Another new chapter in the chequered history of a Sheffield bath house is beginning with the news that Birley Spa is up for sale.
Birley Spa, which is set in its original grounds at Hackenthorpe, has been put on the market by Sheffield Council, much to the dismay of city conservationists.
Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society this week voiced worries that the sale is part of a “larger strategy” by the council to dispose of the city’s heritage.
Nick Roscoe from the group urged the council to take the building off the market and talk to a newly-formed Friends of Birley Spa group about its future.
The building, off Birley Spa Lane, was built for the Earl Manvers in 1842.
The development of the spa was ambitious. Sheffield history writer Ann Beedham said that two bridges were meant to cross the stream that flows through the deep wooded valley and several grottos and walks were planned, although no-one knows if these features were ever actually built.
A combined hotel and bathhouse in the Dutch style of architecture are what remain today.
Many people believed that it was originally a Roman baths but nothing has been found to support this theory.
The bath house was once a thriving and popular place.
The best marble hot bath cost 2/6 (12.5p), an ordinary hot bath cost 1/6 (7.5p), a tepid bath 1/- (5p), a large cold bath sixpence (2.5p), a ladies’ cold bath 9d (less than 4p) and a hot and cold shower bath also 9d.
Annual subscribers could recommend a ‘poor person’ to be allowed to have a bathe.
A bus ran from the Commercial Inn in Sheffield to take people to the spa.
However, by the turn of the century the spa had fallen out of fashion and they were sold off by auction in 1912. George Moulson bought the site for £930 and developed it during the 1920s and 30s.
He and partner William Smith turned Birley Spa into a pleasure ground.
They added a wishing well, a sandpit, a paddling pool, a boating lake, children’s rides and a ‘wonder tree’, an ancient oak that was so gnarled it seemed to have faces in the bark.
It became popular for picnics and bands played on the balcony of the baths building.
Later, tennis courts and a pavilion were added but the Spa closed during World War Two.
By 1989, with the place in a sorry state, Shirebrook Conservation Group was formed to take on the work of restoring the Spa and surrounding land.
Things were looking good in 2002 when a Victorian-themed celebration marked the reopening of a restored Birley Spa as an educational and recreational facility.
However, by the following year it was being badly vandalised and was again allowed to fall back into decay.