Subterranea Britannica

Smethwick Baths Air Raid Shelter

Thimblemill Road, Smethwick,
West Midlands B67 5QT
OS Grid Ref: SP018869
Date of visit: December 2011

[Source: Chris Rayner]

Smethwick Baths, originally called Thimblemill Baths, was built in the early 1930s, opening to the public in March 1933. The art deco “Style Moderne” building was designed by Borough Engineer Roland Fletcher and architect Chester Button, with structural elements influenced by European modernist architecture. From an early date it appears to have also been used as a dance venue during winter months when the baths were drained and covered over, and this would continue post-war when it would play an important part in the early stages of the careers of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who and others

Although several years too early to have built-in adaptations for wartime use, it was provided with a large basement plant area, part of which would be later adapted to be used as an air raid shelter (the rooms below the entrance area which were less highly serviced). Posters from the wartime period still survive in the basement shelter areas as well as wartime graffiti. One room nearby was apparently once used as a morgue to store the bodies of those killed during bombing raids (which may account for the paranormal interest in the site)

Living occupants would have included men from the nearby US air force base, USAAF station 522 (Air Force Signal Supply Depot) who had come to watch big bands play in the covered-over pool area. A photo also survives showing a “Dig for Victory” exhibition by local allotment holders in the main pool area in December 1940. It’s likely that the pool was drained for the duration of the war and certainly while the air raid shelter was being used to reduce the risk of occupants drowning in the event of a breach.

Visit by kind permission of Smethwick Baths

[Source: Chris Rayner]

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