Like theatres, cinemas and railway stations, historic swimming baths are important examples of civic architecture, illuminating a past epoch and the daily lives of its participants. But very few remain, and those that do are often abandoned. Moseley Road Baths are an exception, kept alive by a dedicated team of volunteers, although the gala (first class) pool lies empty and the future remains uncertain.
Moseley Road Baths opened on October 30th 1907 in the Balstall Heath area of Birmingham, at a cost of £32,924. Unquestionably one of Birmingham’s most unique buildings, the baths are the oldest of only three Grade II* listed “cathedrals of swimming” still operational in Britain.
But despite its historic appeal and popularity with local swimmers and conservationists, operating old swimming baths is a costly affair. So much so that some council members have pushed for the demolition of Moseley Road Baths in favour of a modern – and inevitably cheaper – alternative. Other proposals have included preserving the building while adapting its interior for purposes unrelated to swimming.
After years of neglect culminating in parts of the building – including the main Gala Pool (top) and private baths – closing due to safety concerns, the Friends of Moseley Road Baths formed in 2006 to campaign for the longterm preservation of the building and re-opening of the mothballed facilities. The smaller, and less ornate, Second Class Pool remains in use today.
Moseley Road Baths contains several rare or unique features, including the lavishly embellished 98ft long Gothic renaissance red brick and terracotta facade (above).
Other rare features include: the only complete pre-war private washing, or “slipper” baths, in Britain (46 in total), with original oak ticket office and attendants’ kiosks; three-sided spectator gallery and unique balconettes in the Gala Pool, with the original poolside arched glazed brick dressing boxes; perhaps the only surviving steam-heated drying racks in a British swimming baths, found in the First Floor laundry room; and the original 45,000-gallon cast iron cold water storage tank (some of these can be seen above).
Concerns over the building’s future saw Moseley Road Baths added to the Victorian Society‘s list of ten most endangered buildings in Britain by 2007. But the Friends have done a fantastic job in educating members of the community – and perhaps local authorities too – on the historic and cultural significance of this unique place. In doing so, they continue to campaign for the re-opening of the first class Gala Pool, and reuse of other areas of the building for uses complimentary to the primary purpose of swimming. Want to explore the baths for yourself? Check out the Virtual Tour.