug Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The remains of Preston spa’s bath tiles and plug Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The spa site was investigated in 1987 and some interesting features were still in place. Those include the original drain plug.

At some point the site had been well hidden. Rather than just infill the site, steel girders had been used to cover it. These were than covered by railway sleepers and covered with earth. Wooden baulks had also been used to keep the sides from collapsing.

The spa baths top covering Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The spa baths top covering Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Follow Geoffrey on Twitter for more Preston history.

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