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Lister Baths Featherstone 10 years on

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Author Topic: Lister Baths Featherstone 10 years on  (Read 3370 times)
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« on: February 11, 2014, 10:15:59 pm »

Featherstone's Lister Baths swimming pool was opened in May 1910.  Thousands attended the opening ceremony which was carried out by coal mine owner John Cunliffe Lister. John gifted the amenity to the people of the town as a show of his appreciation for the work they did at the local collieries.
The Cunliffe Lister's had a long association with Featherstone.  John's father was Samuel Cunliffe Lister owner of Manningham mills in Bradford and inventor of many ground breaking machines for wool and textile processing.  Samuel, who became Baron Masham, came to Featherstone in the early 1890's as owner of the Ackton Hall estates which included two coal mines.  His family's ties with the town continued through to the 1990's when one of his successors was president of Featherstone Rovers rugby league team.
The Lister baths was used by generations of Featherstonians for almost a century.  Many an annual gala saw the pool packed to capacity as proud mothers, fathers and grandparents saw their children competing for school and specially awarded prizes.  Many a Saturday night dance saw relationships  being made and broken.  The baths was a focal point for the whole community. 
The creation of the new unitary authorities in  1974 saw Featherstone Urban District Council's responsibilities, including the Lister Baths being handed over to the newly formed Wakefield Metropolitan District Council.  From then on the baths went into decline.  In January 2003 WMDC decided to close the amenity  The belated reason given was that almost £500,000 needed to be spent to bring the building up to an acceptable standard.  The public of the town were not consulted about the closure.  nor were they consulted in May when WMDC decided to build a new pool at Featherstone High School. 
What happened next came as a surprise to nobody except WMDC and Featherstone's district and town councillors.  The Save the Lister Baths Action Group was formed.  Within a fortnight members had collected over three thousand five hundred signatures to have the pool opened on the old site.  Public meetings were held which attracted many from the town.  The deputy chief executive of WMDC and elected members for Featherstone faced the people.  Their arguments were unconvincing.  Outrage grew amongst the people of Featherstone who had all ready seen other town assets stripped and sold off and the money used else where. A few months later in the general and local elections the entire district and town council lost all their Labour Party strong hold seats in a land slide victory. The new councillours were now the people of Featherstone and no political party.
Six months later the planning application for the new baths was railroaded through by WMDC.  Objections were ignored.  Only one objector was allowed to address the planning committee.  Protesters were not allowed in the building and stood outside Wakefield Town Hall. One Featherstone local made his own banner on a trailer and drove around and around the town hall. The media immediately took the battle national. The passed plan was for an illegal 20 metre long pool and not a legal 25 metre long pool. The new width was also half. The new pool was also to be built at the high school. The decision created a Featherstone public outcry with street protests and hundreds of banners placed in ordinary people’s windows.
The Lister Baths Action Group decided to try and take WMDC to task. With much free assistance from a barrister called Naeem Sijaj a case was compiled and filled in the High Court in London against WMDC. This is and was a very costly exercise especially if you loose. The people of Featherstone never once floundered. Fundraising became an every week event with all walks of life pulling together to help raise the cash to fight. A shop was temporally donated and volunteers sold donated items. The majority of Featherstone had woken up to the fight for Lister Baths and fight/ work they did.
As the case built against WMDC investigations were made in search of documents to assist the case including the original deed for Lister Baths which states that it belongs to the people of Featherstone. It soon became apparent after searches all over the country that suddenly some documents that were recorded as being on file had suddenly vanished.  A local business man issued a £5000 for the deeds to Lister baths. This created wide spread public and media interest and a few red faces as the missing documents were held in secure storage. It is believed that there could have been 4 original documents that would have proved the ownership of Lister Baths. Ironically the possible locations are now known, Ryhill, Wakefield, Knottingly and Featherstone.
Then came the final battle (almost) of Lister Baths. At the High Court in London a Judge agreed with 4 out of 5 points to the case. The final point and most important was the proof of ownership. Without a title deed or deed of trust the people of Featherstone lost on one point. WMDC were obviously happy with the victory and immediately filled for £6848.12 in costs against the people of Featherstone in the name of Lister Baths Action Group. In 2004 still a lot of money. The People of Featherstone pulled together and yet again raised the money to pay the debt. In March 2004 members of the Lister baths action group drove to Wakefield council to deliver the £6848.12 and a pound of flesh. The check was taken by WMDC but they refused the pond of flesh. The Wakefield council offices are opposite the Police Station. If huge amounts of senior police stares in windows could kill they would have needed a policeman.
As the weeks passed WMDC continued to attempt to build a replacement pool of an illegal size. Thanks to the continued actions of the Lister Baths Action Group and the public of Featherstone WMDC finally folded and did build a 25 metre pool and not a 20 metre. The final twist was WMDC did not alter the size of the building. In order to get the extra 5 metres the pool side surrounding walkway was narrowed.
Lister Baths was finally knocked down and the empty site stood. Eventually houses were built under a cloud. Many new homes stood for over a year as there was an issue with the title deeds. Who knows if the story will continue………………….
My thanks to the people of Featherstone and their support, the battle may have been lost but it was worth the fight.
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