All posts by Steve

Goodbye to Moseley Road Methodist Church

Moseley Road Methodist Church closed its doors for the last time yesterday. Here Steve Beauchampé looks back at how the building has been so important to the Friends of Moseley Road Baths.

The closure of Moseley Road Methodist Church leaves yet another vacant building in what was once the bustling heart of Balsall Heath. For the Friends of Moseley Road Baths however the closure is particularly sad. Located directly opposite the Baths, the church has played host to several of our most important events. On November 27th 2006 it was the venue for the public meeting that lead to the group’s formation. Henceforth it hosted our monthly Committee meetings and our inaugural AGM. Those early Committee meetings are etched in the mind; we shared the building with a group of local ukelele players so our discussions were always set to music coming from the room next door!

Perhaps the most memorable event we staged at the church came on the afternoon of Tuesday October 30th 2007, with the Centenary Tea Dance that marked the 100th Birthday of Moseley Road Baths. Our special guests that day were the then Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, who followed a guided tour of the baths conducted by manager Dave Flora and members of the Friends by joining well over 100 of MRB’s supporters to eat cakes and sandwiches, dance and reminisce.

Pool of Memories Day

In June 2008 we gathered together around 80 representatives of interested groups for a seminar on the future of the Baths, chaired by architectural historian Simon Inglis (whose initial impetus had led to the formation of our group). Simon returned in 2009 for our annual Memories and Memorabilia Day where his superb illustrated talk on Britain’s historic indoor swimming pools enraptured an audience of around 100. The event was the second of our Memories and Memorabilia Days but doubts over the future of the venue contributed to the decision to switch last year’s event to the Balsall Heath Church Centre in Edward Road.

So goodbye to Moseley Road Methodist Church and a particular note of thanks to Nan for all the help she has given us. Let’s hope there’ll be a new Methodist church opening in Balsall Heath soon.

Great Lectures

 

If you attended our Memories and Memorabilia Day in October 2009 you may have been fortunate enough to see Birmingham-born writer Simon Inglis’ excellent talk based on his book Great Lengths – The Historic Indoor Swimming Pools of Britain (Malavan Media, 2009).

As editor of Played in Britain, English Heritage’s critically acclaimed series of books on the UK’s sports buildings and landscapes, Simon returns to Birmingham this Wednesday, January 12th 2011 (7:30pm) to lecture on the same subject, but with particular reference to the historic importance of Moseley Road Baths, at the January meeting of the Victorian Society. The meeting is open to everyone and the venue is the Council House in Victoria Square (please use main entrance) with a £4 admission charge. It promises to be a highly entertaining and informative evening and one that, not unsurprisingly, the Friends of Moseley Road Baths very much recommend. Several members of our group will be in attendance so if you get along, come and say hello.

More information at www.victorian-society-bham.org.uk

Book a tour of the Baths

Memories and Memorabilia Day 2010 is almost upon us and will this year be held on Saturday, October 30th (the 103rd birthday of Moseley Road Baths) at the Mary Street Church Centre, corner of Edward Road/Mary Street, Balsall Heath (around 400 yards from the baths). The event runs from 11:30am-4:30pm.

This year’s Memories and Memorabilia Day forms an important element of Pool of Memories, the three-year history project for which we have received a Heritage Lottery Fund Your Heritage grant.

An exhibition showing a selection of the photos, video film, reminiscences and artefacts already collected by the Friends of Moseley Road Baths as part of the Pool of Memories project will be on display and we’re really keen for those amongst you who swam, washed, worked, dived or danced at the baths to add your own memories (and memorabilia) to our growing archive by recounting and possibly recording your stories to our oral history volunteers who will be on hand for just this purpose.

Pool of Memories Launch

Following last year’s superb illustrated talk by Played in Britain series editor Simon Inglis’ on Britain’s historic indoor swimming pools, we are delighted to welcome Neil Bonner from the Victoria Baths Trust in Manchester who will tell (and show) us all about the past, present and future of these glorious Grade II* baths (winners of the BBC’s inaugural Restoration series in 2003)! Neil’s presentation is scheduled for 2:15pm.

As in previous years, we’ll be providing guided tours of Moseley Road Baths, including the Gala Pool and ‘slipper’ baths.

There will be three tours (Noon; 1:00pm and 3:30pm), and we’ve been asked by the Council to limit the number of places per tour to 20, so advance booking is advised. Tours start from the Church (why this is will become clear on the day) and will last just over 1 hour. Please note that the tours take in areas of the Baths where there are steep steps and uneven surfaces.  Places will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis. To book please e-mail us at memories@friendsofmrb.co.uk marking your e-mail ‘Baths Tour’ and stating which tour you would like to go on.

M&M Day 2010

Admittance to Memories and Memorabilia Day is free and refreshments will be available, although donations to the Friends of Moseley Road Baths group are most welcome. Car parking is available at the church centre (Mary Street entrance).

We look forward to seeing you all.

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!

Memories and Memorabilia Day 2010

Our third annual Memories and Memorabilia Day will be held on Saturday, October 30th (the 103rd birthday of Moseley Road Baths) at the Mary Street Church Centre, cnr Edward Road/Mary Street, Balsall Heath (around 400 yards from the baths). Provisional times are 12:00-4:30pm.  The annual celebration was well received last year, when we were lucky enough to display some of Joan Gurney’s collection of swimming costumes of yesteryear.

Joan's swimming costume collection

This year’s Memories and Memorabilia Day forms an important element of Pool of Memories, the three-year history project for which we recently received a Heritage Lottery Fund Your Heritage grant of nearly £48,000.

An exhibition showing a selection of the photos, video film, reminiscences and artefacts already collected by the Friends of Moseley Road Baths will be displayed and visitors will be encouraged to recount (and record) their own memories and bring along their own memorabilia for inclusion in the project and our growing archive.

Those of you who attended last year’s Memories and Memorabilia event may well have enjoyed Played in Britain series editor Simon Inglis’ illustrated talk on Britain’s historic indoor swimming pools, based on his research for the English Heritage book Great Lengths. This year we are delighted to welcome our friend’s from the Victoria Baths Trust in Manchester (www.victoriabaths.org.uk) who will tell (and show) us all about the past, present and future of these glorious Grade II* baths (winners of the BBC’s inaugural Restoration series in 2003), the equal of our own favourite water palace!  We visited the Victoria Baths a few years ago, and would really recommend going to an open day!

As in previous years, we’ll be providing guided tours of Moseley Road Baths, including the Gala Pool and ‘slipper’ baths, for which advance booking is advisable, if the demand of previous years is anything to judge from!

Exact timings, details for tour bookings and the full programme of events are not yet finalised, so please check our website for updates and details of booking a tour place from early September.

Admittance to Memories and Memorabilia Day is free although donations to the Friends of Moseley Road Baths group are most welcome. Refreshments will be available

Greetings From Moseley Road Baths

We now have for sale Moseley Road Baths greetings cards. The front of the card shows what we believe to be the earliest known image of the building, taken just prior to its opening in October 1907. We’ve left the inside blank for you to write your own message, while the back explains some of the things that make our favourite water palace so special and unique.

Printed on 300gsm silk paper, the A3-sized cards cost £4.50p for a pack of ten (including p&p, envelopes included) and are available from the Friends of Moseley Road Baths c/o 61 Eastwood Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham B12 9NA. They can also be purchased either individually (50p) or in packs of ten from our stalls at various local community events (such as Moseley Farmer’s Market) as well as the reception desk at Moseley Road Baths. Please make cheques etc payable to The Friends of Moseley Road Baths.

Moseley Rd greeting card