The historic Moseley Road Baths will be closed before the end of 2015, it has been decided. However, this has not stopped the tireless campaigning of the Friends of Moseley Road Baths, a group aiming to retain and restore the building and its original features. Brumitecture speaks with Steve Beauchampe, a member of the group, about the future of the building.
Moseley Road Baths is located in Balsall Heath. The building was opened in October 1907, with the construction costing around £32,924. The oldest of three Grade II* listed swimming baths still open in Britain, this spectacular building retains much of its original layout, fixtures and fittings. It was given to the community of Balsall Heath when they ‘joined Birmingham’, and it is run by the Birmingham City Council.
It is the fixtures and fittings that make this unique building worth saving, according to the Friends of Moseley Baths. The rarity of these features shouldn’t be ignored; the building contains a complete set of 46 pre-war ‘slipper’ baths, which is the only full set of this kind in Britain, however they are currently closed to the public due to disrepair.
“So much of what is in there is now unique throughout the country. The Baths still have so many of its original features – these don’t exist anywhere else.” – Steve Beauchampe, Friends of Moseley Road Baths
The architectural features of the building are astounding. A three-sided spectator gallery and balconettes look over the Gala Pool, while the 98ft frontage of the building is intricately decorated in a Gothic renaissance style.
Due to continual budget cuts and lack of funding, Moseley Road Baths has fallen into neglect. This isn’t the first time the fate of the building has been uncertain – in 2007 it was included in the Victorian Society’s list of ten most endangered buildings in Britain.
There is only one pool, the smallest, currently open. The grand Gala Pool, hosting unique balconettes, and the rare ‘slipper’ baths were closed in 2003 and 2004 due to structural safety and maintenance issues.
Birmingham City Council plans to close Moseley Road Baths before the end of 2015, with the intention to convert much of the building to uses not related to swimming or fitness. This causes many concerns for the community, both for heritage enthusiasts and the welfare of the community has a whole. This troubles the Friends of Moseley Road Baths group, who have stepped in to campaign to raise awareness of the building.
Steve Beauchampe, a member of the Friends of Moseley Road Baths, states that
“English heritage always say if a building can be used for its primary purpose it should be. There is a demand within the area for a swimming pool. This community facility its really important.”
This conversion could put the original features of the building at risk. The Friends of Moseley Baths strive to encourage the council to restore the original features and reopen both pools for the public to enjoy this fine example of the community’s architectural and local heritage. One way of doing this may be to engage with a heritage group, which requires the support of the local council. However, the problems with some areas of the building are so extensive that it would be costly to repair.
Importantly, when Moseley Road Baths close, many believe that the prospect of replacement baths in Balsall Heath is unlikely due to a lack of funding and available land. Instead, residents will have to travel to the ‘replacement’ pool in Sparkhill which is currently being built.
“It is an important loss of community space,” says Steve. “You are taking something away from the community. People won’t go [to the replacement baths]. People need them and can’t make the extra journey, from cost or time.”
Friends of Moseley Road Baths
The future of the pool is uncertain after plans to submit a Heritage Lottery Fund application were dismissed by the council. However, the Friends of Moseley Baths will continue to “keep highlighting the importance of building through events,” although Steve admits that despite engaging with councillors, they have generally been unsupportive, and “we have to be realistic.” Many other community buildings in the area have recently been closed, including the School of Art and the local library. There are also no clear plans for the development of the baths once it is closed to the public.
Steve reflects on what it may be like if the building were fully restored;
“The whole experience of using it would be such a different experience for everyone than anywhere else they are like to go swimming.”
To find out more, visit: Friends of Moseley Road Baths website
All images property of Friends of Moseley Road Baths