Recognise this place?. Unfair question I know. Doubtless you all grew up near one, whether or not you recognise this specific example is more of a test.
That’s right, It is a public baths.
Indeed it is Rochdale Public Baths.This was where we could be found when we weren’t playing Walley, 36-a-side football or swailing.
Or at least it was.The baths are no longer there. They were pulled down in 2012.
Built of Accrington Brick and York stone at a cost of £67,131 this Art Deco building opened its doors in 1937 offering Turkish and Russian baths plus the Crush Hall, cafe and spectator areas. The two pools, large and small, were both built wth underwater lighting, and in a bit of forward thinking the building was originally heated by waste burned in the Cleansing Department’s nearby refuse incinerator.
It must have looked a swell joint in its day.
With our trunks rolled up inside our towels, We’d hop on the bus into town and spend the afternoon running, bombing and petting (petting?) until our eyes were blood red from the chlorine and our foreheads an angry mauve, having been slapped so many times as we dived from the high boards.
Self: top left C 1970
Self: third from left C 1970
And when our afternoon was over, having got changed, we gave in to the fuzzy warm feeling ovecoming us and made our way to the cafe for a cup of the nicest tomato soup with toast you have ever tasted.
My adoptive town. So many happy memories there.
© Andy Daly 2017
Alright. Hands up, who knows what Swailing is?
Almost certainly Norse in origin. (Icelandic: Svaela meaning heat with thick, dark smoke). Swailing describes the age-old art of managing overgrown heathland and clearing the ground of dead vegetation so that new growth can appear, by means of prescribed burning.
Or as we knew it in Rochdale, where I was brought up, the simple union of Pennine breeze, dried grasses, moss and Swan Vestas. Swailing was treated by us kids as a perfectly acceptable robust outdoor activity during the summer months. Indeed, it sat quite comfortably alongside other healthy practices such as nesting, breaking into disused industrial buildings, walking up reservoir overflow pipes, testing out old mine workings, getting underneath old chimney stacks, swimming wherever we could and playing day-long games of ‘Walley’
I can’t believe that my former self engaged in such wifull acts of vandalism. All I can say in my defence is that we never left a fire burning out of control … and it was the 70’s. We must have been a dead giveaway to our parents; returning home, at the end of the day, stinking of smoke, grey, sooty faces with white eyes and black moustaches showing where we had rubbed under our noses.
I had always assumed that ‘Swailing’ was local dialect, which described a perculiarly ‘Rochdalian’ thing to do, but in fact it is in general circulation and used to describe this ancient process throughout the country..
Don’t do it.
It’s not big and it’s not clever.
Andy Daly 2016