Calls to protect Victorian bath house as it is put up for sale

Birley Spa Bath House
Birley Spa Bath House
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The only remaining Victorian spa in South Yorkshire still set in its original grounds has been put up for sale.

The sale of Grade II-listed Birley Spa Bath House has prompted claims Sheffield City Council is trying to sell off heritage to try to balance the book amid huge government funding cuts.

Volunteer from the Shire Brook Conservation Group cleaning up the site

Volunteer from the Shire Brook Conservation Group cleaning up the site

The historic site off Birley Spa Lane, Hackenthorpe, was once a thriving and popular place for people to bathe.

It even won an award when the council spent £500,000 renovating the site in 2002, before it was eventually neglected and left to decay once again.

Green Councillor Douglas Johnson, City ward, said the council's move was part of a 'continuing pattern of getting rid of as much of the city's heritage as possible'.

He said: "Heritage buildings are part of the fabric of the city.

Birley Spa Bath House in its heyday

Birley Spa Bath House in its heyday

"But there is an ongoing debate around parts of sites being sold off to developers on a rolling programme."

When the council sell off property it goes towards their capital expenditure, which then pays for roads, buildings and council housing, but not day-to-day things such as running services.

Valerie Bayliss, of The Victorian Society, said she doubts the spa will even be compatible for another use.

She said: "It was listed in Grade II in 1972, so regarded as of sufficient historical and architectural important to be protected and retained as far as possible.

Guided history tour around the site

Guided history tour around the site

"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 friends' group."

Since it was built 176 years ago, the site has been on a rollercoaster of dereliction and renovation before reaching its current state.

Guided tour around the site when it was still in use

Guided tour around the site when it was still in use

Sheffield historian TL Platts wrote a book on the history of the spa in which he painted a picture of the site during its heyday in the 1920s and 30s as a 'very popular' play area for children.

He wrote: "There were swing-boats, a sand pit, with two wooden dragons guarding its entrance, a paddling pool and a fishing and boating pond.

"A wishing well was near to the Roman Bath entrance. Underground water from the bath fed the various pools and pond. Along the wooded hillside of this glen were little walks and bench seats on which to picnic.

"Amongst the trees was the ancient 'wonder tree', an oak said to be over a thousand years old, its gnarled branches giving configurations of various animal heads.

"At the entrance to the grounds was a courtyard and wooden sweet shop which sold candy sticks and a turnstile gate where entrance tickets were bought, the proprietor was an oldish man and he worse a cream-coloured summer jacket."

Mr Platts said that the council took over the site in the 1950s.

Now the paths are overgrown and litter and graffiti taint the once cherished site which has been left to decay.

In 1998 the council were given a Heritage Lottery grant and spent £500,000 renovating the bathhouse to 'restore it to its original glory'.

It reopened with a special Victorian-themed day four years later.

At the time its long-term purpose was to be an educational facility which offered guided tours and a community facility which would be available for groups and individuals to hire.

It was supported by volunteers of the Shire Brook Conservation Group and the council even won an award for the renovated building in the Countryside Design Awards.

But the momentum did not last and eventually it closed doors again.

A council spokesperson said: "Birley Spa Bath House is a historically important building but has fallen into disrepair over many years.

"We have been reviewing all the options and have held talks with some interested parties about the former bath house. No decisions have been made and we will continue to speak with people interested in this Grade II-listed building.