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PULL THE PLUG ON MOSELEY RD BATHS

04-01-2007

Saving a landmark swimming pool in Balsall Heath has become an article of faith for many well-meaning Brummies. Laurence Inman isn't one of them.

Few things are more amusing than the sight of earnest middle-class tossers tearing off on one of their hobby-horses.

I don't mind if they keep their ludicrous fads to themselves; after all, why should I care how much money they throw away in order, for instance, to be conned by the thousands of ‘organic' food racketeers who have sprung up since a couple of features appeared in the posh Sunday supplements a few years ago ? I don't.

Nor do I care how much they waste in getting their darling kids into ‘good' schools, or jetting off to ruin the last tiny, unspoilt patches of the Earth's surface, or filling the last few atoms of free air with their inane braying about things of which they know nothing.

It's when they start claiming more than their fair share that I get angry. (See my articles on Amesbury Road and Park Hill.) I get even angrier when they start pretending that they have the interests of the wider community at heart, when in reality they just want to make life a bit more comfy for themselves and their friends.

Take ‘The Friends of Moseley Road Baths.'

Anyone who takes an interest in architectural history, anywhere in the country, will be familiar with this ‘Friends of…' phenomenon.

They like to give the impression, often helped by local politicians who see the opportunity to pinch a few votes, that they represent a well-supported mass-opposition to the evil plans of faceless authority, who are intent on destroying a priceless item of our ‘heritage.'

The truth is usually that they are only a handful of loonies who enjoy listening to themselves at meetings. It's lucky we don't have a medieval cathedral in Birmingham; in places like Salisbury, Winchester, Exeter and Canterbury people like these will fight to their dying breath to preserve some meaningless stump of stone rather than have it restored or replaced.

Because it's old, you see, which must mean it's good.

Let's look at the facts about Moseley Road Baths.

First, the baths and the library next door are two separate buildings. The library was put up twelve years before the baths. Many people, including, I suspect, some ‘friends' of the baths, think that they are contemporaneous. After all, both are of the same external materials, buff terracotta and red brick. It's a simple mistake to make, especially if you are an ignoramous who can't be bothered to check facts.

The story of the library begins in 1891, when the Birmingham Board of Health took over the Balsall Heath Local Board, with the proviso that it built a new library.

This duly appeared in 1895. It was designed by Jethro A Cossins, who, as well as being a practising architect of some renown, was also a member of the Management Committee of the Birmingham Museums and School of Art.

Like many public buildings of the 1890's it is heavily influenced by styles of French architecture of the 16th Century, which was widely admired and fairly freely interpreted; elliptical arches appeared on many of the city's new buildings at this time.

If ever you're in Lewisham, have a quick look at the Horniman Museum, the masterpiece of C Harrison Townsend, built in 1902. The tower there is very similar in composition to the one on our library, but leaves out the spire and surface decoration and carries the curved corners up the circular pinnacles.

The baths building was put up in 1907, by William Hale and Son, and is a very poor design by comparison. Go and look at them, imagine either one without the other and you'll see that the library is clearly a superior piece of work.

What we are seeing now is an example of The 70 Year Rule. This states that a building, no matter how shoddily designed and no matter how reviled it was when it was first thrown up, suddenly, when it turns 70, becomes an irreplaceable treasure which must be preserved at any cost.

The fact is that public baths are astronomically expensive to maintain, that they deteriorate quicker than other buildings and that it is simply not fair to shovel money into them so that articulate and influential people can have what amounts to their own private baths, where they're not disturbed by other people and their noisy kids enjoying themselves.

Moseley Road Baths are ugly on the outside, grubby on the inside and cost a fortune which should be spent on more deserving causes elsewhere. Let them go.

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