In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were many tidal swimming pools along the Parramatta River providing welcome relief and recreation on hot days.
Ashton’s Mortlake Baths, near Majors Bay on the Parramatta River, were established in 1886. They were the first non-tidal enclosed public baths built in metropolitan Sydney. Samuel Ashton, a bricklayer by trade, who emigrated from England, blasted the baths out of sandstone bedrock adjacent to the foreshore. They measured 30 metres by 12 metres. He devised a way to empty and fill the baths with the tides and every fortnight they were emptied out and the sides and bottom scrubbed and whitewashed.
Bathers were charged threepence (2.5 cents) admission, which included use of a clean towel.
It is recorded that 21,000 school children attended the baths each week during the swimming season.
In the early days males and females were strictly segregated. Under no circumstances were men and women allowed to swim together.
Although electrical pumps had been installed so the baths were not dependant on the tides, competition from larger and more modern swimming pools in the area led to a decline in patronage in the 1930s. Ashton’s Mortlake Baths closed to the public in 1937 and were eventually filled in 15 years later. A paint works was later built on the site but it is now high-rise accommodation.