Public Baths and Laundries

Public Baths and Laundries

Public baths and laundries in London provided local residents with a place to bathe and wash their clothes.

The Public Baths and Wash Houses Act of 1846 first allowed local parishes to provide public baths and laundries. The new metropolitan boroughs built many more in the first decade of the 20th century. Bath-houses were essential public services in those years and remained in use well into the 20th century. Before the Second World War, 800,000 visits each year were still being made to the washhouses.

The early bath-houses were not leisure facilities but public services designed to improve public health and hygiene. In the early 20th century, many Londoners lived in crowded courts with no internal water supply. Until the late 1930s, shared standpipes and outside lavatories were common. Even when water was piped to a house, there was often only one tap in a scullery, shared by all tenants.

After the Second World War, although new housing was built with internal bathrooms, many Londoners continued to live in old Victorian sub-standard buildings. Even as late as 1971, over 500,000 Greater London households had access only to a shared bathroom or none at all.

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