Friends group fight to save historic spa after council put it up for sale

A friend's group are fighting to save Birley Spa Bath House - the last remaining Victorian bath house still set in its original grounds - after Sheffield City Council put it up for sale.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 13th July 2018, 10:04 am
Updated Thursday, 19th July 2018, 11:07 am
Birley Spa Bath House, the last remaining Victorian bath house still set in its original grounds in South Yorkshire

A group of eight people with some link to Hackenthorpe have stepped forward to lead the push back against the council’s plans to sell off the Grade II-listed spa.

Abby Beckett-Smith, leader of Birley Spa Friend’s Group, said 80 people came out to a recent open meeting organised by the committee to discuss the future of the site, and of those only one person objected to saving it.

Old Birley Spa Bath House

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Ms Beckett-Smith said: “People from all kinds of backgrounds have come out in support. Some have an interest in the heritage and others for the community. It’s a real mix of ages with some with young families and others with very happy memories of how it used to be. People have wanted to use it over the years but it’s so difficult.”

The bath house is 176 years old and was once a thriving and popular place for people to bathe. Throughout the years it has been used as a pleasure ground for children, historical tours, a meeting place for community groups and has hosted various other events.

But in recent years it has been left to decay. The council said one of the main reasons the site has been put up for sale is due to a lack of interest and declining use.

Councillor Bryan Lodge, Birley ward, said one of the main issues was around the accessibility of the site. He said: “The community stopped using it for meetings because it was down a track that was quite steep and long and even with the outside lights on it’s not very accessible.”

People taking a dip in Birley Spa Bath House at a New Year's Day party in 2000. Credit: Peter Wolstenholme

The site also has limited parking and many have said the website failed to work when they tried to book it for events and visits over the years.

Ms Beckett-Smith said: “It could be fantastic because there is so much interest in it at the moment, it just needs a bit of help.

“Somebody told us a year ago they wanted to set up a cafe - which would have been great and drawn people to the site. Everybody wants to see it up and running again.”

In 1998 Sheffield City Council were given £500,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to renovate the site. Afterwards it enjoyed a short-lived revival when it was used for meetings and guided tours and even won an award for its design before it was eventually neglected.

Maypole dancing at the reopening of Birley Spa in 2002. Credit: Peter Wolstenholme

Experts have warned it is unlikely the site will be compatible for another use.

Val Bayliss of the Victorian Society said: “It was listed Grade II in 1972, so regarded as of sufficient historical and architectural importance to be protected and retained as far as possible.

“From what I know of it I doubt there’s a lot of scope for alternative uses compatible with the listing. It’s built into a hillside and the interior is mainly the plunge pool. It was housing at some time but doesn’t look a good candidate for modern conversion - but I could be wrong.

“It looks like a candidate for a revived friend’s group.”

Historical tour of Birley Spa Bath House

Joy Bullivant, heritage expert, said: “It needs to run as a spa primarily, and like Bishops House open for some sort of event every Saturday and Sunday and licensed for weddings at very least. But I am guessing like Mayfield the bean counters will already be determined to sell.”

The council said they are still reviewing their options and have not yet sold the site.

The Friends of Birley Spa have recently set up social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook to gather support and said they are ready to launch a petition if the council decline to negotiate.