BACK to the baths – the “old baths” in Darlington’s Kendrew Street and the “new baths” next door in Gladstone Street.

The new baths was floored over in winter and used as a large assembly room for balls and concerts – in the early 1950s, there was great debate locally as to whether jitterbugging should be tolerated among teenagers at the Baths Hall.

Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk played at the Baths Hall. Jimmy Shand played for Scottish dances there, and a 13-year-old piano prodigy, Daniel Baremboim, starred there in 1955.

Wrestling bouts took place on a Saturday, with the Park brothers, Ron and David, having a tag team, and little old ladies sitting in the front row and getting very excited about the injustices they saw in the ring.

Perhaps the Baths’ biggest night was February 9, 1968, when Freddie and the Dreamers (best known for their wacky dancing and their hit You Were Made For Me) played the Press Ball, which raised £400 for local charities.

ROBERT HENRY WALTON was a boilerman at the baths. Every week, he had to shovel ten tons of coal into the boilerhouse and then keep the pool at an appropriate temperature while also monitoring its chlorine levels. He was also part of the team that put the floor in place and then removed it ready for the next day’s swimming – no one has yet definitively told us whether the pool was emptied before it was boarded over or whether hundreds of people were jitterbugging away over thousands of gallons of water.

The Northern Echo:

CLOCKING OFF: Bob the Boilerman – Robert Henry Walton – receives his retirement gift in 1969 from two council officials after more than a decade working at the Kendrew Street baths

“I learned to swim at Kendrew Street baths,” says the boilerman’s grandson, Steve Walton. “The instructor used to stand at the side of the bath and we had a webbing band around our chest attached to a rope. The instructor held the other end of the rope and we were repeatedly pulled slowly towards the edge of the bath until we were swimming by ourselves.”

IN the days before baskets or lockers, swimmers got changed in the poolside cabins and left their clothes on the cabin bench while they went for a dip.

“Those arriving after you simply repeated the process so that when you got out, you had to rummage through the clothing assortment, determine what belonged to you, and get dressed,” says Howard Wilson. “Incredibly, I never remember leaving wearing the wrong undercrackers.”

Speaking of undercrackers, if men did not have their own trunks, they could hire a pair at the pool for a penny.

“They were a washed out pale grey affair in some sort of heavy duty cotton, decidedly unflattering,” he says. “Thankfully, I don’t remember women having a similar option.”

Howard’s day out at the baths was completed by the consumption of a penny duck, bought on the way in from a butcher’s on Northgate.

STEVE WARREN has fond memories of the baths in the 1960s, as he caught the train from Bishop Auckland to go swimming. His memories include the tasty tomato soup in The Rendezvoux Café next door.

“They also served milky coffee in glass cups which we had not encountered before,” says the lad from Bishop.

But then, more darkly, he adds: “Wooden cubicles lined the side of the pool and before changing into your bathing trunks you had to check the walls to ensure there were no drilled peeping holes. If there were you had to block the view by rubbing your bar of soap or wet paper into the peephole.”

The past shouldn’t always be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles.