Plans for the Medical Fund flagship building had been in the pipeline for a number of years. The committee paid £999 for a plot of Rolleston estate land when it came on the market in 1885 but it was another six years before construction began.
Built in 1891 and opened the following year, Milton Road Baths soon became the hub of the Medical Fund activities.
With a grand, glass covered entrance in Faringdon Road, the red brick building was designed by Swindon architect J.J. Smith at a cost of £10,000.
Keeping up with the times, the Medical Fund committee installed both Turkish and Russian baths. The Turkish bath with dry air heated rooms, followed by a full body wash and massage was seen as being ‘of great value as a sanitary and cleansing agent.’ The Russian baths were a variation on this theme, a vapour bath created by the throwing of water on hot stones, followed by a massage that involved being hit with a besom made of birch twigs and leaves. In the battle against disease and premature death, anything was worth trying.
Central to the building were the two swimming pools, the larger one reserved for men, could be covered and used for dances and concerts, seating around 2000 people. The smaller pool was for the use of women and children.
The dispensary moved from across the road to the new building which had eight consultation rooms and large waiting room area. Eventually most of the Society’s clinics were housed in the new Milton Road building.
A hairdressing business opened at the end of the 19th century. However, unable to compete against private town centre salons, it shut after some twenty years.
The Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham hold a suggestion book from the Milton Road building, dating from the beginning of the 20th century. The first entry with six supporting signatures is for a ‘shaving saloon’ an idea that was rapidly adopted.
Another entry reads: It is the wish of the under signed that a weighing machine be added to the baths for the convenience of bathers. This request was readily granted.
However, it is unknown if the artistically included petitioners H. Ellwood, G.H. Burrows and H.F. Sykes, who included a sketch in support of their suggestion for headrests for the Long Lounge, were successful.
And not all the suggestions were practical, such as the request for a piano ‘for the purpose of accompanying bathers who are anxious to display their Vocal powers.’
Tucked inside the notebook is a memo dated 1912 issued by Phillis Tindale requesting that ladies using the Turkish baths not to wash their head in the basin under the tap used for drinking water.
An extension built around 1899 added washing baths to the many facilities all ready on offer to Society members.
The Milton Road Baths building was converted into a hospital during both World Wars. In 1949 the building, along with other Medical Fund initiatives, was absorbed into the National Health Service.