Kent’s Tepid Swimming Bath and Bicycle Riding Park

Built in 1896-1897, Kent’s Tepid Swimming Bath and Bicycle Riding Park, on the corner of London Street and Perth Street in Richmond, was a popular venue for cyclists and swimmers.

Cycle track, London Street, Richmond
Cycle track, London Street, Richmond. Creator (cre): Christchurch Star. Christchurch Star - no known copyright

Kent’s Tepid Swimming Bath and Bicycle Riding Park was originally situated on the south side of London Street, Richmond, east of the intersection with Perth Street.

Richard Kent was an engineer who started a cycling business, Kent and Co., in 1881. In 1891 he relocated his business to Bedford Row, where it became known as Pioneer Cycle Works. This cycle shop also manufactured a particular cycle known as The Kent. In 1875, Richard Kent was listed in the electoral roll as owning part of Rural Section 33 near Gresford Estate. By 1887, both London Street and Perth Street were listed in the directory. In 1890, Richard Kent was listed as living on Perth Street, part of Rural Section 33.

In response to the growing popularity of cycling as a past time, Alex E. Wildey began to publish a cycling magazine in Christchurch known as The New Zealand Wheelman. The first issue was published in October 1892. The magazine ran until 1902.  In September 1896, Kent started to publish a page in the New Zealand Wheelman known as The Kent Record which outlined the latest bicycles on offer and the records of cyclists.

Around the same time, Kent began to plan the development of a cycling park situated on a section of land adjoining his own residence on Perth Street. The New Zealand Wheelman from 24 October 1896 states:

He is laying down on a section recently acquired by him, situated between Victoria and London Streets, Richmond, a first class cycle track, eight laps to the mile, 12 feet wide in the straights, 15 feet at the turns and banked 4 feet. The centre will be used as tennis courts. An immense flag pole is to be erected which will be a conspicuous object for miles round, and a crystal fountain is also being laid on, a large artesian well being bored to supply the crystal. The esplanade round the track is being laid off with handsome shrubs and ornamental trees, the whole being boxed in with a seven foot “opaque” fence to keep small boys, little girls, middle-sized women and big men from having a free look. It is intended that the new track will be a benefit to learners, particularly ladies.

The same issue also stated:

The cycling boom has now visited New Zealand and in order to make the numerous buyers of the Kent Bicycle proficient riders, Richard Kent has bought a large piece of land adjoining his residence at Richmond, where he has laid down an asphalt track, eight laps to the mile. The track is well banked at each corner and in addition to being used for teaching ladies and gentlemen to ride, some of the racing men who ride Kent’s Path Racers will use it for training purposes. The grounds have been nicely laid out with flowers and shrubs, a pavilion will be erected, and an expert rider has been engaged to give tuition to ladies and gentlemen. Further particulars will be published after the opening ceremony, which will take place in the course of a few days.

The issue from 19 December 1896 stated:

The Kent Cycling Park in Richmond, one of the most delightful suburbs of Christchurch, will be a favourite rendezvous for cyclists. With its fine asphalt racing track, comfortable sitting and cloak rooms, beautiful fountain, pretty gardens, green sward, asphalt tennis courts, and pleasant surroundings the Park is bound to become popular with votaries of the wheel.

In January 1897, Richard Kent hired a Mr Otley to construct a tepid swimming bath at the property. Built of concrete, the bath was 75 feet long and 20 feet wide. It had a depth between 4 feet to 6 feet. Rather than be exposed to the outdoors, a building was erected to accommodate the swimming bath. This structure was 130 feet long and 32 feet wide, with a wooden and glass roof. Within there were eighteen dressing rooms, two hot water baths, and a shower bath. The interior was lit by gas lighting at night.

The swimming bath was opened by the Mayor, W. H. Cooper, on Thursday 11 March 1897 with an event held at 7.30pm attended by up to 500 people.

The park was situated within two minutes’ walk of a tram stop and coaches passed the gates every hour. To attract visitors, Kent offered a deal whereby every purchaser of a Kent cycle after 3 April would be allowed free access to the Kent Tepid Swimming Bath and Cycling Track for the period of one year. By July 1897, the grounds were open on a daily basis. As its popularity grew, the track became a site for those training to participate in bicycle races, as stated in The New Zealand Wheelman for 25 May 1897:

It is said…that the Kent cycling track in Richmond 6 laps to the mile, is daily visited by three dark horses who are expected to be in the front rank next season.

By 1898, the swimming bath was also home to the Canterbury Amateur Swimming Club.

In August 1901, the property was advertised for sale where it was described as consisting of 1 acre, 1 rood, 24 perches being contained by a galvanised iron fence. There were two asphalt tennis courts, a cycle track, a pavilion and a large swimming bath. Adjoining this was a house with eight rooms, stables, and sheds.

Although the directory for 1902 lists Thomas Guthrie Williamson as living at Kent’s former address the baths remained listed. Eventually the property containing the cycle track and swimming bath, then still known as Kent’s Cycle Track and Athletic Grounds, was auctioned in June 1903. By 1907, the grounds appear to have closed as they were no longer listed in the directory.