Nechells, on the north-east fringe of central Birmingham, was a gritty place of canals, railway lines and gas-works and power stations, for which the terracotta public buildings of the “Civic Gospel” were much-needed amenities. Bloomsbury Library had been built in 1892 with a police- and fire-station attached, but no swimming baths.
Baths were vital in working-class districts, not so much as leisure centres but as an indispensable aid to personal hygiene. Slipper baths were a desirable alternative to the tin bath in front of the fire.
Though the site was purchased in 1903, construction of Arthur Harrison’s design began only in 1908, and the swimming bath and male and female private baths were opened in 1910.
For many years it provided winter assembly facilities when the bath was boarded over.
It closed in 1996 and became badly vandalised.
It was handed over to the Birmingham Foundation (now the Birmingham & Black Country Community Foundation) and with the financial support of Advantage West Midlands, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the European Regional Development Fund it was restored as a multi-purpose community facility providing a crèche and nursery facilities, an internet café, office accommodation for not-for-profit community organisations, a youth club, community bingo and a thriving dance group.
The restoration used recycled demolition materials to provide a new entrance portico with an extension faced in natural copper and a rotunda of masonry, brick and glass.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s Birmingham’s Heritage lecture, please click here.