Birmingham – Baths Assembly Halls

The following is taken directly from The City of Birmingham Baths Department 1851 – 1951. The work was written and compiled by J. Moth M.N.A.B.S Birmingham 1951 and is presented here.

Saltley Baths BallroomThe first occasion on which a Birmingham swimming bath was floored over and used as an Assembly Hall was in 1905, when the large pool at the Northwood Street Baths was so converted and the premises used as a Club by the Social Institutes Committee.

Until that time, no thought had been given to any alternative use of a swimming bath in the winter months. The pools were generally closed down during this period, although for some years the Department had kept open the baths at Kent Street and Woodcock Street in endeavours, which bad met with little success, to popularise winter swimming.

Our neighbours at Aston had built their bath, opened in 1892, for the dual purpose of swimming in the summer and gymnastics in the winter; this was also true of the baths constructed by the King’s Norton and Northfield District Council and the Handsworth Local Board, whose establishments at Tiverton Road, Selly Oak, Bournville Lane, Stirchley and Grove Lane, Handsworth, were all planned for swimming in the summer and for use as Halls in the winter. These four baths were later to be taken over by the City under the Greater Birmingham Scheme.

Apart from the use of certain establishments as Clubs by the Social Institutes Committee, the Baths Committee, in the absence of any demand for winter swimming, continued merely to close most of the pools at the end of each summer, but on constructing further establishments after the 1914-1918 so planned them that they could be converted for use as Halls, for which there was a great demand, should swimmers prove as hard to attract as had been the experience of previous years. King’s Heath Baths, opened in 1923, was the first so planned, and subsequent establishments at Harhorne, Saitley, Erdington, Sparkhill, Noithfield and Kingstanding, and the reconstructed baths at Woodcock Street, Kent Street and Monument Road, were all built to conform to the requirements of the Licensing Justices for use as Assembly Halls.

Kings Heath Baths Badminton CourtsBetween the Wars, various premises were extensively used as Halls, and lettings were effected for social purposes, public dancing, badminton and the like. Indeed the winter demand for swimming was negligible and easily met by a few baths, whilst others were emptied and remained without any use whatsoever being made of them.

The end of the Second World War, during which the premises at which there were Halls were used as First Aid Posts, brought an unprecedented demand for swimming facilities, and the Baths. Committee naturally gave serious thought to the policy of the conversion of baths for use as winter Halls. The programme was accordingly drastically reduced, and today six premises only are involved, namely those at Grove Lane, Handsworth; Lordswood Road, Harborne; Institute Road, King’s Heath; Moseley Road, Balsall Heath; Nechells Park Road, Nechells; and George Arthur Road, Saltley. At two of these baths, Grove Lane and Moseley Road, there are second pools, so that there are only four establishments at which swimming facilities are not available in the winter. ‘Ibis policy gives swimmers almost the same facilities in the winter as during the summer months and particularly, it enables the school children to continue their visits and the Clubs to function throughout the year.

Grove Lane Baths Indoor Bowling GreenA further change in policy was effected by the Baths Committee in 1947, when it was decided that the Halls were no longer to be available for the private promotion of public dancing, but that the Department should engage Orchestras and Masters of Ceremonies, and suitably equip and staff the Halls for the purpose of directly controlling this particular branch of entertainment. The Halls were still made available for letting to bona fide organisations desirous of raising funds for social or charitable purposes, and also for hire for such other uses as did not conflict with the Committee’s decision. A further innovation was the provision of an Indoor Bowling Green at the Grove Lane Baths, Handsworth. This proved an immediate success, and there is no doubt that the facilities afforded are greatly appreciated by the many Level Green Bowlers in the City.

 

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