Saturday, 26 August 2017

Victoria Baths (permission visit, April 2017)

Well, better late than never! I visited Victoria Baths in Manchester in April 2017, having wanted to visit for some time. 

First the history: (taken from the Victoria Baths website)
In 1897 the Baths and Wash-houses Committee of Manchester Corporation considered the possibility of providing a bath house to serve the population of Longsight, St. Luke's and Rusholme. The site, on Hathersage Road was duly bought in 1899. Building started in 1903 and the baths were opened in 1906 when it was described as "the most splendid municipal bathing institution in the country" and "a water palace of which every citizen of Manchester can be proud." This was due to the fact that only the highest quality materials had been used and skilled workers produced beautiful stained glass windows and mosaic floors as well as the fact that the building provided extensive facilities for swimming, bathing and leisure. The baths were in use for the public of Manchester for 87 years, finally closing in 1993. This was not a popular decision and the campaign to try to stop the closure became the Friends of Victoria Baths with the aim of fully restoring the building. The building became one of those featured in the BBC Restoration series in 2003. Now the building is partially restored with plans to complete the restoration and have at least one pool and the Turkish baths in use for the public in the near future. 

We visited on a Wednesday afternoon when there is a paid tour of the building by an informative guide. I only wish I could remember half of what he told us!

 These are the impressive gates and turnstiles at the main door (which is not used as the main door now)

 Examples of the best quality tiles and stained glass as described in the introduction above are on display all around the building.

The main Gala pool (there were three pools - the male 1st class Gala pool, the females pool and the males 2nd class pool - the latter was turned into a sports hall in the 1980s)

The changing cubicles at the side of the main pool, with red and white striped curtains.

                                                        The view from one of these cubicles.

                                           Each cubicle is numbered.

                                            The females pool from upstairs looking down. One of the most successful former swimmers of the Victoria Baths was Sunny Lowry, who was the first British woman to swim the English Channel in 1933. 

As well as the swimming pools there were private baths and a laundry along with a Turkish bath and later a Sauna was added. The main swimming pool was floored over in the winter months to hold dances. In 1952 the Victoria Baths installed the first public Aeratone (jacuzzi) in the country.

Weddings are sometimes held in the baths - hence the bunting and chairs. 

This Grade II listed building is on English Heritage's Heritage at Risk Register and the friends of Victoria Baths are doing a splendid job of trying to raise the rest of the money required to fully restore this beautiful, historic building. Visiting one of the tours or the other events put on during the year helps them towards fulfilling this ambition.Since I visited, the main pool was opened for a public swim (as a one-off) for the first time since its closure. There are plans to repeat this. 

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