The Victoria Baths
Road once marked the northern boundary of the
Longsight district. If you go south you enter
Victoria Park. On the north side of the road you
will find what, as a child, we always called High
Street Baths. I can only assume that we called the
building that because what is now Hathersage Road
was once High Street. The building was always
Victoria Baths but that wasn't what we called
it. The baths occupied a position between the
working class community living in mostly 2up-2down terraced
houses and Manchester's wealthy living in the villas
of Victoria Park.
opened on Friday, September 7, 1906 and provided
swimming pools and a turkish bath to local residents
until 1993. At the opening the Lord Mayor of
Manchester described it as "a water palace of
which every citizen should be proud." It
was indeed a palace of tile, mosaic and glass with
three swimming pools, individual bath compartments
and both Russian and Turkish Baths. The three
swimming pools were allocated to "Males
1st Class ", "Males 2nd Class " and "Females". The
Victoria Baths served the residents of Rusholme,
Chorlton-on-Medlock and Longsight for 87
years. Declining use prompted Manchester City
Council to close it in 1993 and in the years that
followed the building lay empty and moldering under
the assault of the weather. However, local
people have refused to see the building become a
target for demolition and they have been engaged in
a long and often frustrating battle to raise the
funds it will take to first secure the building and
then restore it. The building and its
supporters won the BBC Restoration competition along
with the funding targeted at restoring the
building. Unfortunately, this was a tiny
fraction of the amount that will be needed to bring
the Baths back from the brink of disaster.
However, it was enough to fix the roof and keep out
the water that was destroying it. Today, you
can visit the building on Open Days. Below are
some photographs taken on September 9, 2012 on just
such a day.
The Females and
Males 2nd Class pools feature balconies that
originally had rows of cubicles housing bath tubs
for local people whose houses rarely had hot water
never mind bathrooms. Unfortunately, these
bathrooms have been removed. Here is how my
sister remembers them, "In
the old days the baths were great. Ladies and
mixed bathing. A great brass turnstile and inside
a wrought iron balcony, wooden warm tubs to wash
in, wooden doored cubicles. I used to go every
week to have a bath. Up on the balcony there were
hugh white baths in cubicles. A very large lady
with a white coat, looking like a wardress with a
hugh bunch of keys, filled your bath. It was big
enough to swim in. For the same price, you got
soap and towels."
Down at pool level there are rows of changing
The "Females" Pool -
The "Males 2nd Class" Pool -
the pool is covered with a floor that had been used
in the past to transform the Males 1st Class pool
into a ballroom.
Baths were very fussy about allowing scruffy little
kids like me into the pool and, when I first started
going, there was a large bath tub that you had to
scrub-off in before entering the pool. In later
years this was replaced by a row of showers along
the wall at the entrance end of the pool. At first I
remember that access to the pool, for those who
weren't diving in at the deep end, was down a set of
slippery stone steps.
These were later replaced by ladders in the other
I remember the
man who seemed to run the men's pool, his name was
Jack Walker. He taught people how to swim and
watched them swim their length to get the much
valued "Length Certificate". I remember he had a
long pole with a scoop on the end of it and he would
hold it out over the water as you swam, I suppose to
give you something to grab onto if you needed it.
The "Males 1st Class" Pool -
of bath cubicles the balcony in this pool was
equipped with seating because the plan was to use it
for swimming galas.
Males 1st Class pool was much grander than the other
two pools. Even the arches along the wall were
capped with terracotta rather than just brick.
The walls in the entrance way were clad to the ceiling with elegant Pilkinton's tiles and the floor had Roman style mosaics.
The Turkish Bath Suite -
"Aeratone" therapeutic bathing unit -
In 1952 Victoria Baths installed this therapeutic machine designed to help people suffering from arthritic problems. This early version of a Jacuzzi was invented by Professor William Oliver, of the University of Edinburgh. The first ‘Aeratone’ was opened to the public at the Carnegie Baths in Dunfermline on 12th December 1938. The so-called therapy involved climbing down into a stainless steel tub filled with water while an operator worked the control panel that caused the patient to be bombarded with jets of air.
The Baths were also home to the Superintendent in charge of swimming baths and wash houses throughout Manchester. His flat comprised 4 bedrooms as well as a sitting-room, dining-room and a kitchen. There was also a Committee Room for meetings of the baths and wash houses committee.
Through the building there are signs of the opulance of this "Water Palace"
Below is a newer addition, a stained glass window in honour of Sunny Lowry, the first woman to swim the channel, who trained at Victoria Baths.
- Swimming Competitions at Victoria Baths -
Victoria Baths also hosted swimming competitions and had its own swimming clubs. The Victoria Ladies Swimming Club is show above. The picture was probably taken in 1922. On the far left of the front row, with a Union Jack on her swim suit, is Maud Millar. Maud's family lived on High Street and she was a regular visitor to the baths. At one point she was the Northern Junior Swimming Champion.
The photograph was generously donated by Wendy and Brian Whelan.
The baths were of course used by local school and I know that Ardwick Tech took great pride in the success rate of its students in acquiring their Length Certificates.
Competitive Swimming was also a feature of the school use. In the 1920s life saving teams competed for cups and medals and bragging rights. Above is the Ardwick Central Life Saving Team - circa 1922 - with their teacher Miss Jenny Turner.
Every year, all the students from Ardwick Tech turned out at the baths to compete in our Swimming Gala and those of us who were not competing sat up in the balcony and screamed encouragement to our house teams.
Arwick Technical High School Gala circa 1970
photograph above was taken by Linda Longworth and
supplied by Janet Sheldon.
(The photograph above was generously donated by Mary (Abramowicz) Muston)***************
I was taken aback
some years ago when I was watching an episode of the
drama mini-series Prime Suspect. A local gang headed
by a very unsavory character called "The Street"
(played by Steven Mackintosh) and his henchmen were
interrogating a victim in an old building. As the
cameras panned I realized we were inside Victoria
Baths. Along the side of the baths ran the same rows
of cubicles, with half door and curtains, I remember
from my childhood. In fact, the only thing missing was
the water in the pool and the smell of chlorine.
Since then the baths have featured in a numer of film