Tag Archives: Leisure

Sporting Heritage: A Victorian Baths

National Sporting Heritage Day, held on 30th September, was established to highlight sporting heritage post the 2012 Olympics. More information can be found on the National Sporting Heritage website.

As an enthusiastic swimmer, and occasional dipper in its pool, Woodcock Street Baths, now called The Sir Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre, seemed an ideal subject to investigate in recognition of the day for the Iron Room.

Frontage, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Woodcock Street Baths opened in 1860, the second baths to open in the city after Kent Street in 1851. Their formation was prompted by the Baths Act of 1846, whereby local authorities were obliged to provide bathing and washing facilities for residents.

The original architect of Woodcock Street Baths was Edward Holmes, who designed and built the baths for £12,000. At their opening they consisted of an engineer’s quarters, swimming baths, and private washing baths for men and women, each with their own plunge pool. In 1902, the building was completely renovated and a First Class Swimming and Baths were added.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths [BCC 200]

This above ‘proposed’ plan is by Holmes. If it was for the initial construction, it suggests that originally the two pools were intended for men only. I’m unclear without additional research if this is what was actually built as much of the literature suggests that first class swimming and baths were added in a 1902 renovation, and that women had swimming facilities from the outset.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths, 1920s [in Souvenir Programme of Gala Baths, LP 25.12]

In 1926, the washing facilities were again revamped and this time, a gala baths was added for events.

Programme 1929 [LP 25.12]

This programme above from 1929 highlights how events at the Gala Baths attracted local, national, and international competitors—a Miss Joyce Cooper of London, and two competitors from Holland, Miss Marie Braun, and Miss Marie Baron, who all took part in the non-local events, including relay races, 100 yards back-stroke, 100 yards free-style, 200 yards breast-stroke, plus an ‘Education Exhibition of Correct Strokes’ and ‘Ornamental, Scientific and Trick Diving’.

Programme 1959 [LP 25.12]

The Gala Baths held many different championships, including water polo tournaments and also ‘Speed Swimming’ contests as this programme from 1949 demonstrates. Improvements were also made to the lighting, as in 1948 under-water lighting was added to aid both swimmers and to help display the swimmers’ abilities for the audience.

Gala Baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Many more modernisations of the baths have been made in the subsequent years, for example in the 1980s the Gala pool was covered over and turned into an assembly/sports hall. The most recent changes I’m aware of took place in 2010 when the complex was again refurbished (bringing a hiatus to my attending a very pleasant aquafit class!)

Swimming baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

As I understand, only the Second Class Baths from 1902 still remain. They are, however, beautifully restored.

Rachel Clare, Senior Archives Assistant

Further reading:

History of the Corporation Vol II, Bunce [BCOL 31 HIS]
The City of Birmingham Baths Department, 1851-1951, Moth. J [L45.33 MOT]
BCC Baths Committee [BCC 1/BN/1/1/1-]


Wish you were there?

Horizons Midlands holiday brochure winter 1975-6

Horizon Midlands holiday brochure, winter 1975-6

Now the weather turns chillier, why not cushion yourself in the eventide glow of a Mediterranean clime? How much will this cost me I hear you chime, not a penny dear reader when you experience all that the more climatically forgiving realms of this continent have to offer by perusing a copy of a Horizon Midlands brochure.

The Archives & Collections service recently received a donation of historic brochures and literature from an employee of Horizon Midlands which was an independent travel agents based in Birmingham from the late 1960s through to the early 1990s. The donation, which has been added to our Birmingham trade catalogue collection, also includes a series of annual reports and accounts for the company covering the period from 1975 – 1986 along with paperwork detailing a proposed joint venture with Bass PLC in 1985 amongst other documents. The company appears to have been based originally at 214 Broad Street and ended its days not too far away at 4 Broadway, Five Ways.

Horizons Midlands

Horizon Midlands map of holiday destinations

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All The World’s A (Smaller) Stage

Photograph of the company in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company production of 'Mary Barnes' by David Edgar, 1978. Ref: MS 2339.

Photograph of the company in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company production of ‘Mary Barnes’ by David Edgar, 1978. Ref: MS 2339.

As Birmingham Repertory Theatre moves back into its Broad Street home after its refurbishment it is looking forward to working on its own stage again.

When The Rep first moved into its then new building in 1971 it was able to make use of a much larger stage. But thoughts soon turned to smaller productions as The Rep wanted to continue its founder Sir Barry Jackson’s belief that it should produce experimental work or plays by new writers. This often required a smaller stage and theatre space so in October 1972 The Studio was opened.

Photograph of Judy Dench with James Larkin rehearsing 'Much Ado, 198. Ref: MS 2339.

Photograph of Judy Dench with James Larkin rehearsing ‘Much Ado’ about Nothing, 1988. Ref: MS 2339.

The Rep collections at Birmingham Archives & Heritage help to explain the story of The Studio. It was originally designed and used as a rehearsal room but was sound-proofed so that productions could be held there at the same time as performances on the main stage. It was also equipped with sound, lighting, and seating. The work was completed in the summer of 1972 and the first performance was ‘Grab’, directed by newly appointed Studio Director Christopher Honer and based on improvisations.

The Studio (or Brum Studio as it was sometimes called) also hosted workshops, late night folk evenings and poetry readings. The target audience at first was youngsters and The Rep had already put together two initiatives for younger audiences with its Theatre 67 and Theatre 71 clubs. Continue reading

Celebrating Tulips!

Tulip Festival, Cannon Hill Park

The Tulip Festival, Cannon Hill Park, 11 May 1968 [Recreation & Parks / Box 4]

To celebrate the arrival of the spring sunshine I thought I would post this uplifting photograph of the Tulip Festival that was held in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham. As far as I know the festival was extravagant and successful in the 1960s, reportedly drawing crowds of over 20,000 people. However, the celebrations disappeared in the late 1970s to be replaced with other events.

The festival included stunning floral displays, people in Dutch costume, fair ground attractions, a road train, performances. People may remember the windmill in Cannon Hill Park which was built in the 1950s. There was a windmill which was actually a mock mill, it was created with the co-operation with the Dutch and survived until the 1990s. 

There is not a wealth of information about this festival generally available, although Archives and Heritage hold some really interesting material in numerous collections. For example, relating to the strategic organisation and success of the event, in the Council Minute Books. We also hold newspaper coverage, photographs and we have a DVD converted from a cine-film of festivities in 1962.

One of my favourite quotes I have read relating to the festival is It was a little bit of Holland in the centre of Birmingham’.

Amanda Edwards
Digitisation & Outreach

The Call of the Open Air

Weoley Castle and Allens Cross Review July 1935

‘The Call of the Open Air’, Weoley Castle and Allens Cross Review, July 1935

Having experienced a successful (if a little wet and muddy) camp on the Welsh Borders this summer, I feel a little disappointed that I forgot to pack a copy of the ‘notes for the inexperienced’ on camping, detailed in the Weoley Castle and Allens Cross Review of July 1935 (above).

Call of the Open AirThe notes include tips on tent siting, stormy weather, equipment and most topical of all ‘Weather.’ It is a strange comfort that the author’s opening paragraph refers to the summer with a bracketed ‘if we have any’, so I’m guessing seventy odd years ago we were in a similar damp state at this time of year:

‘A bright yellow sunset means wind; a pale yellow one, rain. A clear sunrise usually means rain… A misty halo round the moon means rain.’

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May Day Celebrations

May Pole Dancing

Maypole Dancing in Aston Park, c.1900 (Ref: Misc Photos/Parks)

I thought people might enjoy this seasonal image taken from the Birmingham Album of dancing around a Maypole in Aston Park from the turn of the last century. We hold a substantial collection of images of local parks and recreational grounds that record over a 100 years of development and use; they show not only the history of the parks and horticulture but give an insight into to changing fashions and social trends.

Amanda Thomas