Group revisits history of Bourne Baths

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A HISTORY group has been set up by the Isabel Blackman Centre to discover more about the history of The Bourne and the surrounding area.

The day care drop-in centre in Winding Street - which is open to people over 50 to learn arts and crafts, makes jewellery and boasts a community cafe - has a fascinating past.

It was reopened to the public last year and staff are now eager to learn more about the building after discovering it used to be a wash house.

Known as the Bourne Baths, it was opened in 1865 by the Countess of Waldegrave who was an influential benefactor in the town.

Initially catering for laundry, ironing and drying services, the baths were introduced in 1866 when the Countess realised many workmen did not have the means to wash themselves properly, let alone their clothes.

Local historian Steve Peak told the Observer that after the Second World War the number of people using the baths and wash house declined as living standards improved, and Hastings Borough Council moved many families out of the Old Town to make way for the building of The Bourne.

In September 1966 the council - which owned the building - closed it, saying that its inspector had found major problems with the boiler.

It was decided not to reopen the baths as it was running at a loss of around £2,000 per year, machinery needed replacing and a launderette had just opened in the high street - and is still there to this day, opposite the Old Town Hall Museum.

Due to this historical connection the Isabel Blackman Centre has renamed it the Wash House, especially apt as the centre also has a shower facility for their elderly patrons.

Now a group meets every Wednesday between 1pm and 2pm at the centre to discuss the baths’ history and swap stories about the centre’s 25-year history.

Centre manager Tania Charman said: “There is a strong sense of ownership in the building and I’m interested in the Blackman family and their connection to it and the social history of The Bourne Baths.

“Sometimes social history gets forgotten so hopefully we’ll carry out oral history interviews with people and get stories about the wash house and the Blackman family.”

So far they have discovered that the centre also used to be an after school club, possibly as part of social services or even open to any parent.

The history group is a joint project between Age UK and the Newhaven Community Development Association and they are also appealing for people with any historical knowledge of The Bourne, Winding Street or the Blackman family to join their group and share some stories.

Two former members of staff have already come forward and the Isabel Blackman Foundation donated £650 to set up the group, with all the information collected to be put into a booklet to be made available to local people.

The centre was closed to the public in 1998 and was only a day care facility for the elderly, but since August last year some of these services have also been available to everyone.

To get in contact with the Isabel Blackman Centre in Winding Street or the history group phone 01424 446428.