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Public libraries and baths were a Victorian response to the growth of industrial, urban society (Best 1979, 55, 58, 83); correspondingly Wolverhampton, a growing urban and industrial centre, acquired baths in 1851 (Wolverhampton Borough Council 1948, 134) and a public library in 1869 (ibid., 140). Despite the economic dislocations of the First World War and its aftermath, urban industrial society continued to evolve in the early 20th century; calls for further baths and library provision naturally followed. In Wolverhampton these developments took place within a particular, local context: the absorption by the borough of previously independent neighbouring communities. One of these was Heath Town.

Heath Town originated as the tiny settlement of "Wednesfield Heath" midway between Wednesfield and Wolverhampton. With the onset of industrialisation in the 18th century it steadily grew and changed. The canal arrived in 1797, the railway in 1837; in 1850 Heath Town became a parish, and in 1893 an Urban District. At the time of the First World War it was a small but compact settlement of terraced houses around the shops, public houses and new church clustered along the Wednesfield Road, slightly to the west of the 1852 parish church (Brew 1999, 7, 11).

Ordnance Survey map 1919 showing the Heath Town area.  The baths and library came to be built at the bend in Tudor Road, running northwards from the main railway line.
Compact community it might be, but Heath Town was too small to avoid absorption by its growing western neighbour, Wolverhampton. The residents themselves first proposed the move, in 1901, but changed their mind (Mason 1982, 30).

Wolverhampton revived the idea in 1919, and its implementation was only halted by a sudden shift in central government policy. The Borough tried again in 1926, and, despite opposition from Heath Town, it was successful: the district became part of Wolverhampton from 1 April 1927 (Wolverhampton Borough Council 1926, 149ff, 1034ff).

Crucially for our purposes, the move went ahead on the basis of undertakings given to Heath Town during negotiations at Westminster; among these were the promise of both baths and library (CMB/WOL/D/LIB 128.6; Wolverhampton Borough Council 1930, 654).

The fulfillment of the promise was to be a long and somewhat tortuous process, reflecting the enlarged Council's native caution in spending ratepayers' money, and the national economic crisis which followed the Crash of October 1929. The details can be pursued in the records of the Council and its two relevant Committees. Decisive moments were 8 July 1929, when approval was given for branch Libraries at Bushbury (another recently absorbed district) and Heath Town (Wolverhampton Borough Council 1929, 626); 16 June 1930, when a combined baths and library building for Heath Town was agreed (Wolverhampton Borough Council 1930, 636, 659); and 25 October 1931, when the government finally approved loan arrangements to finance the project (CMB/WOL/C/PB/25, 72). Over the whole process, three points stand out. First, the notion of combining library and other services in one building was mooted as early as December 1926 (CMB/WOL/D/LIB/128.6), and kept cropping up thereafter in one or other Committee, or in Council; the motive throughout was economy. Secondly, despite the presence of this notion, the Library and Baths Committees mostly worked independently of one another; however at crucial moments, and particularly over the 5 months preceding the vital Council decision of June 1930, they collaborated (Wolverhampton Borough Council 1930, 632). Thirdly, the key to their co-operation was the Council Officer in charge of building design for both, the Borough Surveyor and Engineer, H B Robinson M. Inst. M. & C. Eng. His reward was the formal opening of the new baths on 16 December 1932 and the library on 23 May 1933: notable civic occasions, duly reported in the local press (Express and Star 17th December 1932 and 24th May 1933).

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