Presented by: Syliva Koelling at the SpLeish Colloquium, March 2017

Much of the historical analysis of public baths and wash-houses provision in the UK has been focused on the broad picture and the large processes of how public health legislation (including legislation on baths and wash-houses) came into being and how this impacted in the development of both swimming and swimming provision. Relatively little attention has been paid to how this legislation was implemented (if at all) which gives an inaccurate picture of homogenous and universal public health provision in 1840s England. Rather than presenting the overarching narrative of Miller Street baths and wash-house, this microhistorical analysis of the first four years of this establishment gives insight into Manchester’s public health approach at this time whilst also highlighting the contemporary administrative, financial, and technical realities. Microhistory presents “a profound, multi-faceted, even holistic, grasp of a fragment of historical experience” and as such adds significant detail to the history of the public baths and wash-houses in the UK. Surveying newspaper and committee reports, as well as other documents from the mid- and late-19th century, this presentation will demonstrate that analysing this short time-period in the history of Miller Street baths gives a rich insight into the processes of social change underway in the city at the time. Ultimately, this presentation argues that the short history of this private, experimental establishment shows how national public health legislation had little direct impact on the provision of baths and wash-houses in Manchester because of local administrative and financial circumstances.

Article © Sylvia Kolling