Marshall Street Baths

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Marshall Street Baths
The Marshall Street Baths (now the Marshall Street Leisure Centre and also known as Westminster Public Baths), were built by the Vestry of St James’ and opened in 1850 Marshall Street, Soho in 1850. They are owned and operated by the City of Westminster.

The establishment had 64 first and second class baths, 60 washing compartments, 60 separate drying chambers, 16 ironing compartments and 2 large plunge baths (1st and 2nd class). It also had a laundry and, in the Edwardian era, a child welfare clinic. These were demolished and replaced by what is now a Grade II listed building which opened in 1931 and retained some of the original features. Most striking are the green Swedish marble walls and the barrel-vaulted roof.

For gay men, public baths such as the Marshall Street baths offered places for cruising which went on in varying degrees of openness despite all the other family activity going on around them. At Marshall Street the activity centred on the 1st Class plunge baths. The 18-year-old Michael Redgrave recalled a visit on 25th July 1926:

"I was the only boy there amid a lot of horrible men, some old, some middle-aged, some quite young. But they all stared at me and each tried to get into conversation with me. I knew only too well what for. They started at my almost naked body until I almost blushed for shame. The openness of their intentions was what was so beastly. Is it to be wondered that I went home with a good-looking young American boy that who was there too? I was a fool, but I could hardly help myself."[1]

Ironically, Redgrave had just seen a play, They Knew What They Wanted.

The baths closed in 1998 and were reopened as a Leisure Centre in 2010.

References

  1. From the Redgrave diaries in the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre collection. Quoted in Donald Spoto, The Redgraves (London: The Robson Press, 2012), page 25.