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Farewell Pitt Street Baths

Pitt Street Baths demolition

This Art Nouveau baths and gymnasium were built in 1910-11 as the Royal Naval School of Physical Training, when the armed services were worried about the lack of fitness of new recruits. It has a twin in Chatham in HMS Pembroke – now used by the University of Greenwich. The gymnasium had the highest hall in Portsmouth – better for tranpolinists than the new gym at HMS Temeraire. When the navy moved out, they were so fond of Pitt Street that they took sections of the semi-circular railings and installed them in Burnaby Road as well as a fireplace and photographs..

In the 1980s the city council acquired the building and wanted to demolish it. The Department of the Environment refused to list it and issued a certificate of indemnity against listing. But we managed to contact a national sports body which was looking for a home for talented local athletes including children who had to travel up to the Midlands to train. They put money into refurbishing the building – the swimming pool was filled with foam blocks for trampolinists But the building was not well maintained.

Interior of Pitt Street Baths gymnasium after removal of all fixtures.

When Centros Miller applied for outline permission to redevelop the ‘Northern Quarter’ they showed a big road parallel to the existing one-way road which roars between the baths and the dockyard wall. In the Society’s objection we suggested that the road south could be accommodated under the new structure, but despite the unnecessarily and enormous acreage given to roads, including a turn into the dockyard which the MOD say they don’t need, outline permission was granted – though the ‘reserved matters’ criticised by the Society have still not been agreed.

A condition was that the athletes should have other provision provided before demolition – and a News reporter says they are going to Southampton for three months and then to another facility. But the planning department did not put a condition of salvage or a photographic record on the outline planning permission, and only the railings are likely to be saved. There is salvageable stone and excellent brick as well as the roof trusses…

Generations of local people learnt to swim in Pitt Street, even if they were not in the services, including my children. We feel angry and sad that inept planning has put paid to a useful and decorative piece of Portsmouth’s heritage.

Celia Clark