Sitting within a suburban district of the Wirral peninsula, these iconic pre-war baths in northern England have slowly decayed since its doors shut some 9 years ago, and they are not alone. At one time, recreational activities in the UK almost always revolved around these swimming centres that also gave local communities the space needed for any number of other sports. Outdoor lidos were once common sight in Britain’s seaside resorts, and they too have all but disappeared from not just our landscape but our culture entirely. The number of swimming centres across the UK has dropped by a third in just over two decades, with a growing decline of 10 percent every year. To put it into context, more than half of the country's children under the age of 11 are now said to be unable to swim the length of a traditional 25m pool.
Almost a victim of its own grandeur, Byrne Avenue’s size and age had meant that upkeep was that little bit higher than other run-of-the-mill swimming baths. With rapidly declining numbers, the centre began to fall into disrepair, and with the safety of the community coming into doubt the council had no choice but to close its doors. Behind them, however the building still stands in all of its peeling glory.
Originally built in 1933, there are two early concrete pools inside - the main pool has changing rooms around the edge, a gallery with art deco style railings and wooden seating. The second pool was converted to a sports hall in the 1980’s to reduce running costs and to boost the utility of the building towards other sports. There is a set of 8 slipper baths and a toilet with overhead cistern. ( One set of the slipper baths is still in tact. What's a slipper bath? It consists of 8 individual cubicles each with a full size bath. People used to hire a bath for an hour - they were given a towel and as much hot water as they wanted but had to take their own bubble bath! )
The entrance hall has terrazzo marble walls and floor. The foundation stone, which can be seen on the left hand corner of the front of the building, was laid on the 9 July 1931, with full pomp and ceremony by Councillor Arthur Cargill. The main pool was designed to be floored over to provide space for a variety of events including cinema shows; the projection box is still in place. Floored over this main hall could hold 1,000 people. As well as traditional poolside changing cubicles there were two changing rooms for school groups.
After sitting dormant for the best part of a decade, all hope was seemingly lost until English Heritage granted it listed status in 2014, putting into motion new plans to restore the building to its former glory. The listed building has now had the green light to allow work to take place and a new 100 year lease. It is however far from a straight-forward process, money has to be raised and strict rules must be followed to ensure that the building is not altered in any way that would remove its historical design. This is undoubtedly the reason as to why ‘good news’ stories like this are now few and far between; despite the urge to protect this particular buildings architectural quality, far less public baths are so fortunate.
So what now for Byrne Avenue baths? According to sources online, the trust is approaching the restoration in phases. The first crowdfunding campaign has successfully raised over £20,000. Next stages involve getting the building watertight and safe, and to provide energy efficient heating. Opening the sports hall and community activity space is the first stage in order to bring some form of cash flow into the building, which in turn will help to ultimately restore and re-open the pool and slipper baths. Regular volunteer work sessions are apparently held to keep the site clear and tidy. With any luck, I’ll be able to photograph these rooms with the fresh smell of chlorine once again filling the air. For more information on this restoration project, visit byrneavenuebaths.org/suppor...