Due to the outbreaks of Cholera in the early to mid-nineteenth century, a committee was formed in 1844 for promoting the establishment of baths and wash-houses for the labouring classes, one member of the committee being the Bishop of London; the bishop petitioned for a bill and in 1846 'The Public Baths and Wash-Houses Act' was passed, giving powers to local authorities to fund the construction of public baths and wash-houses.
It seemed that for whatever reason, the Lambeth Vestry had declined to carry out the construction of baths for this new Act and in 1853 a private company 'The Lambeth Baths and Wash-Houses Company Limited' funded the construction of the Lambeth Baths which were designed by Arthur Ashpitel and John Whichcord Jr and the baths drew their water from the newly constructed works by the Thames Water Company at Thames Ditton, Surrey.
The baths were located behind what is now the Waterloo Health Centre, and although it was behind the main street frontages, it stretched virtually the entire length from the Lower Marsh to Baylis Road (which was then called Oakley Street); it incorporated swimming baths and also 'slipper baths' and a wash -house.
It seems there were three entrances from the map, one in the Lower Marsh, one in Westminster Bridge Road (Which could have been the main entrance judging by the address that is given for it) and the other in Charles Street, which ran off of Oakley Street. The entrance to the washhouse having a separate entrance for 'washing women' with an adjacent house for the care of children (it may have been that the entrance in Charles Street was the wash-house entrance, as it in a side street, off the main road).
The baths were certainly operational by 1861 and were well used by locals apparently. Initially the two swimming baths (women were not allowed in the pools) were open in the summer months and costs were 6d for first class and 3d for second class.
The private baths were priced accordingly: for a superior hot bath (with fire) 1 shilling; a standard hot bath (with fire) 6d and a cold bath 3d.
The baths were also used in 1879 for the 'Trials of Endurance', a swimming marathon which lasted 145 hours over 6 days. The winner, Matthew Webb, had already won an accolade of being the first person to swim the Channel in 1875.
During the winter months, the baths were converted for other uses: from 1861, they were used for indoor running; in 1868, they were used to hold the South London Industrial Exhibition, which was attended by the Prince of Wales and Baron Brunnow; and also the Surrey Cricket team used the converted baths as a practice area, plus they were used many times for a public meeting hall.
The baths were still operational in 1902 but shortly after that time they closed; registers in the London Gazette for 1908 record the winding up of the company and the appointment of Thomas Mitchell, the Secretary, as Liquidator. Certainly by 1914, any trace of the baths had been removed; the old Ordinance Survey maps of that year shows the area covered by he baths to be split into sections of large premises.
Little is known as to why the baths closed, it may have been due to the construction of new baths on the corner of Lambeth Road and Kennington Road which would have been paid for by the LCC.