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Victoria Baths (Manchester)

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A fine example of Edwardian baths in south Manchester. Winner of Restoration.

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      19.12.2003 02:11
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      So who watched BBC2?s conservation voting program Restoration then? Wasn?t it an interesting fascinating series? Those who watched it will know that Victoria Baths in Manchester was the winner. I know there were complaints that they were not old enough, not worthy of the money or where not a country house but I voted for them . I suppose I am biased as they are about quarter of an hours walk from where I am sitting and they were my local building. However I did not jump on the bandwagon as I had visited them on a quiet open day about a year before Restoration. I revisited them on the day of the final and the place was absolutely mobbed. It is a shame it takes a television program to highlight history. Before then I am sure many people did not really want to know at all. I thought I would write my opinion on them to tell you what it the building is really like So for those who did not watch Restoration what is Victoria Baths? Victoria Baths is probably England?s finest surviving Edwardian swimming baths and are in the south of Manchester. It consists of three swimming pools, a Turkish baths, Russian baths and an early version of the Jacuzzi. They were built between 1903 and 1906 by the city?s first architect Henry Price. They were built to cope with the continuingly expanding population in Manchester and served the more working class areas of Chorlton on Medlock, Longsight and Rusholme. When opened in 1906 by the Lord Mayor of Manchester they were declared a water palace for the citizens of Manchester to be proud of. The most prolific swimmer to use the baths to train was Sunny Lowery the first woman to swim the English Channel. They were closed in 1993 due to the cost of maintaining the building and have been falling into disrepair ever since. How do I get to the Baths? They are located on Hathersage Road which is about two miles south of the city centre. The number 50 bus goes very close to the baths as does any of the buses that
      go along Wilmslow Road. If going by car just head for the Manchester Royal Infirmary it is just round the corner from there. The exterior. It is a lovely red brick building. You will notice the three entrances. One for male first class, male second class and females. I think this is such an interesting piece of social history. The male first class cost more and was aimed at the middle classes that lived in the nearbyexclusive suburb of Victoria Park There is an inscription on the wall. Well Loved. The baths were well loved by the clientele but it is also referring to the water in the baths that came from natural wells. Interior. Once you enter the male first class entrance you are greeted by a wonderful sight. The entrance hall is exquisitely tiled and the floors are made up of mosaics with fish motiffs. It is wonderful and so much nicer than swimming pools nowadays. The other fantastic features of the pools are the wonderful stained glass windows each representing different sportsmen. This is more like a temple to leisure than a normal swimming baths. The decoration is a joy to look at. The Pools The swimming baths complex consists of three pools. There is not much difference between the pools but they do get narrower as it was felt women could not swim as far as men. The first class men?s pool were also blessed with the best water as it came straight from the wells, and then was distributed to the second class males then finally the female pool. The second class male one is covered over to provide an exhibition space. It was intermittently covered over to hold dances and later was used as a sports hall for badminton and other activities. The women?s pool is the most complete and is the least changed of the two you can still see. There are the cubicles around the pool. The slipper baths have unfortunately disappeared. The ones featured in the Restoration program were mocked up our guide told us. <
      br> The Aerotome. In a small room is a strange tub thing. It is metal and has steps down to a stool. To some it may look like an instrument of torture. There is a fantastic control panel that would not look out of place in NASA. In fact it is an Aerotome an early forerunner of the Jacuzzi that dates from 1952. There is only one other one left in the country. It actually looks like it would be really good if you sat in it. I think they are hoping to reopen it eventually. Upstairs Upstairs was the superintendent?s flat that was very luxurious for the time and quite large. It also includes a posh board room. The flat now in a state of dereliction would have been a very comfortable place to love. It has the beautiful art deco sprained glass that is a feature of the rest of the building The Russian and Turkish baths. These were popular right up to the closure of the baths. The Russian baths wet hear whilst the Turkish ones are a very dry heat. The Turkish baths has a luxurious ante room to cool down and has three rooms that each get smaller. The final room has no benches and is very small but one would not spend much time in there due to the heat. Again there are the signs of that wonderful tiling. Guided tours. There are interpretation panels through out the pool but the best way of seeing it is via a free guided tour. The guided tours are free and are excellent. They are taken by volunteers fro the Victoria Baths trust and their enthusiasm and knowledge of the baths is incredible. The tours are definitely part of the experience as you would not get the same information from just walking around Plans for the Baths. The baths have a grant from Restoration for 3.38 million pounds. They are planning to make the building structurally safe. It does not look in bad repair at first glance but is suffering from corrosion of the iron framework. They would then like to restore the Turkish ba
      ths to working order Exhibitions. There usually is an exhibition on the history of the baths complete with swimming medals and photos. When I was there in October there was an exhibition called swim that featured some nice art work with a swimming theme. When is it open? It is not open all the time and is closed for the winter. It is open one Sunday afternoon a month from March to October and is free to get in. There are usually refreshments sold and some Victoria Baths merchandise. I feel that this building is wonderful and defiintly a valuable building both in terms of social and leisure history. However with the Manchester Aquatic Centre just up the road I feel it can not compete as a swimming pool. I think this would be excellent for taking school kids then comparing it with the aforementioned Aquatic centres Is it worth a visit? Definitly. If you are in the neighborhood and it is open day on definitely go. It was only built a century ago but so much has changed since then. it is an excellent piece of social history. www.victoriabaths.org.uk

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