WHEN Darlington was criticised for having neither a wash-house nor a swimming pool in 1851, the town's elders decided that an old clay pit in Kendrew Street would hold water as a public baths.

However, as it was unroofed, it was usually full of leaves, and its water was refreshed once-a-week from the nearby lake in North Lodge Park. Consequently, it was clean (and very cold) when the baths opened at 6am on Sunday, but by the time the baths closed at 5pm on Friday, when drainage began, the water was such a reddy brown colour, you were unable to send the bottom of the 6ft 6in deep end.

So even when it got a £1,300 roof in 1888, it was said to be impossible to discern if you were in a swimming pool or a sewage farm.

In 1933, the council spent £39,500 creating the Gladstone Street baths alongside Kendrew Street. These were opened by Prince George, the king's youngest son on his day-trip to Darlo which also involved him opening the Memorial Hospital.

Mixed bathing was allowed, although men were not allowed to step foot on the west side of the baths where women had their changing cabins. Unfairly, women were allowed to walk on the east side where the men had their cabins but, of course, no lady would ever dare do such a thing.

In winter, when it was too cold for swimming, the bath was covered by wooden flooring so it doubled as the town's largest meeting room where balls and galas were held – the flooring over the bath had a bit of give in it, so it was considered ideal for dancing.

The baths closed on Sunday, October 31, 1982, which was two days before the opening of the modern leisure complex called the Dolphin Centre which had been built in the Market Place. Demolition began on January 13, 1983 and the baths – and the clay it – were replaced by a temporary car park, which is still there more than 30 years later.

Do you have any memories or photographs of the old baths? We'd love to hear from you if you do. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk.