Original Research

“… in Johannesburg, baths are a necessity, not a luxury” The establishment of Johannesburg’s first municipal swimming bath, 1900s-1910s

Louis Grundlingh
New Contree | Vol 81 | a64 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/nc.v81i0.64 | © 2023 Louis Grundlingh | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 January 2023 | Published: 30 December 2018

About the author(s)

Louis Grundlingh, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

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Following on the commitment of the Johannesburg Town Council and an increasing demand to provide facilities for exercise and relaxation, Johannesburg’s mayor opened the Town’s first public swimming bath on the 18th of January, 1909. Unease was felt in Britain about the health of urban residents at the time. These municipalities’ efforts of improvement reflected in the psyche of members of Johannesburg’s Town Council to ensure a healthy urban environment. One of the ways was to provide a swimming bath, as many viewed swimming as an ideal way to relax and exercise, especially considering Johannesburg’s warm climate. An additional, and potent, reason for a swimming bath was the belief that it would further contribute to the prestige of the Town. Financing the swimming bath, both in terms of its construction and maintenance, was always a concern. With this in mind, the Town Council initially proposed the conversion of the Berea disused reservoir but eventually, the Town Council decided to convert the Doornfontein reservoir, on par with world standards. Despite the fact that the bath always ran at a loss, white Johannesburgers frequented the bath in their droves, proving that it successfully served its purpose of providing a public space and swimming facilities for healthy exercise.


Leisure facilities; Prestige; Popularity; Middle class; Finances; Protagonists; Johannesburg; Public swimming baths


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