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October 21, 2010 / ccollinsonjones1

Soho’s new pool

I love a public swimming bath (as my Granny would refer to them). They appeal to my innate hackney-dwelling leftism. For others they’re a crumbling reminder of verruca socks and trying to inflate your own pyjamas.

Not this one though – this one’s shiny and new. Marshall Street leisure centre is the newly refurbished public pool and fitness space in Soho. It’s in a grade II listed building and it has a beautiful marble-lined swimming pool.

The refurbishment has restored the pool to its former 1930s art deco glory. I felt like I should be wearing a patterned swimming cap and a swimsuit cut to mid thigh. The rest of the centre is fully modernised with two fitness studios, a gym, a spa area and treatment rooms.

What’s great about leisure centres is that you can just drop in any time between 6:30am and 10pm, pay your fiver and go for a swim, do a class, use the gym etc. No one bullies you in to a membership (though you can get one of course). They’re also the only places in central London with good sized pools (this one’s 30 metres) having been built before space in areas like Soho was worth a million pounds per square inch.

Marshall Street is also refreshingly quiet and peaceful. In some London pools there’s barely any room for water because of the seething mass of bodies. As a friend remarked, “I’m not keen on London pools. They’re like being on the tube.”

I love that this can exist in Soho, in amongst ad land, trendy types, ironmongers, fruit sellers, a primary school, strip joints and tourists. It reminds me that Soho is still a weird little community that’s somehow surviving despite being trapped in the commercial armpit of Regent Street and Oxford Street.

So next time you’re going for drinks or dinner in Soho, take an extra 45 minutes to go for a swim and have a steam first. Perhaps allow an extra 10 minutes for the hairdryer (I think public pools must have ineffectual hairdryers to qualify for council funding).

A couple of others in the area…

Indoor and outdoor heated pools in Covent Garden:

Seymour leisure centre, Marble Arch:

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