Gift to the future: how the Baths survived the Second World War

How would you celebrate the end of six years of war? By going to a meeting?

The 75th Arlington Baths Club AGM was scheduled for 9 May 1945 – the day after VE Day!

So, recognising that it might be a wee bit challenging to get people to come along, it was delayed until the end of the month.

This is just one very small example of the impact of the Second World War on the Baths but, of course, there were much more significant consequences.

War precautions

In 1940, the Board agreed to allow the building to be used by the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) in the event of an air raid. A man was also employed as a fire-watcher, and would stay in the building overnight.

The question of fire watching for the building was discussed and the Secretary reported that Mr Sadler had succeeded in getting an ex-employee of Messrs. Dunbar who knew the club building and was familiar with the roof to act as fire-watcher and stay in the premises during the night at a wage of £3 10s 0d. The Secretary explained that it had also been agreed with the local A.R P. Post that in the event of an alert our watcher would open the premises to their patrol and that the A.R.P would make the Baths their patrol headquarters during an alert. This was approved by the Committee. It was also reported that the necessary appliances including stirrup pump had been purchased and that the arrangements made in this respect met with the hearty approval of the A.R.P authorities in the district.
Arlington Baths Club Minute Book, 9 January 1941

In 1941 an ARP shelter was constructed at the end of Arlington Street. Also at that meeting the committee agreed to purchase War Damage Insurance for the building at a cost of £17.7s.

Arlington Baths Club Minute Book,10 July 1941

Then, on 14 August 1941, it was agreed to replace the broken roof glass with asbestos sheeting at a cost of £6 2s 9d. It’s not clear how the glass was broken.

In 1943 the fire service painted a sign on the building

Arlington Baths Club Minute Book,16 August 1943

Rationing and expenses

There were also lots of day-to-day issues that had to be dealt with.

The opening hours had been reduced to try and cut costs. But every month the Baths had to renew their coal licence to be allowed to buy the amount of fuel that was needed to heat the water and the Turkish Bath. And the cost of fuel kept rising.

Arlington Baths Club Minute Book,24 September 1942

There also seems to have been a limit on what could be spent on repairs – presumably to save materials – and again you had to apply for a licence to carry out repairs over a certain cost. Wages also rose, due to the increase in the cost of living.

Some materials were in short supply. For example, in 1942 the Board was pleased to hear that a member had managed to acquire towels from the Victoria Baths, as they had been concerned about ensuring the supply.

But by far the biggest problem for the Baths was financial; members who were in the Services and sent away from Glasgow had their places kept open at no charge. More temporary members were allowed to join to try to make up the shortfall, and the Club continued to advertise in the Glasgow newspapers to attract them, but it was never going to be enough.

There was a discussion about increasing subscriptions in February 1941, but that year they remained unchanged and instead at the 71st AGM in May there was an appeal to members for donations.

“The Chairman in moving the Report and Accounts referred at some length to the financial position due to the large number of members absent on service. He explained the steps which had been taken to curtail expenditure and pointed out that in spite of this the drop in the Revenue was so considerable that it had been found necessary to  appeal to life members particularly, to make a payment of an annual subscription during the war years to help make up the shortage in Revenue. By this means and by increasing the membership, both ordinary and temporary, the shortage of Revenue could be made up and facilities, which is was desired to continue to the members, kept going. The approval of the Report and of the Accounts was seconded by Mr Philip B Simons and unanimously carried.”

Annual General Meeting, 14 May 1941

On 1 November 1941 it was necessary to hold a special meeting to get the members’ permission for a special levy to raise an extra £650. It was passed unanimously.

Arlington Baths Club Minute Book, 20th October 1941
Discussion of payment reminder to members. Arlington Baths Club Minute Book, 13 August 1942

Not everyone was happy though. In May 1942 one member from Helensburgh objected to paying the extra money. The Board’s response was unequivocal – he was struck off the Life Members’ list!

Though he obviously wasn’t the only one to avoid it, as later on that year, another reminder went to Life members with the threat of removal.

Another man had also indicated that he was still paying his son’s subs while he was away on war duty; in those circumstances the Board agreed to let him off.

In the end though the generosity of one member, supplemented by a collective effort from many others, was the key that kept the Baths open.

A gift to the future

In January 1942 Mr Fred Glencairn Cunningham offered to give the Baths £500 if a similar account was raised by the members.

The offer was put to members at the 72nd AGM, on 13th May 1942, when Mr Cunningham spoke movingly about why he had made the (now increased) offer.

“Mr Cunningham thereupon addressed the meeting and explained that it was his view that it would be nothing short of a tragedy if the Arlington Baths Club were allowed to go under.

He explained that he had offered up to £1000 if the members of the Club would raise a similar sum. He thereupon intimated that his offer was extended to the sum of £1,500 if a similar amount were raised by the members.

His object in making the offer was (first)  to ensure that the Club was kept in a sound condition for the young men and women members of the Club presently serving in the Forces, (second) for the still younger members who were still too young to serve, and (third) because he felt that the Arlington Baths Club was such a splendid Club  that it was essential that it should be maintained.”

There was some discussion about whether it was feasible at that time for members to raise more funds to match Mr Cunningham’s very generous offer, but in the end the members there voted by an overwhelming majority to accept his proposal and a special committee was set up to manage the fundraising effort, which included Mr Cunningham himself.

The first request went out in June 1942.

Letter to all members, June 1942

His generous gesture inspired others. By October 1942, £930 had been raised. But a special appeal went to all members explaining that this had come from a relatively small number of members and asking for those who had not yet done so to make a donation if they could.

On 12 November 1942, the Secretary reported received a cheque for £100 from a former member called George Pate. Mr Pate, and three others – Mr James Cochrane, Mr John Urie and Mr Gilchrist – were made honorary life members in recognition of their generosity to the Club.

In January 1943, the target was reached!

Donations totalled £1,523 13s 3d, and the Committee decided to put a framed photograph of Mr Cunningham in the Reading Room with an inscription, and to make him the first Honorary President of the Club at the next AGM.

Arlington Baths Club Annual Report, 12 May 1943

The proposal was carried with “acclamation and unanimously” and Mr Cunningham then “thanked the Club for the high honour which they had bestowed upon him, an honour which he appreciated very much indeed and which he proudly accepted”. He was also presented with “a cigarette box with a suitable inscription thereon”.

Sadly, Mr Cunningham died in April 1944. The Club put up a notice to inform members, sent a wreath and Committee members went to his funeral. At the 74th AGM on 10 May 1944, the Chairman spoke about the loss to the Club and the meeting agreed to send a letter to his relatives expressing the sympathy all the members.

But, touchingly that wasn’t the end of his support for the Baths; in his will he left a third of his estate to the Club.

There’s a sense in 1944 that things were starting to ease; more repairs were done. The club started to hold galas for the children and the Water Polo Club recommenced their practice sessions. In November 1943 and in 1944 the Club members held a Whist Drive to raise money for the British Red Cross and its Prisoners of War Fund.

The end of the war

But even after VE Day things are still not easy. Conflict was still continuing, and with more than 300 ordinary and country members still away in the Forces, finances were still tight for the following years despite the Cunningham Fund.

Arlington Baths Annual Report, 31 May 1945

The entrance fee and subs had to go up in 1945 and at the (delayed) AGM the Chairman  made an appeal “for economy in hot water and for care in the treatment of towels. It was explained that the towel supply was only adequate for another year or two and the possibility of replacing the existing stock very doubtful.”

Arlington Baths Club Minute Book, 19 December 1945

Make do and mend was still the order of the day. So, in November 1945 the Club managed to acquire seven pairs of Utility sheets, which were then cut up to make 42 smaller sheets for the swimmers.

Arlington Baths Club Minute Book, 13 February 1946

There were also a couple of occasions when someone’s shoes went missing from the shoe room, and the Clubmaster had to certify in writing that the loss was not their fault, so they could apply for extra clothes coupons to replace them.

The second of these incidents involved a lady member in December 1947, which is a reminder that though rationing was gradually phased out, it didn’t end fully until 1954.

Survival into the post-War world

There are few traces now of the Second World War in the Club in apart from the War Memorial. This was first discussed by the Board in February 1947 and was unveiled four years later on 9 October 1951.

There are 39 names on the Memorial. Hopefully one day soon we’ll know all the stories of those members. But there are also these little stories – small actions like finding sheets, and contributing a few shillings every year to the staff Christmas Box – that kept the Club going both as a swimming baths and as a community.

In the end though it was Mr Cunningham’s commitment to the future, that made the difference. His gift to future members inspired others to pool their resources in a collective effort to ensure that the Baths would be there for the new generation.

Researcher: Lucy Janes

Sources: Arlington Baths Archive materials, held by the Baths.

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