The Arthur Hill Memorial Baths was a well-loved, historic swimming pool where thousands of Reading people learned to swim, many under the stern eye of swimming teachers such as Reading’s own Charlie Burt.
Dating from 1911, the Baths was the oldest sports facility in the borough; it was named after Arthur Hill JP, an enlightened and progressive Reading Councillor of the late Victorian era. The Baths building stands on land that was donated by Mr Hill’s son in law, Dr Jamieson B Hurry (the famous historian of Reading Abbey and an eminent Reading doctor and botanist ), and it was erected, entirely at the family’s expense, as Arthur Hill’s memorial. Hill‘s career included major work on modernising Reading’s public finances and its sewerage system. He introduced Reading’s first Children’s Library and was an early benefactor of Reading University College. Serving as Mayor from 1883 to 1887, he made many gifts to the town, including Reading’s famous copy of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Arthur Hill - Former Mayor of Reading (Photo: Reading Museum)
Dr Jamieson B Hurry 1857-1930 (Image: the History of Medicine)
Octavia Hill, social reformer 1838-1912.
At the Grand Opening of the Baths in 1911, Dr Hurry formally handed over the property deeds into the keeping of the then Mayor on behalf of the people of Reading. Among those at the ceremony was Conrad Willcocks FRSBA, the local architect responsible for the building and its iconic neo-Georgian façade, and Other worthies present that day included Octavia Hill, Arthur’s half-sister. Octavia was a pioneer social reformer and a founder of the National Trust, who was fully in sympathy with her brother’s enlightened public activities.
As well as the 90ft ‘swimming pond’, Willcocks specified six individual hot baths, for use by residents without a bath at home (and in 1911 they were a large majority). These ‘slipper baths’ are no more, but the Arthur Hill Memorial Baths has created other ways to supply the leisure, health and sporting needs of the local community, fulfilling the aims of its original donors.
More information about the history of Arthur Hill Pool can be found in “The Arthur Hill Memorial Baths 1911-2011: A Centenary Memoir” by Philip Vaughan. A copy is available in Reading Central Library.