The Arches

It was confirmed at the Society's AGM that the Arches Leisure Centre was to close at the end of the year, 86 years old and is being offered for sale for redevelopment.


This now shabby looking neglected building has an interesting history. It was built to the designs of Horth and Andrews, the winners of a National Architectural Competition of 1923 to replace the original 1850s building. The 1850 baths were among the first in England to be built to the recommendations of the 1848 Baths and Washhouses Act designed to give workers in the hurriedly built bathroom-less terraces a chance to wash as well as to learn to swim. This building proved inadequate for the number of men returning from the forces after WWI to take up jobs in the then flourishing Industry in Greenwich. The new Baths extend across a whole block of the Trafalgar Road. It is the largest building in this domestic shopping street.The arched design was inspired by Roman baths. It was original and symmetrical. It gives the street order and dignity, a worthy approach to the famous buildings of Wren. It has a character all its own yet fits into the modest scale of its immediate neighbours and of Hawksmoor, which it does not compete with or ape. Renamed the Arches after the slipper baths (individual private bathrooms) in the centre of the complex were replaced by a gymnasium.

The Arches is a ‘Locally Listed’ building and its design has inspired many later swimming pools—Bryanston Baths, Ironmongers Row, Porchester Place, all of the 1930s, statutorily listed and in full working order.The Greenwich Society, anxious not to lose this fine, character-full building in the Trafalgar Road prepared a study in 2012 showing some of the unusual and original details of the design which won the competition in l923. The Society is pleased that after the original intention for the Arches to be sold for demolition the Council has now included the following ‘Planning Guidance’ with the advertisement for its sale:-Planning guidance was provided with the marketing particulars and this stated that as a locally listed building located on a busy road and in a conservation area, the potential for development is subject to certain constraints and that the preference would be for sympathetic conversion/extension.

A change of use will require planning consent, however it is considered that the site is potentially suitable for various commercial or community uses on the ground floor and residential on higher levels to be incorporated in sympathetic extensions set back from the existing elevations.We believe this Society was responsible for the change in the policy. We will scrutinise proposals as they are received and look forward to a well integrated fully restored view of this very special building in the future.

 Ursula Bowyer