By Ms Fish
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.