A history of ‘Bournville Lane Baths’

As Stirchley Baths prepares to open its doors one last time before the building’s conversion into a community centre, local historian and member of Friends of Moseley Road Baths Steve Beauchampé looks back at the Baths’ history.

Saturday, September 3rd affords what is expected to be the last opportunity for the public to see inside the 100-year old Bournville Lane Baths. Located on the corner of Bournville Lane and Hazelwood Road in Stirchley, work is expected to commence early in 2012 to convert the building into a community centre as part of a financial deal linked to the development of a new Tesco store in Stirchley. The Baths, which closed on March 1st 1988 and which have lain derelict for several years, slowly ravaged by the weather and wildlife, will be open between 11:00am-3:00pm.

Stirchley Baths front

Designed by architect John P. Osborne, Stirchley Baths (as they were originally called) cost approximately £10,000 and were built by E. Crowder of Farm Street, Birmingham on land gifted to the Kings Norton and Northfield Urban District Council by Cadbury Brothers Ltd. At 4pm on July 19th 1910 William Cadbury laid the Foundation Stone and the following July George Cadbury Junior formally opened the building, which is now listed Grade II.

Stirchley Baths changing

Along with Aston and Handsworth, on November 9th 1911 Kings Norton was annexed as part of the Birmingham Extension Order. From this date the facility was known as Bournville Lane Baths. There was a single swimming pool (75ft x 30ft) with spectator gallery, demountable dressing cubicles, 20 private washing (or ‘slipper’) baths for men and women and a small steam (or Vapour) bath, capable of holding six people. There was also a small laundry.

With its distinctive curved single-storey frontage, Bournville Lane Baths was the first of the city’s baths to be connected to the mains water supply and were fitted with a modern circulation and filtration system supplied by Riley’s of Irlam. Located just a few hundred yards from the impressive – and also long decommissioned – Girls’ Baths at Cadburys’, the facility was developed in conjunction with the adjacent public library, while a Friend’s Meeting Hall sits directly behind.

As part of Saturday’s open day members of the public will be invited to become a ‘Friend of Stirchley Baths’, a new group dedicated to ensuring, ‘that the building serves the people of Stirchley for the next 100 years’.

Last year’s tour

To get you warmed up for this year’s Memories and Memorabilia Day on 30th October, we wanted to share with you once again the excellent video that Alex Gamela and colleagues at HashBrum put together of the tour. Don’t forget that you will need to book this year’s tours in advance by e-mailing your preferred time to memories@friendsofmrb.co.uk or ringing us on 07967 093 256.


Moseley Road Baths Tour from Alex Gamela on Vimeo.

Happy 150th Birthday Woodcock Street

FoMRB campaigner Steve Beauchampé has penned this article for Woodcock Street Baths’ 150th anniversary. It originally appeared in The Stirrer.

Woodcock Street Baths in Gosta Green first opened in August 1860 and there’s been public swimming at the location ever since. Steve Beauchampé reports on the history of Birmingham’s oldest operational swimming pool complex on the occasion of its 150th birthday.

Birmingham’s second municipal baths complex, at Woodcock Street in the Gosta Green district of Aston, first opened to the public on August 27th 1860 (the baths at Kent Street having preceded some nine years earlier). Designed by Edmund Holmes of Temple Row – one of eighteen architectural practices to submit designs – the complex cost £12,378 10s 6d and consisted of one Second Class swimming pool measuring an ample 78ft x 34ft 6in, two small plunge baths and 46 private washing (or ‘slipper’) baths, of which 32 were reserved for men and 14 for women. The building itself was functional, with little of the aesthetic flourish that would come to symbolise municipal buildings by the late-Victorian period. As was common practice at the time, there were three public entrances (Men’s First Class, Men’s Second Class and Women’s), class and gender segregation of corporation bathing establishments being the norm. By 1876 the plunge baths had been replaced by a First Class Pool, measuring a modest 38ft x 14ft.

In such a densely populated inner city district as Gosta Green was in Victorian Birmingham, with back-to-back housing (most, if not all, of it lacking bathrooms and running water) and a hive of small industries, the public baths inevitably became a vital and essential institution. Some time before 1900 a public laundry was added to Woodcock Street’s inventory of facilities but it would not be until 1902 that the building in its current form began to take shape.

The 1860 swimming pool was demolished, replaced with a new First Class Pool, measuring 81ft x 30ft. with 54 poolside glazed brick dressing cubicles and a small viewing gallery at the eastern end which doubled as a bandstand. The work of F.W. Lloyd and built by John Bowen and Sons of Balsall Heath, Woodcock Street’s 1902 extension cost £11,000.

In common with other Birmingham public baths (and throughout Britain), the winter months saw at the pool boarded over and used for social events, organised by the city’s Social Institutes Committee. While Woodcock Street staged the more traditional roster of talks, lectures and dances, in 1914 and 1915 the pool hall was converted for use as a rifle range!

But it was in 1926, as attendance figures at Birmingham pools reached then record levels, that Woodcock Street Baths was transformed, via a major reconstruction and expansion programme, into what is in essence the building that stands today. Arthur McKewan’s extension included a Gala Pool (100ft x 35ft) with tiered seating for up to 1,100 spectators, a removable six-stage diving platform and demountable dressing boxes. There were an additional seventeen private washing baths, a new public steam laundry, a café, and an impressive entrance hall with marble flooring, oak joinery, white tiled bricks and a domed lantern roof. To facilitate this, all remaining vestiges of the pre-1902 building were demolished, including the landmark ventilation tower.

The laundry (used today as a fitness gym) was one of the largest of its kind in Britain, handling towels and linen from each of the city’s bathing establishments. 32,000 towels (measuring 21 miles in length) were washed, sterilized, dried, ironed and folded on a normal summer day.

The new Gala Pool was a favoured venue for Amateur Swimming Authority organised international and championship events, including the Bologna Trophy (featuring England, Scotland and Wales). In winter months it was boarded over and hosted events such as boxing, with a spectator capacity (standing and seated) of around 1,900. One of Woodcock Street’s most notable non-swimming events occurred in February 1936 when a session of a snooker match between world champion Joe Davis and the Australian superstar Walter Lindrum attracted a then world record attendance of approximately 1,100.

Although substantial modernisation work took place during the winter of 1948/9, by the late 1970s, with Gosta Green’s back-to-backs long since gone and Birmingham’s inner city population dwindled to a fraction of what it had once been, Woodcock Street Baths, like those at Kent Street a couple of years earlier, was considered surplus to municipal requirements. Demolition could easily have been its fate, but then in 1980 the University of Aston, whose campus had grown on the site of all those neighbouring Victorian houses and small industrial premises, stepped in to take over the building.

Converting the Gala Pool into a sports hall, the private washing baths into changing rooms, the laundry into a fitness gym and renaming the building Woodcock Sports Centre, the University has – often against the odds – kept the building not just open, but thriving. With public access (i.e. it’s not just the preserve of students) the pool hall of 1902 has remained in daily use and still boasts many of its original features (including the glazed brick poolside cubicles, a feature it shares with only one other British pool – Moseley Road Baths in Balsall Heath). Listed Grade II by English Heritage, Woodcock Sports Centre is soon to undergo a £5m refurbishment programme to ensure the building can continue to serve the students of Aston and citizens of Birmingham for many years to come. There’s even hope that some of the original features lost or just covered over down the years might be re-installed.

So Happy 150th Birthday Woodcock Street Baths!

Played in Birmingham lecture

We’re very lucky as a group to be able to draw on the expertise of one of our group members, Steve Beauchampé.  He and Simon Inglis, who many of you will remember from his excellent presentation at our ‘Memories and Memorabilia Day‘ have written extensively about our local sporting heritage.  Moseley Road Baths features in two of the wonderfully detailed and illustrated publications from the ‘Played in Britain’ series.  ‘Played in Birmingham‘ explores Birmingham’s sporting heritage, whilst ‘Great Lengths‘ focuses on the development of swimming baths in Britain.

We are very excited to announce that they have both been invited to deliver a lecture at the prestigious Barber Institute this March.  Full details are below – please contact the Barber Institute directly for all enquiries.

Birmingham is a city founded upon hard work, enterprise and civic pride, characteristics that have also helped to shape its sporting map. This richly illustrated lecture focuses on Birmingham’s historic sporting landscapes – from stadiums to swimming baths, parks to pavilions, golf clubs to billiard halls – and reveals little known aspects of a heritage that has touched the lives of millions of Brummies, whether inclined towards sport or not.

Simon Inglis is an architectural historian and editor of the English Heritage series Played in Britain. He is the co-author with Steve Beauchampé of Played in Birmingham, the fifth book in the series, and has also written a history of Villa Park. Steve Beauchampé is an expert on Birmingham’s sporting architecture and heritage and is currently writing a history of the Grade II* listed Moseley Road Baths in Balsall Heath.

All lectures are held at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and begin at 7.30pm. Lectures are preceded at 6pm by a finger buffet, including a choice of wine, soft drink or coffee, and a private view of the Barber Institute galleries. Admission is by ticket only.

Lecture and buffet: £15 per ticket or £55 for the series. Lecture only: £7.50 or £27.50 for the series.

To book, please contact the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TS. 0121 414 7333 www.barber.org.uk
Payment by credit or debit card; cheques are payable to the University of Birmingham.