City bosses are often quick to bulldoze deserted buildings that stand on prime locations. But thankfully that isn’t the case with Manchester’s spectacular Victoria Baths. Closed since 1993, the incredibly intact interior and Edwardian-era styling make the baths both architectural gem and photographer’s dream.
Victoria Baths’ internal features are matched by its equally impressive exterior. Built in 1906 from red brick – a prominent feature of Victorian Manchester – accented by terracotta tiling, the baths reflect the grandeur of Victorian/Edwardian architecture seen in hotels, cinemas, railway stations and other public buildings of the era. At the time of construction, Manchester had one of the wealthiest municipal coffers in the world, and the city’s newest “cathedral of swimming” was as extravagant as it was functional.
While some of its contempories still exist, most have been demolished or gutted of their internal splendour. Considerable effort may be taken to retain original features when converting old structures, but the main concern is saving historic buildings for future generations. So Victoria Baths, with its empty pools, stained glass windows and instantly recognisable green tiling, is a rare specimen indeed.
No expense was spared, with fine woodwork and iron mongery produced by a skilled generation of master craftsmen gracing the pools and offices. The iron ballustrade topping, above, sillouetted against the the female pool, shows the opulent attention to detail in what was – functionally – merely a place to swim. But like many public buildings of its era, Victoria Baths was a symbol of civic pride and far more than just a swimming pool.
Operating the pools – which also included Turkish baths – required a large amount of subterranean machinary, piping and filtration systems. That same system – state of the art when it was built – can be seen above, covered in more than fifteen years-worth of dirt and dust but otherwise apparently intact.
The elegant design continues into the pool areas themselves, with high stained glass windows, ornate changing facilities lining the upper balconies, and a fantastic fish mosaic “swimming” within the deep green tiling. Three pools of varying grandeur were built – first and second class males, and a ladies pool. The main pool (Males First Class) was covered over during winter months and used as a dance hall.
The steam rooms of the Turkish baths mix deep turquoise hues with prominent green accenting. The designers went to great lengths to create stunning features around mundane functional fixtures like the water fountains. The lonely beauty of Victoria Baths even secured it a spot on the TV hit Life on Mars, while the instantly recognisable green tiled staircase features in the stylish yet ultra-violent film Resurrection Man, set in Belfast, standing in as the “Tomb Street Bath House”.
Above can be seen the empty womens pool, accessed through an iron turnstyle. By comparison, the pool shown at the top of this article is the first class Gala/males pool, with spectator seating around the balcony. The image shows one of many fundraisers, photo shoots, and arts events in full swing, with bright images projected against the pool sides. Thankfully the Friends of Victoria Baths have been campaigning for its restoration since its closure in 1993. Fancy exploring the baths yourself? Find out when they’re open here.
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