Lost Moseley: ‘Last Splash?’ Part One – Lidos & Baths
Thursday, 4th August 2016
For the residents of Birmingham, a city thought to be the most landlocked in the UK, Weston-Super-Mare, our nearest beach, became a Mecca for sun and sea searchers.
Between day trips and occasional holidays, indoor and outdoor pools were essential recreational places for Midlanders to cool down. The 1930s were the golden age of the lido (lido means “shore” in Italian) – the 1937 opening ceremony of The Bath Tub lido in West Heath featured the popular entertainer Gracie Fields and Anglo-Italian conductor Mantovani – though I have fond and distant memories of the busy and vibrant open-air pools of Birmingham in the late 70s/early 80s.
While London still possesses a healthy supply of facilities to beat the heat and take a dip, all of our city sites are sadly lost – the last open-air pool, Sutton Park’s lido, closed in 2003. Moseley Road Baths is the sole Edwardian swimming pool still open for its original purpose in Birmingham (Stirchley Baths has recently reopened but as a community hub), and the oldest and most complete site of its kind in Britain. The Grade II* listed building is scheduled to close in early 2017 and has been added to the World Monuments Fund Watch List.
Balsall Heath had a pool that pre-dated Moseley Road Baths, but was an open-air facility for male private members and used natural spring water. Balsall Heath Baths, located near the junction of George Street and Edwards Road, opened in 1846 and measured between 100–120 ft long and 40–50 ft wide. Patrons usually bathed naked in private establishments, as shown in the illustrated 1847 advert for the baths placed in the press by its proprietor John Smith. The facility closed in 1878 and a physical reminder is found in a passageway named Bath Walk that runs from Edward Road to George Street.
The reputation of Balsall Heath Baths was damaged after a report from the Balsall Heath Board of Health found the site to be in a “filthy condition” (despite the promise of health properties, open-air baths were at risk without chlorination and filtration), though the opening of Cannon Hill Park Pool in 1873 had also added to its decline. The attraction in the new park was the first public open-air pool in the city, provided by the Birmingham Baths Committee.
Cannon Hill’s pool was popular during the inter-war period, but suffered financially (outdoor pools often had a limited revenue due to only opening during the summer months) and closed in 1939. The Midland Arts Centre was eventually built on its site and the actually follows the blueprint of the pool with its curved shape.
Kings Heath Baths was an indoor facility on Institute Road and opened in 1923. The pool was floored over in the winter months so the space could be used for social occasions and was also used as a casualty unit in the Second World War. The baths closed in 1987 and was demolished to make way for a leisure centre.
Sparkhill Baths on Stratford Road was “regarded as being one of the finest public pools in Europe” and was designed by Hurley Robinson (also the architect of Dudley Hippodrome, another much loved building currently facing the threat of the bulldozer). The 1930s baths closed in 2008 and has since been demolished and replaced by a new leisure centre which is also intended to cover the loss of Moseley Road Baths.
Unlike many of its contemporary buildings, Moseley Road Baths survived the cull of Birmingham’s 19th and early 20th century leisure facilities, but the splendour of this historical site is sadly scheduled to end unless a solution rapidly rises to the surface of the unique and ornate baths.
With thanks to: Pool of Memories by S. Beauchampe, www.lostlidos.co.uk & www.bathsandwashhouses.co.uk
Next month: The lost bathing culture of Moseley Road Baths.