Birmingham – Early Days

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


peopleJ MothThe history of Public Baths in this country commences with the introduction of an `Act to encourage the Establishment of Public Baths and Wash-houses’, which received the Royal Assent on the 26th August, 1846, and empowered a local authority to incur expenditure in erecting Public Baths out of its own funds.

Prior to this Act, a few towns had provided limited washing bath facilities for poor persons, within the powers of local Acts, but, generally- speaking, bathing establishments were privately owned and exclusive to those only with leisure and money to spare.

William West’s `Topography of Warwickshire’, published in 1830, includes the following description of Birmingham’s privately-owned baths:- Strangers can have no idea of the advantage which Birmingham possesses with regard to its Baths and we believe that thousands of its inhabitants that have arrived at the Meridian of life are not acquainted with their arrangement and extent.

 In William Hutton’s day they were seven in number and cost nearly £2,000; there are now ten. 

The additions of the new and the improvements to the old Baths have, since they came into the possession of Mr. Monro, cost upwards of £2,000.

 They are upon an extensive plan of comfort and accommodation and bountifully supplied with the purest of Water; the Ladies’ Bath is laid with Marble and has an excellent dressing room adjoining.

The second and third Baths were used for Gentlemen, each fitted up with a dressing room, or private boxes these baths were supplied with cold water only. The third bath was about 15ft. 6in. square by 4ft, 6in, in depth and was supplied with about 650 gallons of fresh spring water per hour.

The fourth Bath was a large Swimming,, Bath over 100ft. long and 50ft. wide, the depth graduating from 3ft. to 5ft.; this bath was also supplied with fresh water at the rate of 50,000 gallons per hour, from the Ladywell and other springs. It was surrounded with high walls and situated in the centre of a well-planted garden and the platform steps and other conveniences for bathing were so well constructed as to make it unequalled in any Inland Town in the Kingdom.

Ladywell Baths AdvertisementThe fifth Bath was supplied with hot and cold water and kept at a temperature of about 82 degrees Fah.

The sixth, or Hot Bath, was cased with fine veined marble and supplied with hot and cold water, and the heat could he increased or decreased at pleasure to resemble the Baths at Bath, Buxton and Matlock. This Bath was considered a great acquisition to the town.

There were other Baths supplied with Artificial water of Harrogate, Leamington and Cheltenham, also Sulphine, Aromatic, Tropical and Fumugating or Vapour baths, specially fitted up for Invalids, the water being brought to a level with the dressing room and bedrooms and private apartments were provided for their accommodation.

The dwelling house of the proprietor was erected and fitted up in a handsome style adjoining the Establishment, the whole of which was not only highly creditable to the proprietor but invaluable to those who used them.

Twenty years later, we find Mr. Monro and others still active in providing the inhabitants of Birmingham with those excellent facilities described by William West, as will be seen from the reproduced advertisements in the Birmingham Journal of the 17th May 1851.

The Public Baths and Wash-houses Act of 1846 was introduced as the result of agitation over a period of years for the provision of bathing establishments by the local authority and in the absence of such powers in Birmingham, its citizens had already explored the possibilities of erecting a public baths by voluntary effort.

At a Public Meeting on the 19th November, 1844, a Committee, or as it was afterwards called, the ‘Public Baths Association’, was formed. A fund was opened and within a week, £4,000 had been subscribed.

On the 22nd and 23rd April, 1845, two lectures were delivered in the Town Hall, stressing the importance of public health and the necessity for the provisio of public baths in Birmingham and other large towns. It is recorded that although the attendance of the general public at these was not numerous ‘the persons present were highly respectable’ and the meetings gave further stimulus to the objects of the Public Baths Association.

The Association held a second Public Meeting on the 15th June, 1845, during which it was proposed to purchase a piece of land at the corner of Kent Street and Gooch Street. The purchase was effected on the 24th June, 1846, out of the accumulated funds which had then reached a total of £6,102.10s.

Three months later, at its meeting on the 7th October, 1846, the Town Council adopted the Publlic Baths and Wash-houses Act, and at a meeting of the Public Baths Association in November, it was resolved

That as the Town Council has the matter in hand the land acquired by the Association should be transferred to that body.

It was not until the 2nd October, 1848, however, that the Council gave their sanction for the erection of the first baths and wash-houses, on the site selected by the Association in Kent Street.

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