Public Library and Baths, Balsall Heath

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Public Library and Baths, Balsall Heath
The Public Library and Baths ( grid reference SP078843 ) on Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, England form one of many pairings of baths and libraries in Birmingham, managed by Birmingham City Council.


During discussions, in 1890, to include the Balsall Heath district into the city of Birmingham, it was decided that public baths should be built as soon as possible for the area if Birmingham were to acquire the district. The Bill was passed and Balsall Heath was acquired by Birmingham on October 1, 1891. Immediately, the City of Birmingham Baths Department were instructed to find an appropriate site for the construction of public baths in the area. The City of Birmingham Baths Department decided that it was useful to work in conjunction with the Free Libraries Committee to find a location. The Free Libraries Committee were also involved in a similar process in finding a site for the construction of a library in the area after they were instructed to construct a library in Balsall Heath following the absorption of the area by Birmingham.

Construction and opening
The Free Library opened in 1895 and has a clock tower. It was designed by Jethro A. Cossins and F. B. Peacock. The Baths were added to the south and opened on October 30, 1907, which was later than planned due to a delayed operation in boring a well on the premises. It was designed by William Hale and Son. There are separate labelled entrances for first class men, second class men, and women. On November 21, 1908, the First Class pool was floored over and the floor space used for social activities. It was one of a number of public baths to begin doing so in the winter months as there was little demand for the use of bath during this time.

Subsequent history
Balsall Heath Baths were used as a makeshift hospital in the early years of World War II. An additional enterance was created to facilitate this purpose, which subsequently became one of the emergency exits from Pool 2. A steel beam used to support the wall and roof above it had become severely corroded by 2010. This led to the pool's closeure as this part of the building was in danger of collapse. Today, the library is a fully functioning branch of the Birmingham Public Library. The baths, run by Birmingham City Council, reopened following extensive structural work during 2005, as Moseley Road Swimming Pool. They stand directly opposite the College of Art. They were given Grade II listed status as a single entity in 1982 however this was upgraded to Grade II* listed status in 2004 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The baths building consists of two swimming pools, three rooms containing slipper baths, an upstairs committee room, an upstairs caretakers flat, a water filter room and a boiler house. The boiler house has three levels: ground contains the boilers, first floor contains the laundry room, second floor contain a gigantic cast iron water tank. The building was built with three entrances which all led to a central booking desk. First Class Men's entrance led to Pool 1 and the First Class slipper baths room. Second Class Men's entrance led to Pool 2 and the Second Class Men's slipper baths. The First and Second Class Women's entrance led to the Women's only slipper baths room. Women were originally not allowed to bathe. Originally all bathers were supplied with a towel and swimming trunks, hence the need for the laundry room on the first floor of the boiler house. Pool 1 is grand in its detailing as it was used as a First Class pool upon opening. Pool 2 is plain and simple in it detailing and was the Second Class pool. Pool 2 did not originally have cubicles and bathers changed on benches around the side of the pool.

The Second Class slipper baths were in continual use until October 2004. The entire building closed for emergency works in October 2004. Pool 2 re-opened in October 2005. Pool 1 is presently mothballed. A bid is due to be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund in April 2007 to bring both pools and the slipper baths back into public use. In November 2006 'Friends of Moseley Road Baths' was formed to campaign for the long-term future of the building as a fully functioning swimming facility. Since their formation numerous well attended community events and fundraisers have been held, including the Centenary on the 30th October 2007 which was attended by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and swimmers past and present. In late 2007, Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, Ray Hassall indicated that he believed it would be more cost effective to demolish the baths and build a modern facility. This is a view he reiterated at the full Council meeting in January 2008.