mechanised
[beneath the rule a country hides]

Monday, January 26th, 2004

Time:7:03 pm.
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........#4 - Tottenham Baths, London [February 2005]



After reading a handful of other accounts, I decided to pay a visit to Tottenham Baths - an astonishing relic lying vacant on a busy North London street. As recently as the early 90s, the building was still being used for boxing matches and dances, but the cost of upkeep, combined with the opening of a nearby leisure centre, finally sounded its death knell in 91. There has been talk of an arts centre being built in its place - but as at Warley and Cliveden, these plans have been stymied by apparatchiks at the local council, and it has lain derelict for almost fourteen years.



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The building’s main features are its two pools – with the larger, more impressive of the two often boarded over and used as a dancehall or theatre. Elsewhere, there are a series of smaller rooms – showers, cafeteria, a small cluster of offices at the building’s front - but certainly nothing to match the decaying grandeur of the main hall…

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The Baths are remarkably free of graffiti (despite being positioned next to a school); and as at Rauceby, deterioration is due largely to neglect and the steady encroachment of nature.. The few traces of other explorers came in the form of film cartridges and battery packs; but most of the activity I observed was rather benign. (chairs thrown in baths, filing cabinets upturned). Smashed skylights have hastened the decline somewhat, but most other signs of human intervention are minimal.

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Much of the site has been taken over by various flora - entire walls now devoured by mould. In the baths themselves, too, in the acrid shallow pools at each deep-end, trees and small bushes have started to emerge; smaller moss-type plants providing a verdant carpet of sludge at their base. ....In other sections of the site, tiles have even been forced off the wall by the climbing plants beneath. [The pace of destruction almost glacial – a tile or two removed each month, a wall cleared within a decade.]

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[...At times, the building had the feeling of a vast aviary. Its upper reaches have now been colonised by pigeons (their presence quadrupled during a shower or snow flurry) and the birds have left their mark on almost every inch of the building’s floors…]

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A decade’s worth of neglect has also rendered many of the building’s excesses bearable. Strident, ill-chosen colours have slowly faded into melancholy shades (brash vermillion now a soft Indian Red)…the once-garish tiles now stripped of much of their lustre. Indeed, the Baths now seem to embody the kind of squalid, faded elegance that typifies many seaside resorts out-of-season

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A large part of what the Baths so interesting was that very little actually seems to have been removed from the site – instead merely relocated. Hundreds of floorboards were stacked at the rear of the hall, while an entire an auditorium’s worth of chairs now rested in a room behind the stage. In the pools too, I found remnants of the laundry, guide ropes for swimmers, microscopic fragments of rubber flooring – ..traces of almost anything if I looked closely enough.

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[The most baffling aspect of the Baths was certainly the migration of furniture (how on earth a washing machine could ever find itself beneath the main stage, for instance). As at other sites, years’ worth of random events and interventions have resulted in bizarre configurations, the reasons for which are impossible to unravel.]

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Certain aspects of the Baths – particularly the cafeteria and changing rooms - also reminded me of what Simon Reynolds called the “sheer crapness” of England in the late seventies and early eighties, when in a great many ways (fashion, architecture, decor), Britain almost resembled an Eastern bloc country. [I feel ill-equipped to say much more, but there now exists a rich vein of secondary literature on the subject that is certainly worth exploring.]

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…With the roof in the smaller pool removed, and the ever-present bustle of the nearby street, I was at least spared the unease of my asylum visits. (Although I suspect this had more to do with the building’s benign history than its openness. There was no sense of suffering, no identification – the Baths merely summoned up memories of winter trips to Southend, or the more desolate fringes of the South-East…)

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Upper Floor

The balcony areas were perilously unsafe in places, the floor often giving way under my feet. The ceiling seemed even less secure - a large fragment collapsing towards the end of my visit. [A low moan and then a silent flight before shattering on the supports below]

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I spent rather longer than intended at the Baths due to the sudden appearance of workmen – a steel fence erected around my entrance point whilst still inside (!). In the end I just sat there silently, legs hanging over the deep-end as I waited for dusk and the chance to escape unnoticed.


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Links:

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  • Tottenham Baths in Use - pictures of the hall and smaller pool before closure (thumbnails above)
  • London Pools Campaign pressure group committed to reversing trend of pool closures in London.



  • Alternative Accounts:

  • Sub-Urban [link]
  • Abandoned Britain [link]
  • Nobody There [link]


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