Campus curiosities 19 Goldsmiths' bathhouse

March 3, 2006

Laurie Grove baths in New Cross was built as part of a Victorian municipal drive to civilise the "great unwashed" of industrial south London. Now the main pool is filled with art students.

The baths opened in April 1898 and was intended to help improve social conditions through hygiene and cleanliness. Some of the visitors were among the poorest members of the community and the chance to get clean offered them a shred of dignity. Peter Powers, whose father was the last official manager of the baths, recalled penniless old men coming to take a final dip. "Destitute men who died washed and clean-shaven, as my father always said, 'were taken away as naked as the next man' without embarrassment of being found wrapped in rags," Powers said.

Although the pools survived until 1991, the building was used from 1954 by the Anglo-Caribbean Club. At a time when many pubs in South East London excluded black people, Laurie Grove baths provided many people with a place to meet. Among them was George Brown, a pioneer in the movement to gain equal rights and oppose racism.

In 1994, the building was taken over by Goldsmiths University. It is now home to the Centre for Urban and Community Research and the visual arts studios, which divide the main pool into squares.

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