Birmingham – The Cottage Baths

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.

Coventry Street Cottage Baths SketchThe Baths Committee’s first attempt to introduce Cottage Baths was made in 1902, when it was proposed that the Police Buildings in George Arthur Road, Saltley, which had become redundant, should be converted for use as Cottage Baths.

Enquiries previously made from other local authorities as to how they were best dealing with the provision of private baths in congested areas at comparatively cheaper rates had resulted in information that in Manchester, Liverpool, Bradford and Brighton, small house property had been taken over and its accommodation converted for use as bathrooms, where for a moderate charge or in some cases, free of charge, baths were provided.

The experiments at Manchester, Liverpool and Bradford, however, had not met the position, and these authorities had abandoned the idea in favour of the erection of small Private Bath establishments; but Brighton had for many years successfully operated four or five Cottage Baths and it was in view of this that the Baths Committee made its recommendations regarding the Police Buildings in George Arthur Road, Saltley.

Their proposals, were, however, severely criticized by the Council and the Baths Committee hastily but reluctantly withdrew them to save defeat.

Three years later, the Baths Committee drew the Council’s attention to a resolution received from the Health Committee based on a report from the Medical Officer of Health on infant mortality, in which the erection of Cottage Baths as an experiment was strongly recommended, and on asking that one such set of Baths be considered, their proposals were on this occasion; ‘unanimously approved and criticized only as being too modest’.

The next step was to acquire a suitable property for conversion, but after several unsuccessful attempts, it was decided to erect a building and install suites of Private Baths, thus unconsciously or otherwise emulating the procedure of Manchester, Liverpool and Bradford.

The site chosen for the first Cottage Baths was in Coventry Street, Digbeth, and the building, which was opened on the 1st October, 1908, provided six Private Baths for Men on the ground floor and five for Women on the first floor. Immediately, the attendances at the Coventry Street Cottage Baths were such that it was found impossible to cater for all those requiring to use the premises, particularly at weekends, and eventually the building was extended to accommodate twelve further baths for men and six for women, the additional facilities becoming available on 21st March, 1914.

Bacchus Road Cottage Baths SketchFollowing the success of the original experiment, two further Cottage Baths were erected and both opened on the 29th February, 1912, at Brearley Street, Summer Lane, with nine Private Baths for men and nine for women, and at Bacchus Road, Winson Green, with thirteen baths for men and thirteen for women. At Bacchus Road, use was made of an old property fronting the site, but this was converted as a Ticket Office and for accommodation for the Attendants, the actual bathrooms being constructed at the rear of the premises.

When on 31st July, 1912, however, the Baths Committee approached the Council with recommendations to provide a fourth Cottage Baths in Lower Dartmouth Street, defeat was averted by one vote (25-24), the opposition this time being on the grounds of the heavy increase in expenditure and rating which followed the enlargement of the City. These premises were opened on the 29th June, 1914.

Further Cottage Baths were later erected and opened at; Adderley Road, Saltley, on 13th June, 1923 ; at Grosvenor Road, Aston, and Willis Street, Ashted, both on 12th July, 1924; and at St. George’s Street, Hockley, on the 29th February, 1936.

Saltley Norton Cottage BathsThe original proposal for the conversion of the Police Buildings in George Arthur Road, Saltley, was never proceeded with as a through-site from George Arthur Road, on which stood the Police Buildings, to Adderley Road, was eventually acquired, a swimming bath being erected with an entrance to George Arthur Road and the Cottage Baths in Adderley Road as already mentioned. Bomb damage to the front of these latter premises was sustained during a night raid on 17th October, 1940, but this has since been repaired.

The St. George’s Street Cottage Baths came into being as the result of the failure of these premises as a Public Wash- house, opened on the 18th January, 1928, when it was decided to abandon this project and install suites of Private Baths. Completely demolished during a night raid on the City on the 19th November, 1940, it has since been rebuilt in a temporary design and was re-opened for public use on the 1st April, 1949.

Of the eight Cottage Baths erected, those at Coventry Street, Brearley Street and Lower Dartmouth Street are no longer in use, due to decreasing patronage through the districts becoming more or less non-residential, but the remaining five experience exceptionally heavy attendances and prove their worth in the districts concerned.

Strangely enough and as will have been seen from this account, Cottage Baths in their originally intended form were never provided in Birmingham, but the establishments built as the result of the first recommendations of the Baths Committee have always been known as Cottage Baths and are likely to remain so-called.


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