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Byrne Avenue Baths, including boundary wall, railings and gates

A Grade II Listed Building in Rock Ferry, Wirral

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Latitude: 53.3704 / 53°22'13"N

Longitude: -3.0143 / 3°0'51"W

OS Eastings: 332612

OS Northings: 386423

OS Grid: SJ326864

Mapcode National: GBR 7YDG.6J

Mapcode Global: WH87D.NKV2

Entry Name: Byrne Avenue Baths, including boundary wall, railings and gates

Listing Date: 18 November 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1419854

Location: Wirral, CH42

County: Wirral

Electoral Ward/Division: Rock Ferry

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Birkenhead

Traditional County: Cheshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Merseyside

Church of England Parish: Tranmere St Paul with St Luke

Church of England Diocese: Chester

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Swimming baths, 1931-3, by Robert W Johnston. Reinforced-concrete structure faced externally in mellow red brick with yellow-concrete dressings, metal windows, slate roof. 2-storeys. Classical design with Art Deco influences.


Swimming baths, 1931-3, by Robert W Johnston. Reinforced-concrete structure faced externally in mellow red brick with yellow-concrete dressings, metal windows, slate roof. 2-storeys. Classical design with Art Deco influences

PLAN: the baths building is located on a lozenge-shaped island to the east of Old Chester Road. Byrne Avenue wraps around three sides of the island, enclosing both the baths and neighbouring housing on its north-east side. Immediately to the north-east of the baths, alongside Byrne Avenue North, is a modest detached house that was originally constructed for the Baths Superintendent and is known as Bath House; the house no longer forms part of the baths site and does not form part of the listing.

The baths building has a rectangular plan and is aligned north-east to south-west with a principal frontage facing Byrne Avenue South that incorporates a central entrance block flanked by two pool halls aligned north-west to south-east, with service areas located to the centre rear. An additional entrance exists to the south-west elevation facing Old Chester Road, with further service access at the rear.

EXTERIOR: the bath's external walls are faced in mellow red brick laid in English garden wall bond and incorporate a concrete plinth. The two principal elevations facing Byrne Avenue South and Old Chester Road also incorporate decorative brickwork in the form of banding, soldier courses, pilaster strip detailing, and diamond shapes. Concrete dressings include window and door surrounds. The majority of the original metal windows survive and many incorporate margin lights and cross-shaped glazing bar arrangements, but some have been replaced by plain windows. Cast-iron rainwater goods exist to all the elevations; those to the north-west, south-west and south-east sides of the building have hoppers incorporating shell and starfish reliefs. Brick parapets set above a concrete entablature hide much of the roofs of the pool halls and entrance block from view.

Principal south-east elevation: the building's long principal frontage faces south-east onto Byrne Avenue South and consists of a three-bay entrance block to the centre flanked by the end walls of the two pool halls. The central bay of the entrance block is wider than the two outer bays and is set underneath a pediment incorporating a relief of the County Borough of Birkenhead's coat of arms flanked by the date '1932'. Rising above and behind the pediment is a square cupola surmounted by a porpoise weathervane incorporating Neptune's trident to the centre. The centre bay has a large four-light window to each floor set within a concrete surround and separated by a decorative roundel. The windows are flanked by full-height classically-styled concrete pilasters with simply detailed capitals and bases, and roundels containing rose motifs set to the plain frieze above. The outer bays incorporate banded brickwork and have two ground-floor doorways that form the building's main entrance - the main entrance was incorporated on this side to ensure that school children could access the baths more safely than off the main street of Old Chester Road. The doorways have concrete surrounds and metal fanlights, and contain recessed panelled double doors; the doors to the right entrance have been replaced with plain doors. Square windows exist to the first floor above. Two short flights of steps access the building's entrances and bridge over the basement level which is visible on this side due to a sloping ground level and has small bricked-up windows, which can also be seen on the north-east elevation. Flanking the entrance block are the relatively narrow end walls of single-storey, flat-roofed slipper baths, which are each lit by a slender window with patterned glazing bars. Wide three-bay end walls of the two pool halls are set to each end of the elevation and are similarly styled to each other with paired concrete pilasters flanking the centre bay and a stepped parapet surmounted by concrete porpoise sculptures. Each bay incorporates two ground floor windows; those to the secondary pool hall at the north-east (right) end of the elevation have been bricked up, but those to the main pool hall retain their original margin-light glazing. To the first floor of each bay are two clerestory-style square windows with margin lights; those to the main pool hall also incorporate cross-shaped glazing bars to the centre.

South-west elevation: this nine-bay elevation facing Old Chester Road has a stepped frontage in which the five centre bays project forward. The two outermost bays on each side have a doorway to the ground floor of the inner bay in the same style as those to the Byrne Avenue South elevation, and square clerestory-style windows above with replaced plain frames and glazing. A foundation stone laid in 1931 exists to the far right of the elevation forming part of the concrete plinth. The three central bays project forward again slightly as part of a yellow-concrete distyle-in-antis entrance front with scoring imitating ashlar stonework and paired antae to the outside in the same style as those to the principal south-east elevation. Recessed doorways exist to each bay's ground floor and contain partly-glazed panelled double-doors with a decorative roundel above; the doorways originally formed the public entrance for when the main pool hall was used for concerts, galas and films. To the first floor above is an open gallery with decorative painted-metal balustrade fronts and a later inserted structure to the centre rear. Above the entrance front the entablature's plain frieze incorporates relief roundels depicting rose motifs that are aligned with the piers below. The parapet above, like that to the entrance block on Byrne Avenue South, is surmounted by a porpoise sculpture at each end and also has an upright shell to the centre, which is set upon a scrolled base. The two side returns of this entrance projection each incorporate a glazed oculus lighting gallery stairs internally; both retain their original patterned frames and glazing. Flanking the entrance are the fluted columnar bases of two lights; the bulbs and casings are now removed.

North-west elevation: this elevation faces Byrne Avenue North and at the south-west end is the north-west end wall of the main pool hall, which has six large ground-floor windows flanking four slender windows lighting toilets, and three first-floor gallery windows in the same style as those to the building's other elevations; the three gallery windows and all but one of the larger ground-floor windows have replaced glazing. The single-storey rear service range is set to the left of the main pool hall and projects forward slightly. Incorporated to the right (south-west) end of the range is a stair tower that provides additional access/fire exit to the main pool hall's gallery. The service range has three large arched recesses; that to the centre contains double-doors accessing the boiler room with a fanlight above, whilst that to the right has a multi-paned window to its upper half. The window in the arch to the left has been blocked-up due to the addition of a small lower, single-storey flat-roofed extension in front. Set back to the left in line with the main pool hall is the north-west end wall of the second pool hall, which has a stepped elevation due to the fact that it does not have a first-floor gallery. The ground floor mirrors that of the main pool hall with six large windows flanking four small slender windows; one of the larger windows has replaced glazing and another has been converted into a doorway, but the rest retain their original fenestration. Three square clerestory-style windows with original margin-light glazing light the pool hall behind.

North-east elevation: this elevation is plainer than the building's other elevations and has a series of seven clerestory-style square windows lighting the pool hall. An original wrought-iron lamp and bracket project from the first floor.

INTERIOR: internally the building has a symmetrical layout. There are five-panel doors throughout and terrazzo-lined floors and walls (the latter painted over in many areas) are present in many of the internal areas. The terrazzo is mainly yellow in colour with green detailing, including borders and columns, and is also used for door architraves. Coved ceilings also exist to many areas. Corridor entrances have overlights incorporating margin lights that echo the design of the exterior windows.

The main entrance doorways on Byrne Avenue South lead into two corridor-like entrance lobbies with coved ceilings that flank the ticket office and access a large crush hall/foyer behind. The ticket office, which has since been partitioned in one corner, retains a ticket/enquiries window facing into the south-west lobby, but that to the north-east lobby has been converted into a doorway; an additional window has also been inserted in the ticket office's north-west wall facing into the foyer. An imperial stair with brass handrails incorporating scrolled ends is set to the centre rear of the entrance block's foyer and leads up to a first-floor foyer, former refreshment room and kitchen, toilets, small offices and pool galleries. Affixed to the stair's half-landing wall is a plaque marking the baths' opening in 1933, with a further smaller plaque below marking its renovation in 1981.

Flanking the Byrne Avenue entrance hall are two sets of slipper baths comprising eight on each side, each accessed through a small waiting room; the waiting room to the south-western side retains an enamel sink and an annunciator box for the slipper baths' bell-push system, whilst the sink to the north-eastern waiting room has been removed and the annunciator box has lost its front panel. The south-western slipper baths is intact and has terrazzo-lined walls up to door height with plain plaster above. It is arranged with four individual terrazzo-lined cubicles down each side with five-panel doors and containing baths, grab rails, bell pushes and some original clothing hooks. A toilet cubicle is located at the south-east end of the room with the upper panel of its door engraved with the letters 'WC'. Access was not possible into the north-eastern slipper baths, but it is believed that four of the cubicles have been damaged or removed.

Two large changing rooms off the rear of the foyer were originally provided for school children and have since been altered and subdivided, although their entrances remain unchanged. Short corridors off to each north-east and south-west side lead to the pool halls at each end of the building, as well as a U-shaped staff corridor that accesses the service areas, comprised of the boiler room*, filtration room*, former laundry and stores, which are set to the centre rear of the building at ground and basement level.

The main pool hall measures 128ft 6" long x 64ft wide and contains a pool 75ft long x 35ft wide, two club rooms, four footbaths, showers and toilets for both sexes, and changing cubicles arranged around three sides. The hall has a shallow barrel-vaulted ceiling incorporating simple moulded plasterwork and a row of multipaned skylights down each side. A series of small clerestory-style square windows light a gallery, which is arranged around all four sides of the hall with a painted-metal balustrade front and angled corners. The gallery, which originally accommodated approximately 300 people, retains many of its original tip-up teak seats, but some are missing. The pool has a white glazed-tile lining and scum trough incorporating spittoons. A diving board pictured in a photograph dating to c1933 at the north-west end has since been removed. Panelled-timber changing cubicles line the north-east, south-east and south-west sides of the pool underneath the gallery and are arranged mainly in groups of fours, although some cubicles at the south-east end of the pool hall have been removed to create three larger changing/storage areas. The cubicles contain a fixed bench and clothing hooks. Two plain former club rooms (also used as artists' dressing rooms in the winter originally) are located at the north-west end of the hall, along with footbaths, showers, and toilets; the showers and toilets are accessed through wide terrazzo-lined, square-headed openings with original signage above reading 'GENTS' and 'LADIES'. At the south-east end of the gallery is a cinema projection room accessed through two flanking 5-panel doors and a rear linking corridor; the small opening for the projection equipment is currently hidden from view on the pool side by a modern signage board, but is visible within the projection room. Off to the south-west side of the pool hall alongside Old Chester Road is an additional entrance hall with enclosed staircases at each end that lead up to the gallery; this entrance hall was used for galas and when the pool was floored over.

The second pool hall shares the same styling as the main pool hall in terms of its shallow barrel-vaulted roof incorporating multipaned skylights, and clerestory-style square windows set high up the walls. However, it does not possess a 4-sided gallery, although a small viewing gallery exists towards the north-west end of the south-west wall. The hall is 126ft long and 58ft wide and contains a pool 75ft long x 30ft wide. Originally this hall, like the main pool hall, also had two club rooms, four footbaths, showers and lavatories for both sexes, and 129 changing cubicles, but the cubicles and lavatories have since been removed and the other spaces altered, although the footbaths survive. Following the space's later use for ball games the pool is covered by a wooden floor, which is believed to be the original that was laid down in winter; the pool survives underneath with its white glazed-tile lining, scum trough and spittoons.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES - BOUNDARY WALL, RAILINGS & GATES: enclosing the site on the south-east and south-west sides is a low stepped brick wall with concrete copings surmounted by simple wrought-iron railings. Aligned with the centre of the Old Chester Road entrance are banded-brick gate piers with concrete bases and shaped caps flanking decorative wrought-iron gates. Two further plain wrought-iron gates exist to the Byrne Avenue South entrances. A modern palisade-style metal fence exists on the north-west side alongside Byrne Avenue North.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act') it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.


Byrne Avenue Baths, Birkenhead was constructed in 1931-3 and was opened on 27 March 1933 in a ceremony led by Councillor W L Milne, Chairman of the Markets & Baths Committee. The baths were also originally known as the South Baths in reference to the its location within Birkenhead South, one of the three zones that comprised the town at that time. Baths were also constructed in the two other zones of Birkenhead North and Birkenhead Central, but these have both since been demolished.

The building was constructed to provide two swimming pools: a main pool and a second pool, along with slipper baths, club rooms, a lounge and refreshment room. To accommodate the wishes of local residents a gas-powered steam raising system was incorporated into the design, which eradicated the need for a chimney. The main pool hall was multi-purpose and was used for galas in the summer and as an Assembly Room in the winter, as well as a space for concerts, dancing and roller skating, when it was floored over. The floor covering was subsequently alternated between both pools.

Following the end of the First World War the Ministry of Labour (formed in 1917) offered grants to local authorities to engage unskilled men in building works. By the 1930s Birkenhead had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and many of its residents did not have bathrooms or indoor toilets. The men involved in the construction of Byrne Avenue Baths were engaged through the Employment Exchange and the Public Assistance Committee, with the exception of 10 per cent who were the contractor's men and fulfilled the role of foreman and other supervisory roles.

The baths underwent some alteration and renovation in 1981 and closed in c2009. The building has remained disused since.

Reasons for Listing

Byrne Avenue Baths, constructed in 1931-3, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it is an imposing building with a strong classical design integrating Art Deco influences and incorporating water-themed decoration;

* Design interest: it is a good example of an inter-war suburban pool designed as a multi-purpose recreational building to be used all year round;

* Construction: it is a relatively early example of a reinforced-concrete pool structure that reflects the advances and developments in swimming baths design that came into being in the 1930s;

* Degree of survival: the exterior is little altered and the interior retains many original features, including terrazzo floors and walls, most of the original slipper baths, and the pool halls with their original pools and shallow barrel-vaulted roof structures;

* Historic interest: it is an interesting example of 'Unemployment Scheme' construction, whereby the building was constructed by unemployed men engaged through the Employment Exchange and Public Assistance Committee.

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