We took part in Doors Open Day for the first time ever in 2010.  What follows is a potted history of the club that formed part of an information leaflet (with archive photos) we handed out to over 1600 visitors who came along.  I hope you find it of interest.

Dear visitor

Welcome to the Arlington Baths Club, we are delighted to take part in Doors Open Day weekend as we celebrate our 140th anniversary. Whatever your reason for coming, be it architectural, educational or simple curiosity, you are most welcome.

The Club is the oldest of its kind in the world, providing an inspiration to others and enduring two World Wars & 36 Prime Ministers. Gladstone was enjoying his 1st term in Downing St when we first opened the doors. Victoria was Queen, and the club has existed through the reign of 5 subsequent Monarchs. The club has also survived more depressions, recessions, booms and busts than we care to count. The Arlington isn’t just a splendid Victorian building, it is a living, breathing club run on a not for profit basis by members for members.  These are exciting times for the Arlington. We are about to embark on a renovation project to restore and renew areas of the building. To mark our Doors Open Day debut, we have a very special joining offer exclusively for visitors this weekend. Details on the back of this leaflet.  Enjoy your visit, take care when walking around and please follow instructions from club volunteers and staff. Above all enjoy this magnificent place, we hope it inspires!

Originally built during 1870 – 1871, the building is a fine example of Victorian Architecture of the time.  It opened on the 1st August 1871.  Members came from the local area, the great majority lived within easy walking distance.  From this emerged the traditions of the Club.  The membership appeared first thing in the morning before work and returned in the evening before going home in a regular twice daily ritual.  The creation of the Arlington Baths coincided with the implementation of the first of the Public Health acts in 1870 and considered by some to be the precursor to the growth of public bathing in the UK. It was a full decade and half later before the city of Glasgow built their first swimming pool. The Arlington’s founders were true pioneers.

Designed by John Burnet, the father of Sir John James Burnet, usually known as Burnet Senior.  He seems to have been a reticent man and something of that combination of reticence and delicacy can be seen in his original design which contained the pool, Senior & Junior baths and Senior & Junior changing rooms.  The building was single storey and conceived as a kind of theme and variation on the idea of subdivision by 2’s and 3’s.  The main facade modulated by means of two pavilions, with the centre marked by arched windows arranged in groups of threes.  The effect is of restrained and modest Classicism, more rural than urban, well proportioned and pleasing in an unpretentious

Not long after opening, in fact barely before Burnet had time to vacate the site, a Turkish Room plus ancillary accommodation was added in 1875, allowing the membership to increase to 600.  The Turkish Room would have originally been visible from the street.  A Glaswegian homage to the Alhambra, with tiled walls and floor and a beehive roof studded with star shaped coloured windows, sufficient only to light the space dimly.  In an atmosphere of sepulchral calm bathers recline on benches in superheated seclusion.

By 1893 more space was needed. Architect Andrew Myles was employed (Burnet was 79 by this time) to add an additional reading room and billiard room. These were added to the south end of the existing building in the form of a single storey “piano nobile” with service spaces below, it extended the facade of the building southwards across the front of the Turkish Room. Myles did a workmanlike, and sensible job copying the details of the original building onto his extension.

This added a second storey to Myles’ extension, and presumably, he was again the architect. The intention was more radical. The entrance was moved from the centre of Burnet’s building to what now emerged as a kind of interregnum between the two phases of the street frontage. This was developed separately as an entrance hall leading to a grand staircase, which in turn led to a new reading room and billiard room on the first floor. Myles emphasised this bay by means of a triple arched entrance and steps with a five arched loggia above. Above the remainder of his extension that is, to the south of the entrance bay, Myles simply extended the building up to form an elegant space with exposed roof trusses and glazing at the apex. 


By now, Burnet’s simple single storey building must have looked strangely out of sorts, with a two storey extension attached to the end of it. In 1902 membership increased and a further extension was necessary. Thus order was restored, in some form at least, by the addition of a storey to the street frontage of Burnet’s original building. Architect number three, Benjamin Conner extended the front wall of the original building directly upwards to create a new larger billiard hall and long gallery - now used as a gym - lit by a regular rhythm of single windows. In this way, over four phases and a period of thirty years, the Arlington Baths Club grew. The result, perhaps surprisingly, is not unpleasant. In fact its haphazard eclecticism gives it a strangely modern or rather post-modern appeal.

The Arlington is far more than a building. It has enriched the lives of its members, the community and the nation.
The club archive dating right back to 1870 is a goldmine for anyone keen on family history. Water Polo was first developed here. The club War Memorial is testament to the large number of members who fought for their country. Today the club remains a special place to swim, work-out or simply to relax and chat. A sanctuary with a sense of history.