Smethwick Rolfe Street Baths above – Black Country Living Museum
Opened in 1888 it was a majestic tall building standing out from the small houses and unimpressive work buildings in a street of the industrial Black Country
Smethwick Rolfe Street Baths were the first public Baths in Smethwick. They were situated at the top end of Rolfe Street next to the railway station. In those days they were known as the Corporation Baths. , although there was probably more greenery surrounding the Baths at the time.
I cannot remember too much when I was a child. I was collected from school to swim there on occasions. I do remember that it was dark and daunting but, one must remember that I was not of an age to appreciate such things as architecture which indeed was a main feature of the Baths.
The Baths were built by the Smethwick Local Board of Health. The front entrance to the building was of red brick with terracotta panels depicting water wildlife – herons and fish. The architects were Harris, Martin & Harris of Birmingham.
This entrance building perhaps disguised the rather more very ordinary brick shed like buildings that housed the pools behind. There were two swimming pools, 28 slipper baths, two showers and municipal laundry. The two baths, both of unusual dimensions were 20 yards long. The interior walls of the decks were built and faced with white tiling, as well as the bath basins themselves. The front pool had changing cubicles on the pool side, whilst the rear pool had separate changing rooms. Smethwick Corporation Baths were built to provide washing and recreational facilities when only few houses had running water. The annual cost of a ticket for swimming was an old sixpence – 6d. The decorative cast iron arches and columns supporting the curved roof in the pool hall are typically Victorian. The second pool was also used as an Assembly Hall seating 500 people and 250 could dance!
The three levels of the building housed offices and the Baths Superintendant premises.
Rolfe Street was a base for the Warley Swimming Club who used it in combination with Thimblemill Baths Smethwick. Thimblemill Baths are of huge interest but don’t qualify for this website. Why? because it is very much in use after nearly 80 years! (I would have liked to describe the lovely art deco style, and about the ghosts that lurk around in the deep basements! ) It is by the way, a truly lovely Grade II listed Swimming Bath that was opened in 1933.
OUTCOME: In 1989 Smethwick Rolfe Street Baths were taken down brick by brick – each brick being numbered. Over a time period of 10 years the entrance building of the Baths was rebuilt in the Black Country Museum. Complete with arched roof with the cast iron supports. The reconstruction is used as the entrance to the Exhibition Hall in the Blackcountry Museum.