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The Development & History of Victoria Baths


Victoria Baths

Hathersage Road, Victoria Park, Manchester M13.

The ornate Edwardian buildings which are the Victoria Baths in Hathersage
Road, Victoria Park, are an historical and architectural jewel in Manchester’s
treasury of great buildings. Despite this, the baths have seen better
days – they have been closed for a decade and are by now in an advanced
state of disrepair.
The Baths were described when opened in 1906 as a “water palace
of which every citizen of Manchester is proud”.

Victoria Baths ManchesterVictoria Baths stairs and landingVictoria Baths Clock TowerVictoria Baths Aerotone Bath
Victoria Baths - sign over First Class Males EntranceVictoria Baths - sign over second class males entranceVictoria Baths - sign over females entrance
Top: Victoria Baths exterior; first floor stairs and landing – 1st
class males; the Clock Tower; The Aerotone Bath.
Bottom: Ceramic tile signs on ther exterior, designated entrances
for 1st Class Males, 2nd Class Males and Females.

Manchester’s Public Baths & Wash Houses

Plans to provide public baths to the wards of Longsight,
Rusholme and St Luke’ was first considered by Manchester Corporation’s
Baths and Washhouses Committee in 1897.
High Street (now Hathersage Road) was chosen as the most suitable
site and in 1899 a plot of land was purchased for £750. Henry
Price was appointed in June 1902 as the first City Architect, responsible
for carrying out and completing the project and the Baths were completed
and opened to the public in 1906 at an eventually cost of £59,144
– then a small fortune and well over budget. They were created by
Manchester Corporation as part of a general move to improve the health
and well being of the ordinary people of Manchester, and they operated
as public swimming pools, wash baths, Turkish Bath and a public hall
from 1906 and sports hall from the mid-1980s until its untimely closure
in 1993.

The Water Palace

The self-evident quality, style and opulence of
detailing, materials used and its exuberant embellishments have deservedly
earned it the title of having been Manchester’s “Water Palace”.
It was a clear demonstration of the commitment, wealth and civic pride
that a great city felt it ought to show to its residents and to the
outside world, and it is widely held to be one of the finest examples
of municipal baths in the country, eventually costing twice the original
estimate to build.
Despite its recent disuse and decline it is now probably the very
finest still in existence in England, though its future is severely
threatened.
Externally it is comprised of fine red brick and terra cotta with
ornate mouldings; inside it makes extensive use of stained glass,
deep green Art Nouveau period ceramic wall tiles, wrought iron balustrades
and expansive decorative mosaic floors. Despite a few later modifications,
the building is still essential in its original condition.
Water was supplied clean and pure via its own on-site water supply
via its own well and pumping system which supplied water to each pool.
Clean water was in itself an original and new concept which must have
seemed like a wonder of the age to those living in Manchester’s slums.

Stained Glass window depicting FootballerVictoria Baths - Stained Glass Window - the Angel of Purity
Stained Glass Windows – Footballer and ” The Angel of Purity”

Laundry & Turkish Baths

The Victoria Baths also had its own laundry block
used to wash the towels used by swimmers and Turkish Baths customers.
Later the laundry was used by local people as a public washhouse.
There were also swimming events, galas, free swimming lessons, and,
for the more affluent visitor there were the Turkish Baths. At a time
when ordinary people lived in very poor conditions, the Baths must
have seemed like the ultimate luxury, but their most important function
was as a vehicle to promote better health and hygiene amongst the
working poor.

Male & Female Swimming Baths

The Baths actually have three swimming pools, (‘First
Class Males’, ‘Second Class Males’ and ‘Females’) at a time when the
concept of first and second class citizens was perfectly acceptable.
The First Class Males Pool (also known as ‘The Gala Pool’), is the
most elaborate with its high glazed vaulted ceiling. A balcony runs
around the pool and there is extensive use of stained glass. Iron
and wood cubicles line the length of either side. The second pool,
(Second Class Males) is considerably less ornate and was covered over
in the 1980s to create a sports hall.

Victoria Baths First Class Males Gala Pool

The Females pool is smaller but of a similar pattern,
though even less decorated, though there is some beautiful stained
glass depicting purple irises. In 1952 the first municipal ‘Aerotone’
bath in the country was installed – similar in concept to the modern
Jacuzzi. Both the Turkish Baths the Aerotone were popular facilities
right up until the time of its closure. In 1993, regrettably, Manchester
City Council decided to close the Baths, despite vigorous local opposition.
Demonstrations took place, a petition was gathered, but the Baths
closed on 13th March 1993 – the council could no longer continue to
bear the high cost of maintenance and repair.

“A Water Palace of which every citizen
of Manchester is proud”

Setting up the Trust

Ever since the closure of the Baths local residents
have been campaigning for ways to save the building for public use.
Hence, in 1993, the Victoria Baths Trust was formed to investigate
the possibility of saving the building and running the Victoria Baths
independently. It is now estimated that at least £15 million
will be required to restore the buildings to their original condition.
An application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore Victoria Baths
as a Healthy Living Centre was rejected, but the Trust is continuing
to pursue a viable plan for the restoration of the building in partnership
with Manchester City Council and English Heritage. In 1998, the Trust
formed a partnership with Manchester City Council (who still own of
the Baths), CHRC Limited, Zion Community Health & Resources Limited
and Central Manchester Healthcare Trust.

The Victoria Baths Trust

Immediately upon its closure in 1993, a campaign
was begun for the Victoria Baths to be reopened for public use. As
a result, the Manchester Victoria Baths Trust was set up by local
residents to pursue this aim. The Trust is a limited company, a registered
charity and a member of the Association of Building Preservation Trusts.
It is supported in its work by the Friends of Victoria Baths. Since
it began, the Trust has raised over £40,000 in grants towards
reopening the Baths and has negotiated the handover of the Baths from
Manchester City Council. Consequently, the Trust is responsible for
the building and is now working in partnership with other local organisations
towards its restoration. The Trust has submitted two important bids
for grants to enable it to work on the Baths and has launched a public
appeal to support the grants which will fund its restoration.

Funding

The Trust received assistance funding from:

  • English Heritage
  • The A6 Partnership
  • The Neighbourhood Renewal Fund
  • The Architectural Heritage Fund
  • £3 million + from the BBC Restoration Fund.

The Friends of Victoria Baths

The Friends of Victoria Baths have been campaigning
ever since March 1993 to save the Victoria Baths. The Friends organise
open days and other events at the Baths, carry out work on the building
including cleaning up and other minor repairs. They produce a newsletter
for members 3 to 4 times a year and Victoria Baths items which are
sold at events and by mail order. They are also researching the history
of the building. The Friends meet on the last Monday of the month
(except August and December) at Imex Business Park in Longsight at
7.30pm.

Join the Friends of Victoria Baths

Go to their website at: www.victoriabaths.org.uk/friends.htm.

Or write to: The Friends of Victoria Baths, Studio 20, Imex Business
Park,
Hamilton Road, Longsight, Manchester M13 0PD

Victoria Baths Opening Times

Victoria Baths is open to visitors on the first
Sunday of every month until October 5th 2003 – for opening times thereafter,
please check the official website:
https://www.victoriabaths.org.uk/open_days.htm to verify the times.

BBC Restoration Fund

The plight of the Victoria Baths was brought to
a wider public’s attention by the BBC2 Television series “Restoration” ,
which featured the Baths during its opening transmission on 8th August
2003. The final broadcast in the series took place at 9.00pm on Sunday
14th September 2003 and happily, Victoria Baths was the outright winner.
Some £3 million or more is now therefore added to the restoration
fund and Phase 1 – the opening of the Turkish Baths, is now getting
underway. For the time being, the Baths have been saved, but much
more money is required.


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Copyright
© John Moss, Papillon Graphics AD 2013 Manchester, United Kingdom – all rights reserved.
This page last updated 21 Nov 12.