(Image: Harry Mole, reproduced with permission)
Haggerston Baths (above) in Hackney, London, are at the centre of a regeneration campaign that will hopefully one day see the historic pool reopen. Others aren’t so lucky, and a decade into the twenty first century, Britain’s beautiful historic swimming pools – built largely in the Edwardian and Art Deco architectural styles – are becoming an increasingly endangered species.
Once a luxury to some and a necessity to many, the public bathhouse was rendered obsolete by modern washing facilities in homes, and councils have sought to replace the grand yet faded facilities with new pools to suit modern tastes. In this article, we’ll explore a selection of Britain’s finest abandoned swimming baths – some on the verge of restoration (like Manchester’s Victoria Baths, above), others overcome by urban decay.
Chadderton Baths, Oldham, Greater Manchester
(Images: Jon Wild, reproduced with permission)
Chadderton’s Art Deco swimming baths are among several important civic buildings in this borough of Oldham. Four-times Olympic swimming champion Henry Taylor once served as attendant at the pool, which opened in 1937 and closed in 2006 after cracks were discovered in the roof. The Chadderton Historical Society has tried unsuccessfully to save the abandoned building, which Oldham Council is reportedly set on demolishing, despite the wishes of Chadderton residents and support from local councillors.
City Baths, Durham
(Images: richboxfrenzy, reproduced with permission)
The abandoned City Baths in Durham have been extensively documented on UK urban exploration forums. Photographer Rob Birrell took these photos just before the facility closed in July 2008, showing how quickly urban decay takes hold when combined with vandalism and neglect. Both the main swimming pool and the children’s pool are in poor condition, but the ornate features are largely intact.
Ilford Baths, London
(Images: Reality Trip, reproduced with permission)
Urban explorer Adam Slater found the abandoned Ilford Baths to be internally intact despite the inevitable vandalism. His photos also reveal a wealth of ornate Victorian features that live on behind a modified, and soulless, seventies facade. Interestingly, the main pool also contained a projection room, suggesting the baths, which closed in 2009, had at one point doubled as a cinema. (Don’t miss these historic abandoned cinemas.)
Harpurhey Baths, Manchester
Designed by Henry Price, the grand Edwardian swimming baths in Harpurhey, Manchester, opened in 1910 and remain one of the area’s most historic buildings. Like other under-funded public baths under local authority control, Harpurhey closed in 2001 due to serious structural defects. Thankfully the Grade II listed building has been taken over by Manchester College of Arts and Technology (MANCAT). The women’s pool is now a library, while the first class men’s pool is set to become an exhibition space – but not before Phill.d got these photos.
Kings Meadow Baths, Reading
(Images: Jorge Berland, reproduced with permission)
The abandoned Kings Meadow swimming pool in Reading opened in 1903 as the Ladies Swimming Bath. It is believed to be the oldest surviving Edwardian outdoor municipal pool, and was constructed in response to a men-only pool – the largest in southern England when it was built in 1879. While the men’s pool was demolished years ago, the local council rejected a proposal to develop a hotel on the site, and in 2009 offered the Kings Meadow Campaign an opportunity to restore the architecturally significant pool to public use.
Heath Town Baths and Library, Wolverhampton
(Images: yamahapaul, reproduced with permission)
Heath Town Baths and Library was described as an example of “municipal modernism” when it opened during the early twentieth century. Despite the facility securing Grade II listed status after it closed to the public, its future remains uncertain. These images reveal an abandoned swimming baths that appear to have been deserted hastily, while the former library reflects the vandalism that such places are sadly subjected to with seeming impugnity.
Bournville Lane Baths, Stirchley, Birmingham
(Images: yamahapaul, reproduced with permission)
Bournville Lane Baths opened on June 25, 1911 with one swimming pool, an ornate gallery, a steam room and private baths for men and women, which were discontinued soon after opening. An unusual feature of the pool was an aeration and filtration system, resulting in continuously filtered water from the mains supply. Plans are reportedly afoot to convert the abandoned swimming pool into a community centre, despite the building’s increasingly poor state.
Moseley Road Baths, Birmingham
Moseley Road Baths was hailed a “Cathedral of Swimming” when the facility opened in 1907. The wonderfully ornate building was one of several swimming baths in Birmingham to be paired with a library, and is one of only three in Britain still operating today. Despite the usual council opposition along the way, the second class pool has been reopened while an ongoing regeneration effort aims to raise enough money to restore the first glass Gala pool to public use.
Victoria Baths, Manchester
Along with Moseley Road Baths, Victoria Baths in Manchester are arguably one of Britain’s finest – and best preserved – Edwardian swimming facilities. Opened in 1906 by the Lord Mayor, who described the building as a “water palace”, Manchester was the wealthiest city in the world at the time and no expense was spared. By 1952, Victoria Baths was home to the first jacuzzi in the UK.
The beautifully decorative building, with its distinctive green tiles and brick and terracotta exterior, closed in 1993. Initial restoration attempts failed but efforts to prevent major decay were afoot by 1998. In 2006, the main pool was filled for the first time in 13 years to mark the building’s centenary, while the first phase of structural repairs was completed by 2008. Victoria Baths stood in for Belfast’s Tomb Street Bathhouse is the violent 1998 film Resurrection Man.
Both Victoria Baths and Harpurhey featured in an earlier article depicting 7 abandoned swimming pools. If you enjoyed this article, explore more urban ghosts within our archives. You can also subscribe to our feed, become our friend on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.