Miners Bath House

Roa Road, Blackball

  • Miners Bath House.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: P Wilson. Date: 1/11/1992.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 5070 Date Entered 21st September 1989 Date of Effect 21st September 1989

Locationopen/close

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.

City/District Council

Grey District

Region

West Coast Region

Legal description

RS 5077 (RT WS3C/797), Westland Land District

Summaryopen/close

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.

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Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1941 -

Modification
-
Roof removed

Completion Date

20th July 2020

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

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, 2011

Staton, Jim, Blackball Coal Mine: Historic Site Assessment and Workplan, Department of Conservation, December 2011

Other Information

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.