BIRMINGHAM BATHS HISTORY
© COLIN BAKER 2007
On 26th August 1846, an Act was introduced to encourage the “Establishment of Public Baths and Wash-houses”, which empowered local authorities to erect Public Baths at their own expense. Prior to the Act few towns had provided washing bath facilities for the poor, generally the bathing establishments, were privately owned and exclusive to those with money and leisure time to spare.
One of the major baths, in Birmingham, during the 1830’s was The Ladywell Baths, located “near” Hurst Street, it’s owner Mr Monro had just improved the baths at a cost of £2,000, and were described as :-
“Based upon an extensive plan of comfort and accommodation and bountifully supplied with the purest of water; the Ladies Bath is laid with Marble and has excellent dressing rooms adjoining.
The second and third baths are for the use of Gentlemen each fitted with a dressing room, or private boxes; these baths were supplied with cold water only. The third bath was about 15ft. 6in. square by 4ft.6in. in depth and was supplied with about 65o gallons of fresh spring water per hour.
The forth bath was a large swimming Bath over 100ft. long and 50ft. wide, with a depth graduating from 3ft. to 5ft; this bath was also supplied with fresh water at a rate of 50,000 gallons per hour, from the Ladywell and other local springs.
The fifth bath was supplied with hot and cold water and kept at a temperature of about 82°F.
The sixth or Hot Bath was cased with fine veined marble and supplied with hot and cold water, which could be adjusted to suit the requirements.
There was also a separate bath for Jews, constructed on a plan laid down by the High Priest.
There were also other baths supplied with Artificial water of Harrogate, Leamington and Cheltenham, also Sulphine [sic], Aromatic Tropical and Fumugating [sic] or Vapour baths, adapted for use for invalids.”
It was surrounded with high walls, and situated in the centre of a well planted garden”.
In Birmingham, at a public meeting held on 19th November 1844, a committee was formed, and afterwards known as the “Public Baths Association”. A fund was opened and within a week £4,000 had been subscribed. At a second public meeting it was proposed to purchase a plot of land at the corner of Kent Street and Gooch Street, the purchase was affected on the 24th June 1846, by which time the funds stood at £6,102 10s.
It was not until 2nd October 1848, that the Council gave permission for the building on the site selected by the Association in Kent Street, with the foundation stone laid twelve months later on the 29th October 1849.
The opening of the first baths at Kent Street was followed by
Woodcock Street in 1859,
Northwood Street in 1861,
Monument Road in 1883,
Green Lane in 1902,
Moseley Road in 1907,
In 1911, a Bill was passed that meant Handsworth, Aston Manor, Erdington, Yardley, Moseley, Kings Heath and Selly Oak became part of the Greater Birmingham scheme and the baths at
Victoria Road, Aston, built 1892, by the Aston Local Board,
Tiverton Road, Selly Oak, built 1906, by Kings Norton and Northfield District Council,
Grove Lane, Handsworth, built 1907, by the Handsworth Local Board
Bournville Lane, Stirchley built 1911, by Kings Norton and Northfield District Council
became the responsibility of the Baths Committee.
Further baths were then built by the Baths Committee at:-
Saltley in 1924,
Erdington in 1925,
Sparkhill in 1931,
Northfield in 1937,
Kingstanding in 1938,
On the 30th September 1903, at a public meeting, a proposal was put forward concerning the “Leisure of the People”; it discussed the need for increased provision for recreation during the winter months when the City Parks could not fulfil the same functions as in the summer. There already existed an Municipal Policy which provided parks and playgrounds used for recreation during the summer months, and free libraries and an Art Gallery open all year round, it was anticipated the City Council might make some contribution to the solution of the problem. It was suggested that the swimming baths which remained either closed or lying practically idle during the winter months would be able to provide the indoor accommodation for other forms of recreation. Although the Baths Committee declined the responsibility of organising such a scheme, it offered their fullest co-operation and the facilities at the Northwood Street Establishment were made available for the purpose. The Social Institutes Committee agreed to run the centre and undertook the conversion of the First Class Swimming Bath into an Assembly Hall, by flooring over the bath. The first Social Institute opened 6th December 1905; the facilities were available free from 6:30 pm to 10:30 pm Monday to Fridays and on Saturday afternoons to persons of both sexes and over 18 years of age. Facilities for billiards, bagatelle, cards, chess, draughts, and an air-gun range were provided for a small fee. These Social Institutes became very popular, and soon included a Saturday evening concert. Following the success of Northwood Street, application was made to include the use of the First Class Swimming Baths at Monument Road and Woodcock Street, in the scheme, this was achieved in 1906, with Moseley Road added in 1908, Nechells in 1910, Small heath in 1911 and Northwood Street Second Pool in 1911. These baths were returned for use as swimming baths each summer with the removal of the flooring.
The institutes continued until the outbreak of the Great war in 1914, when they were temporarily suspended, with the end of the war the clubs were resuscitated and reorganised, and on the initiative of the Lord Mayor, the rooms were opened during the daytime to cater for the large number of unemployed men and women, that had increased following the end of the war. The scheme continued to maintain interest, until they were again closed with the outbreak of the Second World War.
Following the end of the War, the committee decided to disband and not attempt to revive the scheme, believing that future development of recreational facilities was the responsibility of the Municipal Authorities.
Extracted from the book “ The City of Birmingham Baths Department 1851-1951” by J. Moth M.N.A.B.S.