21 April 2008
By John Prendergast
Manor Place holds many fears for me. It is the place my father dragged myself and my brother along to for haircuts for most of our young years and well into our teenage ones.
Peter at Giuseppes, or 'Zeps' as we called it, was based along the parade and had only one style of haircut, no matter what you asked for.
This would cause my sibling and myself many stressful hours, both before and after a visit, mulling over tactics to get the cut we desired. Despite Peter being a delightful fellow, he unknowingly caused much angst in our household.
While Manor Place is a childhood nemesis for me, the baths, not a stone’s throw away from Zeps, is a venue that for 80 years brought delight to people’s lives, enabled them to taste a bit of luxury and also a social point where people could discuss the problems of the world whilst washing their smalls!
The Manor Place Baths were opened on March 16, 1898, and led the Mayor of New York to state: "There is no public bathing establishment even approximating this in the United States."
The baths were of the finest quality with a first and second class pool, as well as one for the ladies to paddle by themselves. But it was also a washhouse, built to encourage those in the area to take regular washes to prevent diseases sweeping through the district due to poor hygiene.
Right up until the 1970s when it closed, it was also where many Walworth folks would take their laundry to use the vast tubs there, as well as the drying facilities such as huge mangles. An account just before its closure tells of small boy who sat there for hours waiting for his mum to complete her wash, all the time gossiping about friends and foes in the area.
The baths were not without controversy however. They were built at a cost of approximately £60,000, leaving many a worried ratepayer to wonder who would foot the bill of this huge complex.
The pools were always popular for all generations, but the baths offered locals the chance to receive a bit of pampering. Away from their own homes where they would often bath in the living room or kitchen, people could slip into the full length tubs, calling for more hot and cold water as required. A rare moment of being waited on hand and foot. For the truly flash a few extra pence would enable you to use the Zotofoam bath for an experience of true luxury.
As well as being a swimming venue, many boxing contests were held there down the years. Most of the best boxers fought there - Sir Henry Cooper and his brother George, as well as luminaries such as British Champ Terry Spinks and World Champion Ken Buchanan. Micky Duff, who went on to promote Frank Bruno for many years, staged many of his early bills in the venue just off the Walworth Road.
It was not just for the pros however, and regular amateur nights took place there, where boys from the local clubs would pit their skills against one another and boys who visited from all over the country.
When the venue opened it was veiled in some controversy and closed in a similar manner in 1978. The council said the baths were now cracked and dangerous, and the opening of the new Elephant and Castle pools would replace the pools.
Locals did not feel the same as it was felt the new pool was more for kids, but the baths were eventually closed and partly demolished, despite the clamour for them to be refurbished.
The baths have since been used as council offices for a number of years, and since March 2007 have been the home of the London branch of Buddhist group Kagyu Samye Dzong.
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