Public Library and Baths, Balsall Heath
The Public Library and Baths (grid reference SP078843) on Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, England, form one of many pairings of baths and libraries in Birmingham, managed by Birmingham City Council.
During discussions in 1890 to include the Balsall Heath district into the city of Birmingham, it was decided that public baths should be built as soon as possible for the area if Birmingham were to acquire the district. The Bill was passed and Balsall Heath was annexed into Birmingham on 1 October 1891. The City of Birmingham Baths Department were then instructed to find an appropriate site for the construction of public baths in the area.
Working in conjunction with the Free Libraries Committee (a library had also been promised to the residents of Balsall Heath as part of the deal which absorbed their district into Birmingham) the City of Birmingham Baths Department soon located a site on the Moseley Road close to the junction with Edward Road. A small cartway known as Midland Grove ran behind the site and the access this offered for the delivery of coal to the rear of the building was a key factor in the decision to choose this particular site.
Construction and opening
The Free Library opened in 1895 and has a clock tower. It was designed by Jethro A. Cossins and F. B. Peacock. The Baths were added immediately to the south and were opened on 30 October 1907, much later than planned owing to severe delays experienced in boring a well on the premises. They were designed by William Hale and Son of 83, Colmore Row and cost almost £34,000. As was common practice at the time, there were separate entrances for first class males, second class males and women.
Initially, only the 'slipper' bath departments were opened, with the pools coming into operation on 1 March 1908, the start of the municipal swimming season. On 21 November 1908, the First Class pool was floored over and the space used for social activities. It was one of several public baths to begin doing so in the winter months as there was little demand for the pools during this time of year.
Moseley Road Baths were used as a makeshift hospital in the early years of World War II. An additional entrance was created to facilitate this purpose, which was subsequently used as an emergency exit from Pool 2. By the end of 2010 a steel beam used to support the wall and roof above it had become severely corroded, leading to the pool's closure as this part of the building was in danger of collapse.
Today, the library remains a functioning branch of Birmingham Library Services. The baths, also run by Birmingham City Council, reopened following extensive structural work during 2005. They stand opposite the College of Art and were given Grade II listed status as a single entity in 1982, upgraded to Grade II* listed status in 2004 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
In November 2006 a 'Friends of Moseley Road Baths' group was formed to campaign for the long-term future of the building as a fully functioning swimming facility. Since their formation various community events and fundraisers have been held, including the Centenary celebration on 30 October 2007 which was attended by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and swimmers past and present. In 2010 the Friends' were awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund 'Your Heritage' grant of £48,000 to document the building's history and to interview former and current users of the building. Some aspects of the project are now online.
The building reopened in April 2012 after 16 months of structural work on the Fire Exit of Pool 2, asbestos removal from the basement and extensive cleaning and painting.
Pool 2 is currently open for swimming but Pool 1 (also known as the Gala Pool) has been mothballed since September 2003. The Second Class slipper baths were in continual use until October 2004, but have since closed.
Birmingham City Council are submitting a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2012 for £5 million towards essential repairs to the roof and to the Gala Pool. The Council will provide £3 million match funding. This work is 'Phase 1' and will make the building structurally sound. It is hoped that a 'Phase 2' could bring other parts of the building back into public use. As part of the bid, Birmingham Conservation Trust have been commissioned to conduct an extensive consultation exercise with the public. This includes generating ideas for community outreach work which will celebrate the heritage of the building.
The baths building consists of two swimming pools (First Class - or Gala - and Second Class), three 'slipper' bath departments (Men's First Class, Men's Second Class, Women's) comprising a total of 48 private washing baths, a committee room which was primarily used for meetings of swimming clubs, a flat formerly used by the resident money-taker, a boiler house containing two 1950s coal-fired boilers and a water filter room containing two filtration tanks dating from the 1930s. The boiler house has three levels: ground contains the boilers, first floor contains the laundry room, second floor contain a large cast iron cold water storage tank.
The building has three entrances, all of which led to a central booking desk. First Class Men's entrance led to Pool 1 and the First Class 'slipper' baths department. The Second Class Men's entrance led to Pool 2 and the Second Class Men's 'slipper' baths. The First and Second Class Women's entrance led to the Women's 'slipper' baths department.
Originally all bathers were supplied with a towel, soap and (for swimmers) a costume, collected from the Baths Attendant's kiosk. Towels and costumes were subsequently washed and dried in the steam laundry room located on the first floor of the boiler house.
Pool 1 is grand in its detailing and was originally the First Class pool upon opening. It contains 63 glazed brick cubicles, a three-sided spectator gallery, cast iron roof trusses and bowed, wrought iron balconettes. Pool 2 is less ornate and was the Second Class pool. Pool 2 did not originally have cubicles and bathers changed on benches around the pool side.
- "Art Exhibition - Homage To Moseley Road Baths". The Balsall Heathan No. 300 (St. Paul's Community Trust). February 2011.
- Historic England. "Details from listed building text (217425 )". Images of England.
- Victorian Architecture in Britain - Blue Guide, Julian Orbach, 1987, ISBN 0-393-30070-6
- The City of Birmingham Baths Department 1851-1951, J. Moth, Birmingham City Council, 1951 
- Birmingham (City Building Series), Douglas Hickman, 1970, Studio Vista Limited
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Public Library and Baths, Balsall Heath.|
- Birmingham City Council library page
- Birmingham City Council baths page
- Heritage at Risk: Public+Baths - baths
- Friends of Moseley Road Baths
- 'Pool of Memories'
- Photographs of interior