19th and 20th Centuries

3273 Milk Street Baths and Laundry

The opening of the Kennet and Avon Canal in 1801 and the Great Western Railway in 1841 provided alternate methods of transporting goods, which inevitably led to decline in trade along the Avon Navigation, and by extension the quay. The declining importance of the quay was, however, counterbalanced by an expansion of the industrial premises which increasingly dominated the area. The expansion of industry was accompanied by the further infilling of tenement back plots with courts of insanitary housing.

Concern over infectious diseases, particularly after the outbreak of cholera in 1832, and a desire to improve the living conditions of the working poor, provided an impetus for improvements in sanitation, which is epitomised by the construction of a public wash house and laundry, known as the Milk Street Baths, which opened in 1847. Our excavations have shown that the baths were supplied with water pumped from the river, which was heated using coal-fired steam boilers. Part of the baths was divided into small cubicles were local people could hire tubs of boiling water for laundering their clothes.

3274 Milk Street Baths in the 1920s (courtesy of Bath in Time)
By the early 20th century, concern over poor housing conditions, lead to proposals to demolish the Avon Street district and redevelop it with new lower density housing. Most of the area was demolished in the 1930s, but the planned redevelopment was never fully implemented due to the outbreak of the Second World War. As a result, the cleared plots remained derelict until the area was tarmacked over for use as carparks in the 1960s. The redevelopment of Bath Quays will therefore complete a process that was initiated over 80 years ago and provide a link with the river that helped make the construction of the Georgian city possible.