Edgbaston Reservoir has always been a popular spot for locals looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. It is known as a play area for locals, with people coming to paddle in the water, feed the ducks, and go for walks around the reservoir. But did you know that back in the 1930s, the reservoir was transformed into a mini seaside resort?
Norman Bartlam, local historian, tells us: “So lots of children in particular used to just come here with a bottle of water and a fishing net, perhaps catching sticklebacks, and just going for a walk around the reservoir. But the authorities thought Birmingham needed a bit more than that.”
With many people struggling to afford holidays during the Depression, the authorities decided to bring Blackpool to Birmingham, complete with a beach, a festival, and even a mini replica Blackpool tower - where the famous Tower Ballroom got its name.
Norman speaks of the festival: “There was a huge great big festival here with all sorts of water activities, and also funfairs, dodgem cars, roundabouts and that kind of thing. And also some really spectacular events and they were all put together in this little brochure called Blackpool Week, August 1932.”
This was a popular move, and the reservoir became even more popular after the addition of the Daring Dive attraction, in which a man jumped from an 80-foot-high tower into a cauldron of fire - much to the delight of the onlookers.
Norman said: “There was a man called Bert Powsey. And on the dam wall here, what he actually did was to climb up another tower which was built which is essentially a pole that was eighty foot high. And he was tied up in a sack on top of this pole.
“Then he jumped from the pole, in this sack, into a cauldron, which is only about four feet wide, right at the base of the tower. Huge applause all the way round - added to the fact that the cauldron was also set alight. So it was a great fire as well, so he actually dived into the fire Houdini style, and managed to get out of it.”
Sadly, the Tower Ballroom is now in disrepair and is due to be demolished. However, the area around the reservoir is set to be transformed, with a new walkway being created to enhance the experience for visitors.
Norman hopes that this will breathe new life into the area: “So it’s going to enhance the walk around that people can do all around the reservoir. And we hope to have some sort of artefacts put in around the walkway that reminds people of the past.
“It’s fascinating really the reservoir itself has managed to maintain its shape throughout the years and not much really has changed around here in a great urban landscape. Lots of redevelopment taking place but this remains an eco-lung right in the heart of the City and long may continue to be like that.”
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