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From wartime dances to community takeovers – new exhibition captures history and memories of Bramley Baths

Photos: Simon Cullingworth

An exhibition capturing memories and old photographs connected to the history of much-loved Bramley Baths has been officially opened.

The Grade II Listed Baths dates back to 1904 when it was built to give people the chance to wash during a time when cholera was rife and few houses had running water.

The exhibition captures the Baths’ rich history. Photo: Simon Cullingworth

The Baths have also survived two world wars and the threat of closure from Leeds City Council on more than one occasion.

The new exhibition captures the memories of some of the regulars who have used the Baths over the years – with recollections including when the pool was boarded over for dances during the 1940s and the community taking on ownership in 2013.

Chair john Battle opened the exhibition. Photo: Simon Cullingworth.

The exhibition was opened by chair John Battle and vice chair Caroline Gruen and was paid for out of a wider £168,700 grant received last October from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to help support venues hit by the impact of Covid-19.

Deputy chair Caroline Gruen helps unveil a display board at Bramley Baths. Photo: Simon Cullingworth

It consists of a series of boards featuring memories and old photographs contributed by the Bramley community. Mr Battle said:

“The exhibition perfectly captures Bramley Baths’ rich past and the affection the people of bramley have for us, after more than 100 years at the heart of the community.

“We’re a great example of how ‘people power’ can bring about change in our communities. The past is important, but we have to look to the future of the Baths and ensure it’s in a strong position to meet the health needs of people after the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Jordan Keighley curated the exhibition at Bramley Baths. Photo: Simon Cullingworth.

Jordan Keighley is a swim teacher at Bramley Baths and has also curated the exhibition, working with a steering committee of local residents who had many memories of the facilities over the years. Jordan told WLD:

“This exhibition seeks to celebrate the treasured memories of the Bramley community who have been swimming, bathing and even dancing at Bramley Baths for more than a century.

“It was a pleasure to work so closely with a group of volunteers who kindly donated their personal stories, collections and photographs to the project. It truly is shaped by the people of Bramley.”

The £168,700 grant has not only funded the permanent history exhibition but has also allowed Bramley Baths to diversify its services and re-train staff to deliver outreach health services across the community.

The cash has helped review the not-for-profit company’s business plan, install better CCTV, cover utility costs and further develop the site as a sustainable eco-hub by carrying out an eco-survey of the Grade II Listed building.

Bramley Baths chief executive David Wilford unveils an exhibition board at the Baths. Photo: Simon Cullingworth

Chief executive David Wilford said the Baths was also looking to the future and a community survey – which can be found here – has been giving people the opportunity to shape the Baths’ offering moving forward.

He said the Baths were becoming more outward looking into the community and would also be starting a gardening project to boost the employability of young people in the community.

bramley baths pool web
Much-loved: Edwardian Bramley Baths is Grade II Listed.

Last month the Baths welcomed back school swimming lessons to the pool. The pool is due to officially re-open to the public later this month once government rules are relaxed.

Some of the staff, trustees and supporters at Bramley Baths. Photo: Simon Cullingworth.

Bramley Baths’ history

Bramley Baths is the only remaining Edwardian bath house in Leeds and is Grade II listed.

It first opened as a pool and public bath house in 1904, enabling local residents to wash, swim and use the Russian Steam Baths, fashionable with the Edwardians as a healthy pastime. Originally an iron foundry, the building’s chimney can be seen from across West Leeds.

In 2011 Leeds City Council, under budgetary pressures, invited expressions of interest to take over the management of Bramley Baths. A group of residents and supportive local organisations worked together to write a business plan, raise funds and transfer the building to the community. Bramley Baths became a not-for-profit, community-led, professionally-run enterprise and began a new era on 1 January 2013.

Since 2013 a professional staff team, backed by many supporters and volunteers, have turned around the fortunes of this much-loved community space, which also houses a recently refurbished gym, steam room and a refurbished exercise studio.

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