Written by David F. Villar

I wanted to finish my experience at Birmingham Heritage Week 2021 with a special event, maybe doing something that I love but which I usually do not have the time or the resources to do it. And I found the most suitable activity, a guided tour through what was known as the Woodcock Street Baths and a swim at the place’s main swimming pool.

The baths are located right at the heart of Aston University’s campus, 5 minutes from the city centre. At my arrival, I was welcomed by Michael, who is a member of the organization’s staff and who was responsible of showing us the facilities. I must add that, currently, the place is a modern sports centre that has kept some of its old features.

Woodcock Street Baths’ façade. Image: @davidtravelwriter

First of all, Michael told us a few historical facts about the place. For example, I learnt that Woodcock used to be both a public laundry and what was known back at the time as sleepers’ baths. Also, there used to be separate baths from men and women, as well as first and second-class facilities. Finally, the place has the honour to be Birmingham’s first operational swimming pool of this kind since its opening back in 1902.

After this brief introduction, I started to discover the different areas of Woodcock. At reception, I was told by Michael that the current desk is a pretty decent restoration of the original one. In addition, all the hall’s tailing has been kept like that since the place opened its doors in the previous century. However, elements like two side turnstiles were removed. Most of these restoration process began when Aston University acquired the building in the 80s and invested on it in order to make it accessible for the community.

Woodcock’s crown jewel, its pool. Image: @davidtravelwriter

I also had the chance to visit the gym, which has kept some of the architectonical features from what was once the place’s public laundry, and the room where the original boilers were located (currently there is a dance studio). The next part of the pool took me inside the sports pavilion. Although covered by the current floor, the original Garlock pool is still underneath. Also, in one of the back walls, the place where the pool boards used to be is still visible nowadays.

After the tour was finished, it was time for my swim. I shall confess that the pool’s area, with its original tailings and iron arches across the ceiling, is quite pretty. Additionally, there are old-fashioned cubicles where people can get changed and leave their stuff. Nevertheless, modern toilets and locker rooms were included in the adjacent pool’s area.

It was great not just to learn the history behind such a place but also to enjoy a swim again. Another aspect that I liked about the pool was the temperature of the water, it was quite warm, and it really makes you to stay and relax inside Woodcock’s crown jewel.  

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