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Friends Of The Trinkie And the North Baths Index



Friends Of The Trinkie And The North Baths

By Harry Gray

Generations of Wickers will have their memories jogged just by the mention of The North Baths.  Memories of summers spent, learning to swim, swimming, diving, competing and generally enjoying themselves at the Baths.   It is nearly a century since the pool opened, so maybe a short account of how it came into being would be appropriate.

The story begins away back in 1896, when the idea of a public saltwater pool was first suggested, but nothing much was achieved, and the project was shelved.

Suddenly in the Northern Ensign of 16th. January 1900, a letter was published from a Gentleman signing himself, Second To None, suggesting that the Lorne Hotel and premises ( which stood in Lower Pultney opposite the Wick Heritage Centre) be acquired by an outlay of trust, or other funding, or by the promotion of a company, and be converted into a public baths. He suggested that the central courtyard would become a swimming pool with water laid on from the town, river, and sea. The main building would house areas for the sale of tea, coffee, and cold drinks, a quiet reading room, and a fully equipped gymnasium. There could also, he suggested be provision for private baths, at an extra fee. The outbuildings could be converted, refurbished, and turned into washing facilities with drying rooms fitted with the latest accessories, and let out to people lacking such facilities in their own homes, for perhaps 2d. or 3d. an hour (what foresight !) Finally he asked that a deputation be sent to Glasgow, that pattern city for the world, to enquire into the workings of like institutions, and bring back such practical information as to permit the immediate inauguration of the scheme.

The following week The Ensign printed a letter from N.S.C. ( probably Northern Swimming Club) who, while commending the scheme suggested by Second to None, maintained that what was really wanted was an open air saltwater baths. On the 2nd. of February 1900 Second to None was back in print with a lengthy letter, in which he thanked N.S.C. for his remarks and agreed that a few youths would no doubt tire of public baths and wish to disport themselves in the open, and test their powers of swimming and diving, with that sense of exhilaration which is only expressed while frolicking in the swell of the tide. Of course he went on, a saltwater pool would only serve a group of young fellows, since he doubted that mixed bathing would be evisaged, whereas his scheme would be of benefit to a far wider section of the community, and in all weathers.

Nothing more appeared in print, until August 24th.1900 when The Ensign reported that The Northern Swmming Club had held their A.G.M. in The Rifle Hall on Tues. 4th.at 8.30pm. Mr W Coghill, Captain, presiding.At that meeting a deputation was formed, consisting of, Messrs W Gow Miller, W Coghill and Alex. Calder.They were to seek a meeting, and confer with the Town Council with a view to getting a site for a saltwater bath.

On the 4th. of Sept. 1900 The Ensign reported that the aforementioned W Coghill, music teacher, and Alex. Calder draper, appeared as a deputation from the N.S.C. before The Town Council.

They related to the Council the unanimity of the N.S.C. members re. The desirability of a bathing area, as their club could scarcely exist without a suitable place. The club had funds amounting to between £18 to £20 but were aware of the difficulties in obtaining the best site, however they had full confidence that the Council would be able to secure the site.

The Provost stated that the Council were fully in support, and that an offer had been made to a feuar on the north shore, but it had fallen through. The Town Council hoped to get the rights via the Harbour Trust and then applying to the Board of Trade for consent, but the rights of the Hempriggs Estate were, he thought, protected by an act of 1879 – no-one was sure what those right were. Baillie Simpson held that Hempriggs had no rights to the foreshore as it belongs to the Board of Trade. He further stated that it was their duty to see that we have the bathing establishments to give every facility for learning the art of swimming. Councillor Davidson agreed, and said that he could remember when bathing was not neglected, and when Shaltigoe and behind the breakwater were good places, but changes to the area had rendered it unsafe. He understood that a Bazaar was to be held, with the proceeds going to the project.

Dean of Guild held that the council should use privileges under Act of Parliament to have public baths and wash houses and suggested that they should use the bleaching green. The Clerk stated that this could not be done, as the area could only be used as a bleaching green. Councillor Ross and the Dean were added to the committee.

At a meeting of the Town Council on 4th. Dec. of that year the Provost and Clerk were instructed to send plans for the pool to the Harbour Trust. Mr Mackenzie proposed to get in touch with the Board of Trade. The Provost stated that the Harbour Trust were prepared to give up their rights for this purpose. Councillors Mackenzie and Davidson, along with the Provost, to negotiate with the Board of Trade for a suitable site.

The John O’ Groat Journal of 17th. May 1901 carried a report of a Town Council meeting at which Cllr. Davidson wished to know about the proposed swimming baths, only to be told that the Provost and Clerk had made no progress. It was resolved to hold a meeting on 20th.May on the baths question, the site in view was Balaclava Station at Blackrock.

For the next fifteen months there is silence, it looks probable that a lot of work was going on behind the scenes between the Council and the various bodies concerned, i.e. The Northern Swimming Club, The Board of Trade etc. but nothing can be found in writing in the Council minutes or in the local press. It is a great pity that the minute books of The Northern Swimming Club, and The Riverside and Town Improvements Comm. have not survived, the latter getting involved, possibly because all councillors were automatic members of that body. Then in late August 1902 The Ensign reported that the Town Council had remitted the matter of the baths to a Swimming Baths Committee who were to meet with the Burgh School Committee for the purposes of making arrangements for increased accommodation for swimming, and with a view of having swimming a branch of education. This meeting duly took place and the idea was unanimously approved of but could not be decided upon without due consideration, which would be given at the Burgh Schools’ first monthly meeting. It was also noted that few of our young fishermen could swim, this was due in part to the sandy and shingle beaches on both sides of the bay and the famous “Powie” further up the river had all disappeared due to the harbour, and other works. At last, however there was a prospect of having the long talked about swimming pool at Blackrock finished and in working order by spring of 1903. This it was stated was fine for the summer, but a heated pool would be desirable in winter, and that an ideal site would be the Zion Chapel (now the Salvation Army Hall) however the trustees of the said hall were not keen to sell the hall for such a purpose

Suddenly in the Town Council minutes of 29th.Oct.1902 a feu disposition appears from the Board of Trade in favour of Wick Town Council. The important part reads, "The portion of ground disponed to Wick Town Council, their heirs, successors and asignees, is those pieces of land being part of the foreshore and river bed of the river Wick and bay below high water mark, opposite to the riverward end of Bridge Street Wick, and to the cooperages and stores situated north of the rocks known as the sisters at Balaclava". This dispostion by the Board of Trade takes up 42 closely written A3 pages of the Council minute book.

A further silence was broken on the 2nd.Feb 1903 when The Ensign reported that at the January monthly meeting The Wick Town Council was to appoint a new Swimming Bath Comm. The new treasurer Geddes asked for more information on the proposed baths for the benefit of the new councillors. Unfortunately Cllr. Simpson who was chairman of the former committee was not present to give the information. More people insisted on more information before appointments were made. Mr. Simpson joined the meeting late, and when questioned, admitted that nothing had been done in connection with the proposed baths. The appointments were postponed.

It was reported in The Ensign of March 3rd.1903 that at the last The Town Council meeting, Dean of Guild moved that the Swimming Bath Comm. come under the Water Public Health Committee. Mr.Keith, to laughter, asked if it should not come under the cleansing department? Deans move approved.

A brief report appeared in The Groat of 29th. April 1904 stating that work on the new bathing pool was being carried out. On May 13th. a letter from V.C. was published saying that he had walked the North and South Heads and that a systematic investigation had failed to reveal works of any kind going on and he accused the Council of turning the pool matter into a burlesque.

The Groat apologised, and stated that their report should have said that arrangements had been completed, not work commenced.

Next mention of the baths is in a report of a meeting of The Riverside Committee in The Groat of 12th. August 1904, when Mr. Mackenzie, convenor of the Swimming Pool Comm. said that he was pleased to report that the work on the swimming pool was coming on admirably. They had deviated from the original intention by making the concrete wall longer ( probably the sea wall ) and this was a great improvement.The Ensign of Aug 29th. carried a report of The Riverside Comm. where it was stated that one of the many small harbours on the north side of the bay had been converted into a swimming baths at a cost of £145. 3s. 8d. the contractor being Mr. Archie MacDonald. The success of the baths speaks for itself, every morning before 8a.m. 20 – 30 young men can be seen disporting themselves, and all day long bathers are in evidence. Then on the 2nd. of Sept. 1904 in the local news column the Groat reported that the swimming baths just erected at Port Dunbar will be formally opened at 10.30a.m. on Gala day . The great day approaches!

The great day did in fact arrive on Wednesday 7th. September 1904 when the pool was officially opened by Provost Rae and taken over by the Town Council on behalf of the town.
The description reported in the Ensign of 13th. Sept was as follows -
The bath is 200 feet in length by 90 broad and is divided in two. The part next to Bains’ Harbour is 100 feet by 90, and there is a depth of six or seven feet of water. A weir has been erected across the entrance between the rock and the back of Bains’ harbour, fitted with a patent 12 inch sluice for letting the water in and out as required for bathing purposes. The corner near the roadway has been walled up to 12 feet, with steps leading down to the water for the bathers to get in and out. There are booths erected at this corner for the use of bathers. The other 100 feet is a sloping beach of dry land for children and non swimmers. There are booths erected for their use. ( the “other” 100ft. was later incorporated into the pool and the last 30 or so feet formed the shallow end, separated from the “deep” end by an iron railing)

The report goes on,
At 10o’clock there was a large gathering in the vicinity of the bath, including a number of youth of the town, for whom the pond had been mainly constructed, and also a number of “old salts” who had taken a very deep interest in the enterprise and have given valuable help in the way of advising the committee as they proceeded with the work. There was only one drawback on Wednesday, as, owing to a heavy swell the surface of the pond was covered with “ware” (seaweed )

The full speeches can be read in The Northern Ensign of Sept. 13th. Ex-Baillie Simpson on handing the pool over to the Town remarked that in his youth, a beautiful sandy beach extended all along the North shore of the river estuary and there was another at Shaltigoe (this is now the outer harbour, Shaltigoe was “moved”) where hundreds of the young folk of Wick and Pultney had sported, now with all the works, these beaches had disappeared and there was not a safe spot in the bay where folk could safely swim.

Provost Rae, on accepting the pool on behalf of the Town, reminded those present, that only two decades ago this pool was a snug little harbour which formed the refuge for some of the fishing fleet, but the 30 & 40 feet boats are now gone, and the bigger craft now find better accommodation in deeper water on the other side of the bay. He went on to say that a “friend” of his, had just the other day, suggested to him that the best way of opening the baths was for the provost, magistrates and councillors to take a header into the pool.

On declaring the pool open, about 20 men and boys plunged into the water, and disported themselves for about ten minutes. One of the number plunged into the water without divesting himself of any of his clothing, and he swam about with as much ease as if he had no clothes or big boots on.

Mr.Simpson again spoke to the swimmers after their dip and said that an old friend of Wick, now in his 90th. year had sent him ten shillings(50p.) to be given to the “dookers”. He thought that the best thing to do was to have a treat amongst themselves with the money. They would be well provided for at the ladies tent at the riverside on the Gala ground, and there they would get substantial refreshments. Amazing though it may seem, the swimming sports that day were held in the river as part of the Gala. The first sports to be held in the North Baths was a year later.

The North Baths continued to be a Mecca for hundreds, if not thousands of young, and not so young Wickers, for the next 60 plus years, but it was eventually abandoned in favour of the indoor pools. It now, in January of 2003, lies in total devastation, the sea wall knocked down and on its way back to looking like the wee harbour it once was. How sad.

Harry Gray.

And so 18 months later the North Baths is back in working order by the "FREENDS" to be reopened on 24 July 2004............