Tag Archives: Sport

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-]


Nellie Batson Loines: In honour of a career in sport

Nellie Batson Loines (far right) and team-mates in Copenhagen, 1959. [MS 2739/3/1/4/6]

Nellie Batson Loines (far right) and team-mates in Copenhagen, 1959.
[MS 2739/3/1/4/6]

On this day in 1995, a noted national and international athlete, Nellie Batson Loines, passed away. Nellie was a native of Birmingham and had a highly successful track career, winning over 200 medals in track races.  Born on 12 February 1927 Loines entered her first competition as a member of the Small Heath Harriers sport club before the age of twenty.  She made a spectacular national debut, taking first place in both the 800 metre and one mile races at the 1947 Women’s Amateur Athletic Association competition at Chiswick.

Nellie Batson Loines was also an avid road walker and was co-founder of the first British international road walking team.  In 1959 they travelled to Copenhagen to successfully represent England against the Danish national team.  Amongst her papers can be found the itinerary for the visit, hosted by the Dansk Gangforbund, a member of the Danish Sports Federation (Central Association of Physical Training).

Itinerary for a visit to Denmark in 1959 [MS 2739/1/1/4]

Itinerary for a visit to Denmark in 1959
[MS 2739/1/1/4]

 After twelve years of regular competition, Nellie decided to retire from track to, in her words, ‘take things easy’. Following her retirement from athletics, she worked as a clerk at Wilsdon and Company until her death on 13 January 1995.

In 1960 Nellie Batson Loines was elected a lifetime member of the Small Heath Harriers and the collection attesting to her athletic achievements can be found in Archives, Heritage and Photography at the Library of Birmingham.

Kevin Roberts, Archivist       Nicola Crews, Archivist

Guest Blogger: From the Searchroom

News report on Tommy Ball

Report on the shooting of Aston Villa player, Thomas Ball, from the Birmingham Mail, 12 November 1923

I joined the local history society in 1990, I found that one of the items that they had was a transcript of the Burial register of St Johns Church. As I was the postman at the Church I decided that when I retired I would transcribe the Baptism and Marriage registers – this is what I am doing at the moment.

There are many entries of interest, but two are regarding Aston Villa Players:

  1. the Marriage of Joseph Henry Hampton (known as Happy Harry Hampton) in 1906 (EP 18/2/3/4)
  2. the Burial of Thomas Edgar Ball (known as Tommy Ball, the first Footballer to be murdered in England)  in 1923  (EP 18/2/4/4)

With special thanks for this article to: Roger Henney

Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, Higher, Stronger!

Cinematograph of exercise movements

Sketches of excercise movements from ‘Cinematographic Reader’, Birmingham Athletic Institute, 1930s (Ref: MS 1468/4/1)

With the London Olympic Games still in mind it seems timely to examine some of the history behind the ideals of the Games through the records of the Birmingham Athletic Institute.

Firstly, a quick re-cap of Olympic history: the first Olympians (official starting date 776 BC) engaged in running events, a pentathlon (jumping, discus, javelin, foot race and wrestling), boxing, wrestling and equestrian events (more chariots than dressage), and was staged in Olympia, Greece.

All hail Coroebus, who tradition has it, was the first Olympic Champion and a cook from the city of Elis. The ancient games were not only a manifestation of human physical endurance, but also of hugely fundamental religious significance; the sports went side by side with ritual sacrifices honouring Zeus whose famous statue by Phidias stood in his temple at Olympia and was known as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The ancient games had run their course by the 5th century AD, mainly due to the spreading Roman influence in Greece. Official ending date is either 393 AD (end of all pagan cults and practices by order of the emperor) or 426 AD (ordered destruction of all Greek Temples) – take your pick.

Continue reading

A Bicycle Made for Two

19th century bicycle

This bicycle was already about 80 years out of fashion when it appeared in the 1900 catalogue, with the aim of showing prospective purchasers how much better new bicycles were [Ref: MS 4208/3/9/4]

If you have been inspired by Bradley Wiggins’ triumphs in the Tour de France and in the Olympics to take up cycling as a sport, think of those who were inspired a hundred years ago or more  – cycling was one of the sports featured in the modern Olympics from the beginning in 1896.

Tricyle for Two

Who Steers? Tricyle for Two, 1898

All of these exhibitions were held at Bingley Hall, which was on a small section of the site now occupied by the ICC, just off Broad Street.

What choice was there then – a bicycle or even a tricycle made for two. The illustrations in this blog are from a series of Birmingham exhibitions catalogues bound in volumes:

  • 1884 – Catalogue of the Third Annual Exhibition of Bicycles, Tricycles and Accessories, organised by Speedwell Bicycle Club [MS 4208/3/8/3]
  • 1897 – First Annual Midland Cycle & Motor Car Exhibition [MS 4208/3/9/1]
  • 1898 – Second Annual Midland Cycle & Motor Car Exhibition [MS 4208/3/9/2]
  • 1900 – Fourth Annual Midland Cycle & Motor Car Exhibition [MS 4208/3/9/4]
  • 1902 – Sports and Pastimes Exhibitions Ltd. [MS 4208/3/9/5]

Birmingham Cycling Exhibition Catalogues

Birmingham Exhibition Catalogues: 1884; 1897; 1900; 1902 [Ref: MS 4208/3]

The catalogues represented the most up-to-date bicycles – or motor bicycles –  available then. By 1900 some of the bicycles on sale are not unlike some bicycles today.

Maggie Burns

Pagalympics Exhibition

Our Outreach & Education team have just put up an exhibition on Floor 1 of Birmingham Central Library as part of their work with Paganel Primary School. The exhibition is of photos taken by the children to document their week of Olympic activities. This is part of a Heritage Lottery funded project to create their own archive of the school and its community.

If you are in visiting us over the next few weeks the photographs are well worth a look. For more information on their work on the archive including some great photos and taster oral history interviews see www.paganelschool.com/blog.

Sporting season

Reproduced by kind permission of Aston Villa FC

Our regular series of lunchtime local history lectures goes sporting mad to get into the spirit of the Olympics.

“After the crowds go home:  a history of football and footballers” with Trevor Fisher looks at the history of the game and we are also delighted to welcome Laura Brett, archivist for Aston Villa FC.

Join us on Tuesday 10th April at 1.00pm in the Library Theatre

The lecture is free and part of a programme of lectures every second Tuesday in the month.