Laurie Grove Baths

Restoration of Victorian water tanks.

Under the Public Baths and Wash-houses Act of 1846, councils were encouraged to provide more publicly available and inexpensive washing facilities. The Laurie Grove baths opened in New Cross in 1898. They were constructed in Jacobean style at the cost of £48,695 by the architect Thomas Dinwiddy. The baths had three swimming pools; Large, Small and a ‘South pool’, plus 1st and 2nd class slipper baths. Water was pumped from its own well and held in two cast iron water tanks at the top of the building. Demand, especially during the summer months, was great and mains water was also stored which could be released during a drought. The baths also had a large laundry for the washing and drying of bath-towels. This was a huge operation employing 35 washers and acted as a hub for all the other ‘wash houses’ in South-East London. Towels were washed and dried on huge racks with a pull-out roller system at the rear of the main bath.

From the mid-20th century, the Laurie Grove baths became a multi-use space. In the evening, wooden boards were placed over the Large Pool transforming the building for dance hall competitions and, from the 1960s, as a concert venue. The Large Pool space also housed all-in-wrestling matches for audiences of working class women and, in the 1960s and 1970s, black beauty pageants and limbo competitions, with performers flown in from Trinidad. The pools were eventually closed to the public in 1991. In 1994 the building was bought by Goldsmiths College and converted into studios for Fine Art MA students. The baths are today used to present final art work at the MA degree shows every summer.

The art gallery restoration project converted the two open tanks above the westernmost building into indoor and outdoor gallery spaces. The tanks were made from braced cast-iron panels riveted together and the larger tank subdivided into two separate spaces. To restore them for gallery use, internal rust was stripped and the ironwork restored, and the walls sealed with a waterproof membrane. New structural support, level flooring, insulation, roofing, doors, windows and interior lighting were installed. The tank galleries reopened as part of the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art in 2018.

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