Although the river is a lot cleaner today than in previous years, the stretch that flows through the environs of Central London is not immediately the first place you’d think of for swimming.
The completion of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s London sewer system in 1870 meant that the quality of water in the River Thames was much improved although still hazardous to the health of swimmers (or anyone who fell in). Those ingenious Victorians came up with a solution through the the engineers Whitaker & Perrett, who created a floating swimming pool in conjunction with the firm of architects Driver & Rew who designed a glass and steel superstructure.
Opened in 1875 and known as the Charing Cross Floating Pool it was run by the “Floating Swimming Baths Company“. The pool contained several thousand gallons of Thames water which was filtered and heated and was described at the time as a mini Crystal Palace. It was manufactured about eight miles down river at Canning Town by the Thames Iron and Shipbuilding Company and was 180 feet long by 31 feet wide, with the bath inside being 135 feet long and 25 feet wide, admission was 1 shilling.
In October of 1876 machinery for freezing the river water was added so that the floating baths could become the Floating Glaciarium ice skating rink during the winter months. Despite the novelty of the enterprise it was poorly attended with visitor numbers falling year on year. In 1885 the floating baths were purchased by the South Eastern Railway Company and scrapped.
There have been several plans for similar ventures, the last in 2019 which never came to fruition.