THESE days, with the splashpad in Gheluvelt Park (when it’s open), the pavement level fountains on South Quay and several decent swimming pools, it’s not hard to find somewhere to cool off when the weather hots up in Worcester.

But a century ago, as you might expect, things were rather different. Then it was either Park’s Baths in Sansome Walk or the river. The Severn, of course, has always been a magnet, albeit a rather dangerous one, for anyone brave/daft enough to jump in. Its cold water and strong currents making a particularly toxic mix for sweaty bodies during a heatwave.

Worcester News: The bathing barges at Worcester. One for boys and one for girlsThe bathing barges at Worcester. One for boys and one for girls

In an effort to make river bathing a safer business, the Victorians sank a couple of large old barges into the water near the Grandstand on Pitchcroft. The hulls were then removed to allow the river to flow through, leaving what were in effect two wooden cages within which it was possible to splash about. Amazingly they didn’t cease use until after the Second World War.

Although rather primitive affairs, they became very popular in an era when by and large it was either that or the open water. Being as society then viewed mixed bathing as one pleasure too many for the hoi polloi, boys were restricted to one barge and girls to another.

Ensuring it stayed that way was Albert Webb the waterman, who, although a great character, had a very Victorian approach to public bathing.

Maybe, as another of his official duties was to recover  drowned bodies from the Severn, he didn’t want to fish out any unnecessary victims of larking about.

The alternative to the bathing barges were the privately owned baths in Sansome Walk. These opened in the 1850s and followed the style of the more exotic baths on the Continent. They had an entrance porch supported by two splendid carved stone pillars, identical to those seen in Cheltenham.

Worcester News: Park’s Baths in Sansome Walk, Worcester’s swimming rendezvous for more than a centuryPark’s Baths in Sansome Walk, Worcester’s swimming rendezvous for more than a century

Indeed, rumour had it they were leftovers from work done there. Inside were brilliant-coloured, fine glass panels, supposedly creating a Turkish atmosphere and a maze of rooms in which different kinds of baths could be taken – sulphur, iodine, salt, calomel and others.

In 1890, William Park took over and eventually became owner. As the fashion for exotic baths died out, the business ran Turkish baths and slipper baths and had the only genuine swimming pool in Worcester with generations of city school children learning to swim in what became known as “Park’s Puddle”.

As the decades rolled on, the facility began to appear ever more dated, but for quite some time Mr Park successfully managed to fight off any plan to build a municipal bath, which would have put him out of business. However, progress could not be denied, not even in Worcester, and in the 1970s all of a sudden the city had two decent swimming pools, when a local authority one rose from the ashes on the old Park’s site and a community project bath opened on the other side of the river at Lower Wick.

Poor old Albert Webb wouldn’t have known where to look.