The new Waller Street baths proved a popular attraction with troops billeted in Luton, particularly in the early months of the war. Thousands took advantage of the facilities both for recreational swimming and half-price use of the slipper baths for hygiene.
Luton had had public swimming pools and baths in Waller Street since 1872, provided by the Board of Health for a population of around 17,300. These were extended in 1888 as the population grew to around 27,000. In 1906 a £7,500 scheme was put forward for a further extension, but the matter was put off until 1910, when it was considered necessary to take steps to provide new Baths. But these were again postponed, despite hundreds of people having to be turned away from using the baths because facilities were inadequate.
In February 1912 a Local Government Board inquiry was held at the Town Hall to consider the Town Council's application to borrow £13,000 over 50 years to finance a baths scheme. It was said that a scheme to try to alter the existing bath was considered impossible.
Finally, in August 1912 and with a population of over 50,000, the Town Council placed a public notice in the Press inviting builders to submit tenders for the removal of the 1872 buildings and the erection of bigger new Public Baths on the site and an adjoining site that had been acquired.
Work began in the following October, the contract worth £13,959 11s 2d being awarded to Thomas Higgs, of Northampton. The new buildings, covering an area of 1,690 square yards, were designed by the then Borough Engineer "with a respectable frontage in Waller Street...with the words Public Baths carved over the entrance". The Luton Advertiser of September 26th, 1913, remarked: "They add considerably to the architectural beauty - such as it is - of the town."
The swimming hall was 120 feet long and the pool itself 100 feet by 35 feet, varying in depth from three feet to seven feet - much larger than the old Baths.
A campaign for new baths had been championed by Councillor Charles Dillingham, who was to become Mayor of Luton in 1917-18. The newly built baths were opened on September 24th, 1913, by the town's MP, Cecil Harmsworth. Opening times were to be 7 am to 9 pm, and the admission charge was to be 6d, including the use of towels, and the baths would be open for ladies only on Tuesdays from 4.15 pm to 9 pm and on Thursdays from 10.15 am to 4 pm. (The old baths had had separate men's and ladies' pools).
The Waller Street buildings were demolished in 1970 after they had become largely redundant with the opening of the Bath Road pool in 1965.
[The slideshow below shows the opening ceremony on September 24th, 1913, the pool in 1945, the pre-1913 men's pool, Mayor Charles Dillingham who championed the new pool, and the building in late 1969. All pictures from the Luton News archive].