Time travelling to Stirchley Swimming Baths

I’m interested in all kinds of travel, even the trips you take inside your head. So when the opportunity to visit a local landmark – Stirchley swimming baths where I learnt to swim as a child in 1977 – came up, I was first in line.

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Or rather 20th in line. It seems I wasn’t the only one on a nostalgia trip. Here’s the queue for the Stirchley Baths Open Day. The baths were built in 1910, closed in the 1980s and are about to be converted into a community centre thanks to Tesco’s 30 pieces of silver.

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They have fallen into a pretty bad state of repair over the years.

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But looking back, the delights of a swimming pool to a working class child were enormous. This was a place of dreams as soon as I was old enough to go. (You may have to use your imagination here!)

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It was like a gigantic bath you could jump into. It was THE BEST THING EVER! Certainly the best thing in Stirchley (followed by Hazelwell Park roundabout and the children’s section of the library).

I remember the excitement and buzz of queueing up at the door below, and shouting ‘ONE TO SWIM’ up at the ticket office lady behind the dark wood and glass counter.

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The cubicles were all around the pool and upstairs too. I remember I could barely get changed quickly enough as the echoey shouts, splashes and whistle-blowing reverberated around the double height main pool.

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The exciting blue water seemed to go on forever and there seemed no end of things to do: doing twirlies in the shallow end, bombing your friends, tig in water, flapping about in armbands trying to work out how to keep your legs up, doing widths because lengths were something only permitted to those who could swim, seeing how long you could hold your breath, hanging off the side and dragging yourself up to the bit where the pool’s floor dipped out of reach to the evil DEEP END.

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In the long hot summer of 1976 in particular, my free swim pass meant near daily visits with ‘friends’, ie, the other street kids. I very nearly learnt to swim that year – it was more of a thrashy doggy paddle but it worked. I could finally leave the sill that ran all the way around the pool…

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School lessons took place here – before classes moved to Tiverton Road pool, another Edwardian/Victorian swimming baths, still in operation. Apparently, years before, the pool was boarded over to make a floor for evening events and dances. It’s a great space for this. I hope the new community centre gets an entertainment licence…

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Going round Stirchley Baths offered a trip back in time and I enjoyed the open day and the chance to revisit the past. But I wasn’t the only one in the crowd lamenting how it has been left to rot. Feelings seem to run high about this. Yes, it is good that it will be renovated as a community centre but this is at the price of a Tesco supermarket knocking down the existing community centre (admittedly an unattractive box) and building a ‘shop’ instead. And Stirchley is still short of a pool.

The man from the council said that (a) old baths were no longer suitable for pool construction, and (b) the pools never made money anyway. And there you have the bottom line for the council – it’s not worth it.

So instead, the kids of Stirchley will have to try to get excited about going to a supermarket. And the adults can join ‘Friends of Stirchley Baths’ for a say in what goes into the community centre. But I didn’t join because I have no use for a community centre. I still get excited by swimming and I want a pool. That really would add value to living in Stirchley.

And that is the bottom line for me.

The good news… is that English Heritage are ensuring a number of things: that the facade remains, the inside wall structure/layout and, if I heard correctly, the renovation of the ticket office. Work begins early in 2012.

So here are a few of the beautiful motifs and architectural elements that are set to remain. I particularly love the diamond patterns of black brickwork, the stone carvings and the shape of the building itself.

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PS. Don’t forget to pop around the back – there is a secret Stirchley park there to enjoy.

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Friends Meeting House 4

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More pics are here: Stirchley Swimming Baths 2011


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