The joy of Marshall Street Baths

Ms Fish tip-toes over the cold marble and slips into the stimulating waters of the newly restored and re-opened Marshall Street Baths in Soho.

By Ms Fish

Ms Fish is pleased to the gills with the restored and re-opened 30m pool. Photo: Bath Voyeur

Breath control: Ms Fish pleasures herself in the restored and re-opened 30m pool. Photo: Budgie Smuggler

Ah, the pleasure of again swimming in that beautiful, 30 metre marble-lined pool, after 13 years of closure! The Friends of Marshall Street Baths is to be highly commended for managing to save this relic of by-gone civic pride. Westminster’s coat of arms, emblazoned on the back wall: “Custodi Civitatem Domine” – meaning ‘Guard the City, O Lord’ – is a stark reminder of a time when public property and services were not merely assets to be monetised, but part of the fabric of society. This pool was mentioned several times by locals during a recent oral history project.

A shame to lose the bleachers on either side of the main pool and learning pool at the back, so there is no space for the kind of display and competitions the public used to enjoy in the days of Jonny Weismuller. The bog-standard grey glass panels reflected light well, but still the sides seemed cramped.

Since my student days, when I used to sneak into Marshall Street without paying, I have become addicted to having a sauna after swimming. The Health Suite here is very well appointed, with good-quality non-slip ceramic tiles underfoot and lining the steam-room. The whole, which also has two saunas, is oddly laid out: one sauna is enormous, with seating for over 30, the other tiny with room for only five – there was a missed opportunity here to build a Turkish bath with rooms of increasing temperature. The lounge area was not as warm as it should have been, and there was the constant whiff of high strength cleaning fluid which decidedly did not add to the atmosphere.

The afternoon I went was supposed to be women-only, but there was a man on reception so none of the freedom one would expect. He also wanted to charge an extra £1 for the use of a towel. Apparently you don’t pay this if you pay separately for use of the Health Suite but do if you’ve signed up to the ‘ultimate’ package which includes use of the suite. Another oddity: there is no middle charge between swim-only (£30 a month) and ‘ultimate’ which includes use of the gym (£49 a month). And membership, even for a resident, does not link with other Westminster sports facilities or even Nuffield’s own chain. A fee of £49 a month will usually get you swimming, sauna and sometimes gym at other local authority leisure centres across London and some YMCAs. No wonder the place was nearly empty.

Marshall Street Leisure Centre

9 Comments on The joy of Marshall Street Baths

  1. Terrible Terrible Terrible!
    I have joined this center in November 2010 and I have found the terms and conditions of joining very non- flexible, unfriendly staff and the facilities to be less than average.
    To take a shower is a nightmare (water stops every 5 seconds and you have to press a button for this to start again), no female staff on ladies day at the spa which is ridiculous and last class starts at 6:45 PM on workdays and there are no classes in the afternoon on weekends. Would def. NOT recommend!

  2. I like the staff at this place. They’re very friendly. But to be honest they wouldn’t get a job anywhere else! Not a proper company at any rate. No-one seems to know anything.

    The gym itself is quite beautiful. No complaints with the equipment as it’s all brand new. It’s been very well refurbished.

    What I dislike about this complex is the sexual discrimination. Women only swimming. This is not legal under the Equal Opportunities Commission. http://www.eoc.org.hk/eoc/GraphicsFolder/default.aspx

    It’s not fair to be discriminated against because of your sex. Especially when there is one old woman in the pool and a male lifeguard attendant watching over her!

    It’s not professionally run. And it’s in an area full of switched on, wealthy, demanding, professionals. That’s probably why it’s almost completely empty.

    The membership staff are very poor sales people. I walk in with intention of signing up every week and walk back out again dazed and confused.

    Someone needs to sort this place out and make a straight forward proposition to potential customers. Otherwise, I fear the writing is on the wall for this complex. It must lose a ton of money.

    And the sad thing is, with what they’ve got, they should be eating every other gym in the local area’s lunch.

  3. Seems I have the wrong link on there! Government Equalities Office (GEO) http://www.equalities.gov.uk

    Haven’t read it, thoroughly. Seems that as a white male, I don’t have as many rights as everyone else! Astonishing.

  4. This is a good pool but it has become obsessed with all swimmers wearing paper security tags whilst swimming. These things are very irritating to wear if one is doing a long swim. Some points…

    1. I explained that I find the tags uncomfortable over a long swim. I tried to meet the pool staff half-way by wearing the tag around my trunks but was told that I had to wear it on my arm. I resent being treated like an unruly child if I am paying 6 pounds for a swim.

    2. I understand the need for security, but if I had chosen to do so I could have picked up a used tag from the changing room floors and re-used it. Security should be maintained at the door, not inside the pool.

    3. Life guards should be there to keep an eye on swimmers and not be acting as nightclub doormen. They currently seem to spend every spare moment shaking down swimmers for their tags.

    • I have to agree with you. I find the tags irritating. This is a lovely pool and great to swim in. I’m personally a bit of a rule breaker, and once I’m past the guards, I just stuff the wrist band under my swim cap out of the way and get on with it. But – hey! – thanks for tip about picking one off the floor in the showers. I’ll pass it on.

      I also find it irritating that membership of “Swim London” or whatever it is called does not extend to Marshall Street Baths. I like to go to London Fields Lido – open air, heated and 50m – every so often as it is such a buzz swimming there. And it would be nice for Marshall Street to be part of that network. Let’s hope they sort it out. Linus. assistant editor, FN

      • Well on the plus side it seems that they’ve resolved the “Swim London” issue as they now accept this type of membership. I guess they had lots of complaints.

        The tags are still there, however, so I guess I’ll have to get used to for them for now…

        Cheers-

  5. Apart for the swimming pool which was designed by others, many years ago, the whole place is a travesty.
    In the Sauna there is no cold splash which is appalling planning for a modern development..
    The showers are completely useless. They turn off all the time and don’t ever think you will get a hot and cold shower. Das ist verboten!
    The changing lockers are narrow and very difficult to place clothes, bags rackets in.
    In all the whole place is very badly designed and expensive, except for the pool.

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