The floating structure of iron, containing a large covered swimming-bath, moored in the river just above Charing-cross Railway Bridge, was opened for use, without any ceremony, one day last week. It is placed almost close to the railway bridge and adjoining the Victoria Thames Embankment, in one of the recesses of the granite wall, which was formerly occupied by one of the floating steam-boat piers. This is the first of a series of floating baths which it is intended to establish at various points, not only along the course of the River Thames through London and elsewhere, but likewise on other rivers wherever such accommodation may be required. A word must be said for the energy and enterprise of the Floating Swimming-Baths Company (Limited) of which Admiral Elliott is chairman and Mr. Page is the active secretary. The difficulties which beset every novel undertaking have met the promoters of this design in the most aggravated form; and that it has become a realised fact is due to the unremitting exertions of all employed, and to the public spirit and courage of the directors.
The bath, now open, was designed by Mr. E. Perrett, of Abingdon-street, Westminister, the company's engineer. It is of wrought iron, with a superstructure of wood, iron and glass in combination. The hull or lower portion was constructed by the Thames Iron and Shipbuilding Company (Limited). It is composed of two longitudinal side-box girders, connected together at the ends and bottom by iron plating and suitable iron framework, and in the central portion by two arched girders over the bath, having the appearance of bridges, and affording raised perches for divers to jump off. The end parts of the structure are partitioned off from the bath by bulkheads, and form respectively the machinery-chamber and a chamber for the storage of what is required for a refreshment-room. These end chambers are each 21ft. long, in the longitudinal direction of the structure, and 25 ft. wide.
The bathing space is 135ft. in length and 25ft wide. The minimum depth of water is about 3ft. at one end, the wooden false bottom sloping down from the eastern end for a distance of 90ft., where the full depth of the water, about 7ft. is reached, continuing to the western end. For the purpose of warming the water, at the commencement and end of the bathing season, a heating apparatus is provided at the eastern end of the bath; this is fired from the machinery chamber, which is at the end. The superstructure is of a light though substantial character, and is relieved at each end of the bathing space by a dome, beneath which is placed a fountain; and through these fountains the water is supplied to the bath.
The supply of water is obtained from the river. It is let in by suitable cocks, and is passed through a filtering apparatus, which completely remove all mud and other matter that may be in suspension in the water, but still allows water to retain its natural salts and soft refreshing qualities. Attempts were made to free the bathing water also from the tint pervading it; but it was apprehended that, in effecting this decolorisation, the water would become less pleasant to bathe in. The aeration of the water which takes place in the process of filtration, and in its discharge from the fountains, frees the water from the chemical impurities which might be expected to be present to some extent in Thames Water. The bath, when full, contains about 150,000 gallons of water, and the machinery is capable of filling it in six hours if need be. It is intended, however, that there shall be a continuous stream of fresh water into the bath. The charge for admission to bathe is one shilling
Illustrated London News, 17 July 1875
THE FLOATING GLACIARIUM - Our readers will doubtless remember that on the 7th of last January skating was commenced on Mr. John Gamgee's first sheet of ice 430 square feet in extent.. A thousand square feet — the size ut the Glaciarium at Chelsea, which is still frozen — was the second attempt, and now 3090 square feet of solid and transparent ice may be seen and used at the floating swimming baths on the Thames at Charing-cross, by the special permission of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The public have shown that they fully appreciated swimming in the Thames in summer, but the winter months found the floating structure empty. If, then, the equally delightful pastime of skating can be secured when bathers fail, a pereuuial attraction will be provided on the Thames Embankment for the million The floating baths were handed over to Mr.Gamgee on the 20th of October last and within two mouths two complete sets of machinery, with all the aceessories neccessary for a Glaciarium, have been satisfactorily erected. The general principles of the floating Glaciarium are similar to those at Chelsea, which has already been described in detail in The Times. They consist of the circulation of a current of glycerine and water through a series of metal tubes immersed in water, which is converted into ice nud maintained in that condition. The details, howover, are different. There are two ice machines with the necessary engines, one at each end of the structure. Each machine absorbs over 100,000 heat units per hour, and it is stated that this immense effect is obtained by utilizing about six-horse power per machine. The water of the Thames at a temperature of about 40 or 42 deg. Fahrenheit, pumped freely through the condenser, maintains the pressure in the machine at a minimum of one atmosphere and three-quarters, whereas the pressure in the refrigerator is only nominal and corresponds to the temperature of about 0 Farrenheit. A rotary pump drives about 4,000 gallons of glycerine and water per hour through each refrigerator, and this cold liquid traverses through the tubes of the Glaciarium, and the water outside them is thoroughly frozen. The special difficulties in maintaining congelation at the Charing-cross baths arise from the great radiation from the iron structure which is caused by its immersion in the waters of the Thames and by the extensive area of glass roof covering the whole in, which greatly raisers the temperature of the internal atmosphere and is antagonistic to the developinent of artificial refrigeration. The desired result, however, has been attaineed, and on our visit to the Glaciarium yesterday, ice two inches thick was already forrod and was skated upon, in the first instance, by two ladies.#
The Times, 20 December 1876
footnote: In 1885, an attempted sale by auction failed to meet the asking price, and later in the year the baths were purchased by the South Eastern Railway Co. and scrapped. Another short-lived floating baths appeared near Somerset House c. 1891 - an 'eyesore' which the LCC outlawed in 1892.