Wonder of Warrender

IT COST just £11,000 to build Warrender Baths back in December 1887. . . and for £1.5 million, they have been restored and reopened just this week.

Yet, walking through the doors of the B-listed Victorian swimming pool, it seems little has changed in the intervening 119 years. The beautiful and intricately tiled mosaic entrance floor has been painstakingly recreated piece by piece, missing tiles have been traced and recut and, aside from new disabled facilities, the renovation has restored the Marchmont baths to their original glory.

Built as private baths after the land in Thirlestane Road was purchased from Sir George Warrender MP, who lived in nearby Bruntsfield House, the poolhouse was also equipped with a reading room, billiards room, plunge and Turkish baths and gymnasium. The pool also had a 10ft diving platform, trapeze and rings for the more athletic swimmer.

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Originally built for Warrender Baths club members only, the club gained its first "cap" in 1896 when Frank Marshall was chosen to play for Scotland's water polo team.

In 1906 though, after falling into financial difficulty, the baths were closed, and remained so for two years until being purchased by the Edinburgh Corporation for just 3000. Almost immediately Warrender Swimming Club was resurrected, and while the ordinary public now had access to the steam room, cold shower room, massage facilities, relaxation room - where an attendant would wake you with a cup of tea and biscuit - the business of producing first-class swimmers also went, well . . . swimmingly.

The club's first Olympic representative was Ellen King, who swam in the Paris games in 1924 and came sixth in the 100 yards backstroke. Despite her success, and that of other women swimmers, the club, run by men, refused to allow them a gala event, and so many women left.

On the men's side, many swimmers represented the club at national level, but it is perhaps for one swimmer - 1976 Olympic breaststroke champion David Wilkie - that the club is best known.

"Warrender was where I fell in love with swimming," he says. "There aren't many pools like Warrender left these days and it has a special place in many hearts. I hope it never closes."