Public Library and Baths, Balsall Heath

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Public Library and Baths, Balsall Heath
Balsall Heath Baths and Library.jpg
Alternative namesMoseley Road Baths
General information
Architectural styleEdwardian
LocationBalsall Heath
Town or cityBirmingham
Opened1895 (library)
1907 (baths)
Design and construction
ArchitectJethro A. Cossins and F. B. Peacock (library)
William Hale and Son (baths)
DesignationsGrade II* listed

The Public Library and Baths (grid reference SP078843) on Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, form one of many pairings of baths and libraries in Birmingham, England.

The library was opened in 1895, with the baths following in 1907. Made of red brick and terracotta in Edwardian style, the structure is one of only three swimming pools in the country listed at Grade II* status.[1]

The buildings are currently managed by Birmingham City Council, however, the council has announced plans to close the baths in June 2017.[1]



During discussions in 1890 to absorb 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 was to acquire the district. A bill was passed and Balsall Heath was annexed into Birmingham on 1 October 1891. The City of Birmingham Baths Department was 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 arrangement which absorbed their district into Birmingham) the Baths Department soon located a site on 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[edit]

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 subsequently used for social activities. It was one of several public baths to begin these activities in the winter months as there was little demand for the pools during this time of year.

Subsequent history[edit]

The 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 a fire 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.[2]

Today, the library remains a functioning branch of Birmingham Library Services. The baths, run by Birmingham City Council, reopened following extensive structural work during 2005. They stand opposite the College of Art and were listed at Grade II as a single entity in 1982, upgraded to Grade II* status in 2004 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

In 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' group was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund 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 public library with its clock tower

The baths building consists of two swimming pools (the first-class or "Gala" pool and the second-class pool), three 'slipper' bath departments (men's first-class, men's second-class, and women's) comprising a total of 46 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. The 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 'slipper' baths. The 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. 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.


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 and is well used, but Pool 1 has been closed since 2003. The second-class 'slipper' baths were in continual use until October 2004, but have since closed.

In January 2017 it was reported that the council plans to close the baths in June 2017. The Friends' group and MRB Action Group are attempting to create an organisation to further restore the neglected building and operate the baths to save them from closure.[3] It was announced that the pool would continue to stay open.[4]


  1. ^ a b "Nooks and corners". Private Eye. London: Pressdram Ltd. 27 January 2017.
  2. ^ "Art Exhibition - Homage To Moseley Road Baths". The Balsall Heathan No. 300. St. Paul's Community Trust. February 2011.
  3. ^ "Baths 'could close in 18 months'". BBC News. 31 August 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  4. ^ Elkes, Neil (13 December 2017). "How hundreds of Brummies have saved city's historic pool". birminghammail. Retrieved 20 November 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°27′27.15″N 1°53′8.92″W / 52.4575417°N 1.8858111°W / 52.4575417; -1.8858111