Leisure sites‎ > ‎

Oxford's minor river bathing places

Several minor sites on one page, the sites of Oxford's smaller river bathing places.

This web site has already covered the remains of Oxford's larger and better known river bathing places and river swimming pools at Tumbling Bay, Long Bridges and Parson's Pleasure/Dame's Delight. Those sites have the most visible remains or in the case of Parson's Pleasure, the most notoriety, however they were not the only river bathing sites in the town. This page provides a glimpse of those bathing places which were smaller, have been entirely obliterated or at which there simply isn't much to see.

First up is St. Clements bathing place. This is tucked away on the River Cherwell behind Cherwell Street at the eastern end of St. Clements. It shows up on a city map from the early 1960s but has gone from the same map published at the end of the 1970s. It takes the form of a secluded and tree lined backwater with a healthy growth of water lillies and the usual concrete banks.

At the other end are the remains of the wooden posts that once marked the boundary of the bathing place, as well as the stone steps similar to those at Tumbling Bay that once allowed bathers to enter and leave the water. 

St.Clement's Flash Earth link: http://www.flashearth.com/?lat=51.75304&lon=-1.239041&z=19.3&r=0&src=msl 

Closer to the centre of town was the now-obliterated St. Ebbes bathing place, opened in 1846. This area, southwest of the city centre, is now home to a wasteland of car parks and a 1970s council estate but historically it was a working class area and the site of Oxford's gas works. It was all levelled as part of a 1960s slum clearance that would no doubt now be seen an an immense act of urban and social vandalism. The clearance was so extensive that it included the straightening and re-routing of a Thames backwater, the Castle Mill Stream once split into two and entered the Thames on either side of a triangular island but now has only one junction with the main river. The island was a public recreation ground and the bathing place was in the channel that once ran down its western side, now it lies under the grass of the public space behind Oxford Ice Rink. A faint indication of the former channel can be seen on the grass on the Google Maps link below but that's all that remains of this site.


All the bathing places discussed so far have been near to the centre or south of the city. North Oxford residents also had the chance to swim in the river. The first site at this end of town is slightly enigmatic, Cutteslowe bathing place is a stretch of the Cherwell in Cutteslowe Park with the tell-tale concrete bank and steps that characterise the rest of the city's bathing places. The only snag is, other than the physical evidence I have been unable to find proof that this was ever a bathing place. It does not appear on any of the city maps I have from across the later half of the 20th century and I have been unable to find any other references to it. So it's possible I've stumbled on a neglected punt landing stage but even with that slight doubt hanging over it it's still worth including here because a bathing place is the best interpretation of the surviving structure, particularly given its location like Tumbling Bay, St. Ebbes and St. Clements in a public park.

Cutteslowe Flash Earth link: http://www.flashearth.com/?lat=51.784959&lon=-1.258028&z=19.2&r=0&src=msl 

On the other side of North Oxford there is no doubt as to the purpose of Wolvercote bathing place. This section of Port Meadow next to the Wolvercote Stream was closed at the same time as Tumbling Bay in 1990 and like Tumbling Bay it still plays host to unofficial river bathing on hot summer days. Unlike the other sites it has a gently sloping bank formed from concrete filled sandbags and though it covers a large area the only significant remains of the bathing place are the concrete bases of the changing rooms and a weathered "Deep water" sign in a tree on the opposite bank. A view of the site, such as it is, is below.

Wolvercote Flash Earth link: http://www.flashearth.com/?lat=51.780825&lon=-1.295819&z=19.1&r=0&src=msl

These sites are documented here for historical interest only and to satisfy the curiosity about Oxford's bathing places sparked by the almost complete Tumbling Bay site and the derelict Long Bridges site. As you'll have seen, some of them may be a little hidden away but they are hardly classic urban exploration. Curiosity is a healthy part of exploration and since it sometimes results in unexpected finds my visits to these neglected parts of Oxford's river system were well worth the effort. If I were to choose a place to swim from those on this page it would be Wolvercote, however the tranquility and isolation of St. Clements is where I'd choose to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.