Our history – bathing costume

  • 26
  • Jan

Delve deeper into the history of our borough with our series of posts in collaboration with Islington Museum and the Local History Centre. All objects mentioned are on display or held at these venues. Read the full series here.

Bathing costume, c1900

This red cotton bathing suit was left behind and kept at lost property at Hornsey Road Public Baths in about 1900.

At this time many people in London lived in crowded tenement buildings without running water, so the public baths, which boasted laundries, individual baths and swimming pools, were quite a luxury. Customers would pay as one penny (1d) for a towel and private soak.

Few Londoners knew how to swim before public baths were built, but it became quite a popular sport by 1879. The first swimming costumes were developed in the Victorian era and were extremely modest. They were made from cotton or knitted wool, which sagged and became very heavy when wet.

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