Many Moseleians will have learnt to swim in Moseley Road Baths which, after many years of neglect, are threatened with closure. In July 2014 more than 100 swimmers highlighting the plight by posing as a ‘Terracotta Army’ in the empty Gala Pool in reaction to the news that Birmingham City Council intended to permanently close the historic building. However this June saw better news for the much loved Edwardian swimming pool when The Moseley Road Baths Coalition announced that Birmingham City Council has taken the decision to keep the Baths open for swimmers
until the end of March 2018.
The recently formed Moseley Road Baths Coalition is made up of the Friends of Moseley Road Baths, Moseley Road Baths Action Group, Historic England, the National Trust and the World Monuments Fund. The coalition team has been working with Birmingham City Council to explore a sustainable future for the baths that includes swimming, for what is unquestionably one of Birmingham’s most important heritage buildings and one of the nation’s most significant swimming pools.
The decision to keep the building open for swimming gives the coalition, working together with Birmingham City Council, time to develop an alternative way of keeping the pool open, (either through transferred operations to a community interest company or via another operator), and to work on plans to bring all of the building back to life a complex task which will require significant investment, given the scale and complexity of the backlog of conservation and building work required.
Opened on October 30th 1907 at a cost of £32,924, these Edwardian swimming baths are the oldest of only three Grade II* Listed swimming baths currently operating in Britain (those at the privately-owned RAC Club in London and The National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace being the other two).
The building has suffered from acute neglect over a sustained period of time to the extent that in 2007 it featured on the Victorian Society’s list of the ten most endangered buildings in Britain. Currently, only the smaller pool is operational, the Gala Pool and ‘slipper’ baths having closed for safety reasons in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
The baths contain some unique fixtures and fittings, including a complete set of 46 private washing rooms with baths (in use until 2004), original oak ticket offices and attendant’s kiosks. Also, possibly the only surviving steam-heated drying racks in a British swimming pool, the original 45,000-gallon capacity cast iron cold water storage tank. and a three-sided spectator gallery with unique balconettes in the Gala or First Class Pool as well as the original poolside arched glazed brick dressing boxes.
So significant are the Baths that the Friends of Moseley Road Baths secured the interest of the World Monuments Fund, who added the building to their World Monuments Watch List in 2016 of 50 important buildings and monuments across the globe.
Built to encourage Balsall Heath to join the Corporation of Birmingham in 1907, the baths and the adjacent library are full of glorious details and both interior and exterior are a real testament to the designers, manufacturers and workmanship of Birmingham and Britain at this time. It spoke of a huge civic pride in the city and its people.
Vivienne Harrison, Chair of the Friends of Moseley Road Baths said; ‘The Friends of Moseley Road Baths are delighted that Birmingham City Council have agreed to keep our much loved swimming pool open until March next year. For over ten years, we have been campaigning to save this locally, nationally and indeed internationally important heritage landmark and we appreciate the recognition of our efforts. Moseley Road Baths is a vital facility for local people, a much needed meeting point which builds between different sections of a diverse community and which contributes to improving health and lives in an area of high deprivation. Of course, much still needs to be done and we look forward to working with Birmingham City Council and our coalition partners to secure the long-term future for Moseley Road Baths.’