The Victoria Baths

Hathersage 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.

The baths 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 cubicles.

- The "Females" Pool -


- The "Males 2nd Class" Pool -

Today the pool is covered with a floor that had been used in the past to transform the Males 1st Class pool into a ballroom. 

The Victoria 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 two pools.

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 -

Instead of bath cubicles the balcony in this pool was equipped with seating because the plan was to use it for swimming galas. 

The 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 -


The "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.

Victorian Jaccuzi ©
                      Shirley Aspinall              Control Panel © Shirley Aspinall


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.

Autograph © David Boardman

- 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

The 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 shoots