Miners Bath House
Roa Road, Blackball
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Able to Visit
21st September 1989
Date of Effect
21st September 1989
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes the land described as RS 5077 (RT WS3C/797), Westland Land District and the structure known as Miners Bath House thereon. This includes the boiler that sits adjacent to the concrete structure.
West Coast Region
RS 5077 (RT WS3C/797), Westland Land District
Constructed in circa 1941, seemingly as a replacement for an earlier timber bath house destroyed by fire, the concrete remains of the Miners Bath House on Roa Road, Blackball, are a stark reminder of our industrial past and coal miners’ struggle for better working conditions. The Miners Bath House is part of the story of Blackball’s notable union and social history and as such it has historical, social and cultural significance or value. It also has aesthetic values as a ruin, both for its visual effects and through eliciting an emotional response and curiosity regarding its former use as an industrial bath house.
The Blackball Coal Mine began development in 1889 and was one of the major West Coast producers of its day. Blackball town was the centre of early union activity, and the sordid housing and social conditions contributed to the industrial unrest associated with the colliery. In 1911 there had been large scale debate regarding the provision of bath houses for workers. Miners would return home from work sweaty and dirty and not all homes had bathtubs. In 1917 a ‘commodious bathhouse’ was erected at the Blackball Colliery. It appears this was a two storeyed timber bath house situated near the old mine entrance where miners could exit directly into it at the end of each shift. In September 1922 Maoriland Worker quoted the Grey River Argus’s Blackball Notes section: ‘Our new bath-house has at last been opened, but a slight delay was occasioned by the deputies (don’t you know!) desiring to be partitioned off from the common garden variety of coal miner!’. Perhaps that 1922 bath-house was a replacement or extension to the earlier one built in 1917. Whichever is the case, in June 1939 the timber bath house at the Blackball Mine was totally destroyed by fire. At the time, newspapers reported that the intention was to build a new one straight away. By October 1941, the new concrete bathhouse, with showers, was under construction, using mine workers’ labour.
Approximately 21 metres long and nine metres wide, the Miners Bath House is no longer roofed and is now something of a ruin. However, its 2.5 metre high concrete walls and partitions remain, providing an understanding of what the place looked like. More or less rectangular in plan, the structure has concrete steps to an entrance at the south side of the east elevation, leading into a single large area that was the main bath house. Without its roof, former ventilation openings in the upper portion of the concrete walls are reminiscent of a crenelated castle. The western bay of the building is separated internally by a concrete partition. The rusted metal boiler for heating the shower house (bath house) lies on the ground at the western side of the structure.
It appears that by the early 1940s concrete bath houses were more common than timber ones. The Dobson Mine had a concrete bath house built as early as December 1926. The design of the Miners Bath House in Blackball is similar to ones built at Denniston (1940) and Millerton (early 1940s?). Bath houses were the places where the miners got changed out of their wet clothes, leaving them there to dry ready for their next shift. If a bath house temperature was not kept at the prescribed minimum, the mine could be idle as the men did not have to go to work. Bath houses were not only convenient but essential to the wellbeing of miners and, indirectly, their families. Changing in and out of wet and dirty mining work clothes at the bath house, washing/showering before going home kept up a man’s morale and lessened some of the household cleaning up. While cleaning, miners’ bath houses were a place where men talked, told tales and had a laugh after a hard day’s work.
20th July 2020
Report Written By
Historic Places in New Zealand
Historic Places in New Zealand
Wood, Brian, ‘A Distinctive Pocket of West Coast Settlement’: Blackball’s Militant Past, The Past Today: Historic Places in New Zealand, 1987.
Blackball History Group, 1993
Blackball History Group, Historic Blackball: A brief history of Blackball, Roa and Moonlight Districts, 1993
Staton, Jim, Blackball Coal Mine: Historic Site Assessment and Workplan, Department of Conservation, December 2011
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.
A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Southern Office of Heritage New Zealand.