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Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
1.1. Introduction
1.2. The site
1.3. Owners, users, and stakeholders
1.4. Historical background
1.5. Purpose of the Conservation Plan
1.6. Structure of the Conservation Plan
1.5. Updating the Conservation Plan
2.1. Victoria Park, Chorlton on Medlock and environs.
2.1.1. Overview of the development of Manchester’s
south-eastern suburbs
2.1.2. Social history of the catchment area and
changing social patterns.
2.1.3. The development of the site and immediately
surrounding area
2.2. The provision of social amenities in Manchester
2.2.1. History of the provision of social amenities in
2.2.2. Building, financing, and operating public baths and
laundries in Manchester
2.3. History of Victoria Baths .
2.3.1. Planning, design and construction
2.3.2. Contractors and suppliers
2.3.3. Decoration and architectural style
2.3.4. Details of structural, decorative, and technical
2.3.5. How the Bath’s complex was used and how it
2.3.6. Decline and closure
SIGNIFICANCE (See also Gazetteer)
3.1. Historical, social and architectural significance
3.2. National and regional comparatives
3.2.1. Baths visited for comparative purposes
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
The future of the site
New Development and Major Change to Existing Fabric
Retention of the Elements of the Victoria Baths site
that are of greatest significance.
Public Safety
Inappropriate Structures
4.10 Structurally Weakened Structures (see also 4.4 Retention
of Elements)
4.11 Statutory Considerations
4.12 Understanding and Record Keeping
4.13 Interpretation
4.14 Vulnerability of site
4.15 Building Services
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Front Cover – Changing cubicles to Males, 1st Class Pool (watercolour by Lynne
Title Page (and footer throughout) – Terracotta plaque to Males, 1st Class Pool (LEP)
OS Map, published 1889
OS Map, published 1922
OS Map, published 1956
Page 13 – Turkish Baths 1906 (Manchester Central Library: Archives and Local
Page 23 – Ground Floor Plan by Manchester City Architectural Department
(Manchester Central Library: Archives and Local Studies)
Page 24 – Pump House 1906 (Manchester Central Library: Archives and Local
Page 27 – Front Elevation 1906 (Manchester Central Library: Archives and Local
Page 30 – First Class Entrance 1906 (Manchester Central Library: Archives and Local
Page 32 – First Class Pool 1906 (Manchester Central Library: Archives and Local
Page 39 – First Class Pool 1906 (origin not known – image held by Victoria Baths
Trust Archive)
Page 41 – Interior of Public Baths Kensington and Chelsea (AHP)
Page 41 – Interior of Dulwich Leisure Centre (AHP)
Page 41 – Exterior of Dulwich Leisure Centre (AHP)
Page 41 – Exterior of Camberwell Public Baths (AHP)
Page 42 – Interior of Beverley Road Swimming Centre, Kingston Upon Hull (AHP)
Page 45 – Interior of Balsall Heath Library and Public Baths (AHP)
Page 46 – Exterior of Balsall Heath Library and Public Baths (AHP)
Page 47 – Interior of Beverley Road Swimming Centre, Kingston Upon Hull (AHP)
Page 48 – Interior of Beverley Road Swimming Centre, Kingston Upon Hull (AHP)
Page 50 – Exterior of Bramley Baths, Broad Lane, Leeds (AHP)
Page 50 – Interior of Bramley Baths, Broad Lane, Leeds (AHP)
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – To be finalised after consultations)
This Conservation Plan for Victoria Baths was commissioned by the Victoria Baths
Trust. It has been prepared by The Architectural History Practice and Lloyd Evans
Prichard and follows terms of reference set out in the English Heritage led document
‘Brief for a Conservation Plan’.
The plan aims to research and examine the history of the site, assess its significance
and set out a policy framework for the management and development of the Baths in
the future.
Victoria Baths is owned by Manchester City Council. The buildings became rundown in the 1980s but remained open until 1993 when despite local opposition, the
complex was closed and Manchester Victoria Baths Trust was born.
Victoria Baths is a fine example of the high quality of social amenities provided in
nineteenth and early twentieth century England which came about as a result of
reforms to The English Poor Law, various Acts of Parliament and other legislature
which provided local authorities with the power to implement social provision and
facilitated the borrowing of public money for such improvements.
At this time Bath Houses were seen as a way of promoting cleanliness, exercise and
the general self-improvement of the working classes. Designed initially by the City
Surveyor’s Department and constructed under the control of the City Architect Henry
Price, Victoria Baths was opened in 1906, built on the site of the former Victoria Park
Lawn Tennis Club on what is now Hathersage Road.
Renaissance in style, Victoria Baths’ exterior is of red brick and elaborated with
creamy-yellow terracotta, a combination of colours often observed in Edwardian
buildings constructed for public use. The interior finishes are extravagant, including
mosaic flooring, decorative wrought ironwork, glazed ceramic tiling and stained
glass, even to be found in the original staff areas.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Facilities at Victoria Baths were strictly segregated until 1922, with separate entrances
and swimming pools for Males 1st Class, Males 2nd Class and Females. Wash baths
housed in cubicles in the pool rooms provided the community with private washing
facilities largely absent from working class dwellings. The building also housed a full
Turkish Baths suite.
In one hundred years, whilst alterations and modifications have occurred, many have
not been highly intrusive. Much of the original construction materials and finishes
remain in situ and intact, presenting an invaluable opportunity to conserve a
significant example of a type of building unique to the social conditions and political
will prevalent at the time of construction. Listed grade II*, Victoria Baths has been
extensively compared with other surviving public bath complexes. This comparison
suggests that it is probably the most intact and lavish example of its date and type in
the country and it is of great importance to the nation’s built heritage.
Victoria Baths is at a cross roads. Having successfully gained the nation’s support
through the BBC 2003 Restoration programme a future use for the complex must be
identified and – more critically – must be sustainable. The alternative, the gradual
destruction of a magnificent building, is unthinkable. The policies in this plan aim to
assist in the determination of the future for the Baths. They are a set of guidelines or
signposts that should enable effective development of this site whilst retaining the
many elements of the structure which are so universally admired.
The implementation of these policies will be guided by the Steering Group which
comprises the major stakeholders in the Baths; Manchester City Council, the Victoria
Baths Trust, English Heritage, The Heritage Lottery Fund and the Restoration Fund.
They face an enormous challenge.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
This Conservation Plan for Victoria Baths was commissioned by Victoria
Baths Trust.
It has been prepared by Lloyd Evans Prichard in conjunction
with The Architectural History Practice.
The site
Victoria Baths is an outstanding and complete example of a municipal public
baths built at the time of the 20th century, by Manchester Corporation. It has
achieved national status as a result of being voted most deserving structure in
the BBC Programme Restoration.
Victoria Baths (listed Grade II*) is not in a Conservation Area.
Owners, users, and stakeholders
Victoria Baths is in the freehold ownership of Manchester City Council.
Victoria Baths was closed in March 1993 and subsequent lack of maintenance
has resulted in deterioration to the fabric. The Victoria Baths Trust was
formed in 1993 and has enthusiastically and effectively campaigned for funds
to restore the principal spaces.
The stakeholders directly concerned with the preparation, approval, and
endorsement of this Conservation Plan are:
Victoria Baths Trust
The Friends of Victoria Baths
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Manchester City Council
English Heritage
Historical background
Victoria Baths is located on Hathersage Road in the suburbs of south east
Manchester which were laid out in the late 1830s around the newly created
Victoria Park. Initially an area of larger houses and villas, by the end of the
19th century when the baths were designed, a considerable amount of terraced
housing had been erected in the vicinity. Planning began in 1895 and designs
by the City Surveyors Department were completed by February 1903. The
complex opened in 1906.
Purpose of the Conservation Plan
The Conservation Plan provides an understanding of the historical
development of the site and of the various buildings that are or have been
there, it examines and evaluates significance, and considers present and
possible future vulnerabilities. The plan then proposes policies for the
protection and management of the significant aspects of the buildings and their
principal spaces. In common with other conservation plans, it comprises a
single, comprehensive document that can be consulted in connection with:
Providing clear guidelines for the testing and evaluation of new
development proposals or for material changes to the site or buildings.
Preparing long-term conservation programmes for the site and its various
Making day-to-day decisions with regard to maintenance and repair.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Structure of the Conservation Plan
The Conservation Plan is presented in two sections, the first containing the
following topics:
Issues and policies
The second section is a room-by-room Gazetteer of the two buildings.
Updating the Conservation Plan
Conservation policies should not be considered as being static; updating and
amendment may be required for both philosophical and circumstantial
changes. This Conservation Plan should, therefore, be considered as the first in
an ongoing exercise, to be updated at intervals of not more than five years, or
whenever changing circumstances demand.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Victoria Park and its environs
2.1.1. Overview of the development of Manchester’s south-eastern suburbs
Manchester grew up along the banks of the River Irwell, and the town initially
spread from a medieval core close to the confluence of the Irwell and River
Irk. Expansion in the eighteenth century was followed by dramatic changes as
the Industrial Revolution transformed the area. Until that time outer areas of
Chorlton-on Medlock and the adjacent parts of Rusholme and Longsight were
essentially rural in character, with ribbon development along main routes and
a scattering of farms and hamlets. The Manchester conurbation had spilled
over the River Medlock by the later eighteenth century, and industrial
buildings were erected alongside the River Medlock, in the present Cambridge
Street area. A planned suburb around Grosvenor Square was one of the first
significant residential developments. Land there had been bought by Roger
Aytoun and was sold to developers in the 1790s. Streets and building plots
were laid out and the development took off a few years later. By 1821 there
were 8,000 inhabitants. The Chorlton-on-Medlock Town Hall and Dispensary
was erected on the square in 1830-1.
By the early nineteenth century there was increasing demand from the
merchant and middle classes for dwellings away from the polluted town
centre. Ardwick had been developed for middle-class housing before 1800,
and other places also became popular, especially the slopes of Cheetham and
Broughton, north of the centre, and areas to the south offering easy access to
the centre. The most ambitious scheme was Victoria Park, laid out in 1837 by
the architect Richard Lane. This was a gated residential park, and villas there
enjoyed spacious grounds and landscaped surroundings. The prospectus
described the site as offering ‘total freedom from manufacturers and their
disagreeable effects.’ Whalley Range, developed from the early 1830s by
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Samuel Brooks, was another, less elaborate scheme. Housing was often built
speculatively to let, and this was probably true of those built along Plymouth
Grove, of which only three or four survive from the first half of the nineteenth
century. By the middle of the nineteenth century areas in the southern suburbs
were beginning to be built up. Continued expansion saw cheaper terraced
housing springing up everywhere, and the 1899 OS map shows that terraces
were packed into streets along Stockport Road and Upper Brook Street.
Victoria Park retained a leafy feel, but in the early twentieth century the
eastern part was developed with terraced housing as well. By 1922 tightly
packed terraced housing had started to fill up almost all of the available land in
the area. Clearances came in the mid twentieth century and a large council
estate was established in the area between Plymouth Grove, Stockport Road,
and areas to the north and east. The hospital and university sites continued to
expand through the twentieth century and new building in the mid 1960s was
accompanied by demolition of housing.
2.1.2. Social history of the catchment area and changing social patterns.
Houses and villas erected in Victoria Park and along Plymouth Grove and
Wilmslow Road during the first half of the nineteenth century were occupied
by middle-class families, many of whom rented the properties. Typical
residents were merchants or businessmen. Louis Schwabe, a leading
Manchester merchant and inventor, lived on Plymouth Grove, and the home of
the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell stands nearby. Famous residents of Victoria
Park included Charles Hallė and the artist Ford Madox Brown. Some of the
biggest changes to the area came in the late nineteenth century with the
building of Owen’s College (subsequently the Victoria University of
Manchester) from the 1870s on Oxford Road, and the later development of the
area to the south for hospitals. Victoria Park remained relatively exclusive into
the twentieth century, and the proximity of the university made it a popular
choice for halls of residence. Meanwhile the College of Art had been
established on Grosvenor Square and the area subsequently developed as
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
another educational centre, eventually becoming Manchester Metropolitan
Parts of Chorlton-on-Medlock, especially those to the north nearest the centre
of Manchester, had become slums by the late nineteenth century, and included
terraced and back-to-back housing occupied by poor working people. An
illustration is given by a report prepared by T.R. Marr in 1904. His Housing
Conditions in Manchester and Salford has a chapter describing certain districts
in detail, including Chorlton-on-Medlock. He writes: ‘In no part of town have
we found worse conditions prevailing among the homes of the people’ and
goes on to describe back-to-back housing and a district which gave the
impression of ‘hopelessness squalor and misery.’ His study mentions
occupations such as stonemason, bootmender, blacksmith and waste-worker.
High Street (later known as Hathersage Road), however, was still relatively
prosperous. Residents in 1907 included a professor of music, music teachers,
solicitors, accountants and other professionals. The social mix by 1922
included several doctors and surgeons, while the occupants of terraced houses
on Welby Street included a clerk, joiner, electrician and a bath attendant.
2.1.3. The development of the site and immediately surrounding area
Until the mid-nineteenth century the area around High Street was partially rural in
character, with open fields. Victoria Park was laid out on farmland in 1837,
and a sprinkling of villas and older buildings appeared here and there,
principally along main routes. By the time that the 1848 Ordnance Survey map
was surveyed, houses, mainly villas in their own grounds, had been built
alongside Plymouth Grove, the southern parts of Oxford Road and Upper
Brook Street (then known as Clarence Road). High Street (later called
Hathersage Road) had been laid out but only three houses and a short terrace
are shown on the 1848 map. In 1850 the residents included manufacturers
engaged in textile production. None of these buildings has survived. The
Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1888-9 shows that a number of larger
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
houses, of the type which survive immediately east of Victoria Baths, had
been built along High Street including a substantial development on the site
now occupied by the United Utilities offices.
The site of the baths is marked ‘Lawn Tennis Ground’ and the area
immediately opposite and to the north remained undeveloped.
By 1922 the site was becoming hemmed in by terraced housing. The baths,
and Bax Road immediately to the west, still had large houses as neighbours.
The area immediately to the north remained vacant, but the whole of the south
side of High Street had become built up, with a series of short streets running
down to the border of Victoria Park, all of them with terraced housing. In 1956
the area to the north was also built up.
Later developments included
demolition of houses to the west and the building of the Electricity offices and
continued expansion of the hospital site.
History of the provision of social amenities in Manchester
Social amenities were initially provided in nineteenth-century Manchester through a
mixture of public and private charitable or philanthropic initiatives. The
English Poor Law system was reformed in the 1830s. Essentially this offered
workhouse accommodation for the poorest in society, administered through
boards of guardians and funded through the poor rate. Facilities such as
dispensaries and infirmaries were initially charitable concerns funded through
subscriptions, though facilities for paying patients were also provided. The
provision of publicly funded amenities was essentially dependent upon the
extension of the powers of local authorities through Acts of Parliament. An
early step was taken through the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, which,
amongst other provisions, allowed local authorities to take over social
improvements such as drainage and street cleaning. Later, various legislative
initiatives empowered corporations to raise or borrow money to provide
services of various types, for example Acts in the 1840s and 1850s allowed
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
municipal cemeteries to be formed, and facilitated provision of libraries,
museums and so on. The Baths and Wash-house Act (1846, later amended
1847 and 1872) gave local authorities the power to borrow public money in
order to erect public washing, bathing and laundry facilities, and in later years,
swimming pools for ‘the labouring classes’. An architectural competition for
the design of public baths and wash houses was held before the Act was
passed in 1844. It was sponsored by the Society for Obtaining Baths and
Wash-houses for the Labouring Classes. The interest in provision of such
facilities was allied not only to health considerations, but also to ideals of selfimprovement for the working classes. Healthy exercise was promoted for
similar reasons, and the provision of swimming baths can be allied to concern
to provide people with alternatives to traditional working-class pursuits
revolving around the alehouse and racing track. Although baths were supposed
to operate at a profit to cover capital investment, in practice almost all ran at a
The promotion of Turkish baths started
at about the same time and was initiated
by the diplomat and traveller David
Urquhart as a way of breaking down the
rigid class divisions in Victorian Britain
(Nebahat Avcioglu, ‘Construction of
Turkish Baths as a Social Reform for
Victorian Society: the Case of the
Jermyn Street Hammam’ The Hidden
Iceberg of Architectural History, Society
of Architectural Historians of Great
Britain, 1998 p.59-78).
Turkish Baths 1906
Urqhart based his ideas on his personal experience of the mixing of social
classes in the baths at Istanbul, and gave his first public lecture on the subject
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
in 1847. Eventually Urquhart’s Turkish baths were opened in Jermyn Street,
London in 1862 but entrance charges were beyond the reach of the working
classes. Turkish baths were built in many places from the 1860s and were
subsequently incorporated into the designs of public baths. Bradford
Corporation in 1865 was one of the first local authorities to provide Turkish
Baths and the Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation Baths Committee incorporated
a suite of Turkish baths within their new Public Baths in Henry Square five
years later.
Provision of baths and wash-houses in Manchester and Salford was initially
provided by individual philanthropists, charities or private companies. The
Infirmary at Piccadilly offered therapeutic baths in the early nineteenth
century, conceived as treatment for various conditions, including mental
illness. Baths were also available for the paying public. The first known
bathhouse (with slipper baths and a wash house) was a house in Miller Street
(demolished), near the centre of Manchester, converted for the purpose by the
builder E T Bellhouse in 1845-6. Funding had been raised by a charity appeal,
chaired by the mayor. The establishment was well-used and returned a small
profit, which encouraged the banker Benjamin Heywood to finance a similar
venture at Sycamore Street, Miles Platting in 1849 (demolished). This
establishment was designed by M. Bunnell and based on Paul Street Baths,
Liverpool. In addition to bath and wash tubs a swimming pool was included to
encourage healthy exercise.
The Manchester and Salford Baths and Laundries Company was formed in
1854. The company built Greengate Baths, Collier Street, Salford, which was
designed by the Manchester architect Thomas Worthington. As one of the
earliest surviving examples of this building type in the country, the Italianate
Greengate Baths are of national importance and listed grade II*, though they
have been derelict for a number of years. The way in which they were planned
became the standard for later establishments. Halls for the pools (male firstand second-class only) and wash house were placed side by side at the rear,
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
and other accommodation ranged along the front. Pools were provided with
galleries where slipper baths were installed, and changing cabins, known as
dressing boxes, opened on to the pool side below.
The company erected two more baths to Worthington’s designs; in Mayfield,
Ardwick, in 1856-7, and in Leaf Street, Hulme, 1858-60 (both demolished).
Both had first- and second-class swimming baths for men and Leaf Street had
a Turkish bath, the first in a public baths in Manchester. These were followed
in 1860 by the Penny Bath (demolished), near Mayfield, built by the company
to provide a swimming pool for boys. This was later converted into
subscription-only baths for gentlemen in the 1870s, following complaints of
boys begging for money to use the facility. In the 1860s the company took
over the leases of the two earlier, privately-funded baths. Miller Street in
1862, (closed in 1875 when the building’s owners gave notice to quit) and
Sycamore Street, leased in 1864, though the lease was discontinued five years
In 1877 Manchester Corporation purchased the assets of the Manchester and
Salford Baths and Laundries Company. This was not the end of privately
sponsored public baths, however. Whitworth Baths, on Ashton Old Road,
Openshaw, designed by the Manchester architect J. W. Beaumont were built in
1890 by the executors of the engineering magnate Joseph Whitworth. They
were given to the Openshaw Local Board. These and other baths, some built
by local boards or urban district councils, were handed over to Manchester
Corporation when amalgamation took place. This included baths erected by
the Newton Heath UDC and Gorton UDC.
2.2.2 Building, financing, and operating public baths and laundries in
Public provision of public bath and wash houses in Manchester thus started
rather later than in some cities. The Corporation launched a competition for
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
the design of a public baths ‘in plain style of architecture and free from any
elaborate ornament’ (Building News, 12 October 1877, p. 356). John Johnson
of London was selected and the New Islington Baths (demolished) were
opened in 1880. Osborne Street Baths on Rochdale Road were opened in
1883. The Corporation went on to build a number of baths, including smaller
and cheaper ‘cottage baths’ such as those at Red Bank and Pryme Street
Hulme (both demolished). At Philips Park, Bradford, an outdoor pool was
established in 1891 and remained in use until 1949.
By the early twentieth century the planning, design and technology involved in
building public baths facilities was well established. Certain individual
architects such as A.H. Tiltman and Alfred Cross had established a specialism
in the field, and individual and city architects had a wide number of precedents
to draw upon. The essential requirement, established in the 1850s or earlier,
was for one or more pool halls with wide span, usually top lit, roofs, an
entrance block to control entry, and plant. This often produced designs with
low entrance buildings and taller double-height pool halls ranged behind.
Where there was a requirement for accommodation for a caretaker or for a
superintendent this was usually integrated into the entrance buildings and
tended to encourage two-storey frontage buildings. In some cases, as at
Victoria Baths, board rooms for official deliberations were included.
Additional facilities such as coffee rooms, club rooms and storage could be
integrated into the design either as part of entrance blocks or as appendages to
the pool halls. Special baths, such as vapour baths and Turkish baths could be
integrated in similar manner, or (as at Beverley Road Baths, Hull) placed in a
separate building. Segregation by sex was the rule until the twentieth century
and this was reflected in the planning of the buildings.
Four large indoor establishments erected early in the twentieth century were
Moss Side Baths (1906, demolished), Victoria Baths, Chorlton-on-Medlock
(1906), Bradford Baths (1909, demolished) and Harpurhey Baths (1910).
Harpurhey (listed grade II) and Victoria Baths (listed grade II*) are both
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
extant, though they have been closed for a number of years. Withington Baths,
Burton Road (also Henry Price) built in 1913 is of interest because it made no
distinction between first- and second-class bathing and, in 1914, became the
first baths in Manchester where mixed bathing was permitted. Until that point,
swimming facilities for women were limited relative to provision for men and
boys. Although the earliest public baths featured slipper baths for both men
and women, the swimming pools themselves were initially intended only for
men, for whom first- and second-class pools were often provided. The first
building in the area to provide a pool for women was built by Salford
Corporation in 1880, at Blackfriars Street. However, the women’s pool was
less than half the length of the men’s. This imbalance was repeated at
Manchester Corporation’s Osborne Street Baths (demolished), Miles Platting,
opened 1883. Parity was almost achieved at the Victoria Baths, although in
this instance the women’s pool was slightly narrower than the men’s. Women
also had to be content with a smaller pool than the men at the Levenshulme
Baths, opened in 1921. Thereafter mixed bathing, as introduced at Withington
in 1914, appears to have become the norm. A Corporation publication noted in
1927: ‘One of the adventures on which the Council embarked in 1914 was the
making of arrangements for mixed bathing. That misgiving has now been
completely dissipated and the demand for this provision has grown to such an
extent that it has been extended in the last twelve months from six to thirteen
of the baths.’ (How Manchester is Managed, 1927, p. 20).
During the interwar period Manchester Corporation continued to construct
baths; the City Architect’s Department generally preferring to adopt an
understated Neo-Georgian idiom. By 1934 provision extended to most parts
of the city. This amounted to thirty-five swimming pools housed in twentyfive separate establishments. Of these, twenty-three offered baths, while
twenty had wash houses. There was a total of 885 slipper baths and four
Turkish bath suites.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Levels of usage appear to be high. During the year 1928, 2,148,693 people
were recorded as using the city’s nineteen public baths (though this figure
presumably includes repeat visits by the same individuals), yielding receipts to
the Corporation of £18,022. In the same year 536,214 people used the city’s
fifteen public wash houses, yielding receipts of £19,280 (How Manchester is
Managed, 1928).
Immediately after the Second World War ambitious proposals to build baths in
each of the neighbourhood areas identified in the City of Manchester Plan of
1945 were published in the architectural press (Architects and Building News,
3 August 1945, p. 78). These proposed large facilities each with three pools,
slipper baths, Turkish, Russian and medicated baths. Children’s pools were to
be the ‘shop window’ of the schemes with full-height windows to the street. A
prototype design of this nature had already been built, albeit on a more limited
scale, at the Broadway Baths, New Moston, in 1932.
History of Victoria Baths
2.3.1. Planning, design and construction
The idea for baths in the Chorlton-on-Medlock area came under consideration
by Manchester Corporation Baths and Wash Houses Committee in 1895. At a
meeting held on the 17th October it was resolved that baths be erected ‘in St
Luke’s Ward’. The decision was later rescinded to allow further consideration
of the matter, but by June 1896 the search for a suitable site was started. In
August a subcommittee for ‘Baths in Longsight, St Luke’s and Rusholme
Wards’ was formed and members visited baths in Leeds and Batley in the
autumn of that year. Trips were planned to Birmingham and London, but it is
not clear if they took place. Early in 1897 land on the corner of High Street
and Clarendon Road was identified as being suitable for the project and
attempts were made to buy it. High Street was chosen because it was
considered to be the most central site for serving the three wards. Later that
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
year it was discovered that restrictive covenants attached to the sale prohibited
development for industry or the erection of a steam engine, which meant that it
could not be used. Another site on the corner of Upper Brook Street was then
considered, but this too was subject to restrictive covenants. This type of
covenant was frequently applied to sales of land and was usually aimed at
preserving the residential character of areas. A suitable site further east
occupied by the Victoria Park Lawn Tennis Club was eventually identified as
being suitable and acquisition was recommended on October 26th 1898. The
Manchester Corporation General Powers Act of 1899 contained powers for the
compulsory purchase of the site, but in December 1899 terms were agreed
with the owners and 7,440 square yards of land were purchased for £750,
subject to the formation of a new street on the west side of the site,
subsequently called Bax Road in honour of Alderman Bax.
On 7th January 1900 a Building Subcommittee of the Baths and Washhouses
Committee was formed. The chairman was Alderman Bax and other members
were Alderman Evans, and Councillors Rothwell, Bishop, Hesketh, Johnson,
Langley, Marsden, Milnes, Pritchard, Sutton, Watmough and Wilson. On 31st
January 1900 the City Surveyor was instructed to prepare sketch plans for an
establishment with three swimming baths, private wash baths, Turkish baths, a
public hall and caretaker’s premises. On the 20th February that year the
Subcommittee decided to arrange visits to other baths in England and two trips
took place. On the first Subcommittee members were accompanied by Mr
Meek from the City Surveyor’s Department and Mr Derbyshire, the
Corporation’s General Superintendent of Baths and Washhouses. On the
second occasion the City Surveyor went with his assistant, Mr Arthur Davies.
Baths in Westminster, Shoreditch, Newington and Lambeth, all in London,
were visited, as well as facilities in Nottingham and Leicester.
It was decided to obtain water for the baths from a borehole, and in August
1900 John Thom was contracted to construct one. Water was not encountered
at the expected levels and Professor Boyd Dawkins of Owen’s College
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
consulted. He took a pessimistic view, but boring was resumed, ultimately
with a successful outcome. Water from this source was said to be cheaper than
water from the town supply.
In the meantime the City Surveyor’s department had been preparing drawings,
and the City Surveyor, Mr T. de Courcy Meade, presented drawings to the
Building Subcommittee in September 1900. These were approved, and de
Courcy Meade was asked to prepare the necessary drawings and estimates so
that an application could be made to the Local Government Board for
borrowing powers. The plans show three swimming baths arranged much as
they are now, and a large public hall attached by an entrance block to the rear
of the first-class pool. A suite of Turkish baths is shown in front of this pool,
where the male first-class wash baths were ultimately sited. At the next
meeting in October revised plans were submitted and the estimated costs
reported to be £57,000 of which £15,000 was the cost of the public hall. This
figure was considered to be too high, so the proposed public hall was
abandoned and new plans drawn up. These were submitted to the Committee
on 16th April 1901 by Mr Meek (almost certainly George Meek, who designed
the Free Library on Deansgate, 1882). If elevations were submitted they do not
seem to have survived, but it is clear that the general character of the building
had been decided by then. The minutes of the Building Subcommittee state
that the main façade was to be three storeyed with high-pitched roofs and
ornamental gables, surmounted by a clock turret. The minutes record that ‘The
ground floor has been raised 4 feet above the street level. This will give the
building a more noble appearance.’ The design is described as being
Renaissance style ‘and will be faced with Ruabon bright red pressed bricks
with mouldings etc. of buff terracotta.’ A detailed proposal appears in the
minutes with an estimated cost of £39,998.00. A set of plans dated July 1901
signed by A Davies survive amongst the committee records, and these are
probably similar to those considered at the meeting. They show the baths very
much as they were finally built, in terms of layout. An application for funds
was made to the Local Government Board, which later gave its approval.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
In December of that year the Building Subcommittee co-opted Arthur Davies
of the City Surveyor’s Department ‘who has prepared the drawings for these
buildings.’ The minutes note that he had been a temporary assistant in the
Architectural Department from January 1889, and was taken on permanently
in March 1900. At the same meeting the committee declared itself
‘exceedingly anxious that the Victoria Baths should proceed without any
further delay.’ Quantity surveyors (Hurrell & Taylor) were appointed the
following January (1902) and later that year the Corporation appointed Henry
Price as its first City Architect. This followed an incident early in 1902 when
the chief architectural assistant, a clerk of works, a district building inspector
and a measuring assistant in the City Surveyor’s department were all
dismissed, or forced to resign from the Council’s service, according to one
source for allowing bad workmanship on a new housing estate (probably at
Blackley). Over the next two years the roles of the City Surveyor and City
Architect were more clearly defined to prevent repetition of the trouble. As
part of the reorganisation, the City Architect acted as surveyor for all new
building while the City Surveyor remained responsible for drainage and
By August Price had added to the team working on the project by seconding
people from other departments, probably men with design and technical
drawing skills. He advised the Subcommittee that quantities could not be
estimated accurately without detailed drawings. In October he reported that he
had seven assistants working on the drawings, some of them preparing fullsized detail of the terracotta work. This is an indication that Price and his team
must have designed the detail of the terracotta, which would include all the
lettering and decorative plaques of the exterior.
The drawing were finally ready for the quantity surveyors and advertisements
inviting tenders for the work were placed in the press during February 1903. It
seems that final details had still not been agreed, since Price later reported to
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the Committee that the baths should be constructed of concrete, lined with
asphalt and finished with glazed brick. This, according to The Builder
(September 9th 1905), was the system used.
The system was one
recommended by A.H. Tiltman, whom Price described as ‘The greatest
authority upon baths in the kingdom.’ Tiltman had published on the subject in
1899 ( ‘Public Baths and Wash-houses’, Royal Institute of British Architects
Journal, February 11th 1899, p169-202).
Work commenced, but revised
estimates of costs reported to the Committee in May 1905 showed that the
project was running some £20,000 over budget. It was decided to apply to the
Local Government Board to obtain funds to cover the shortfall, and a
document, ‘Application for Additional Borrowing Powers for Victoria Baths,
High Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock’ was prepared in the spring of 1905. The
document gives a summary of how plans for the baths were arrived at. Some
of the dates given do not tally with the minute books, though this might reflect
technicalities in terms of how approvals were given, or clerical errors. It was
explained that the shortfall was due partly to underestimates and partly to
additions and alterations to specifications made by the Subcommittee. For
example glazed brick was used for cubicle walls rather than pitch pine,
terrazzo and marble floors were used instead of Derbyshire spar, and a laundry
was proposed. The Local Board eventually sanctioned the additional costs.
Meanwhile work was proceeding. Pilkington’s wire-woven glass was installed
in the pool roofs, and the engineering contracts completed. Once the extra
money had been approved the laundry was built, with machinery and
equipment installed under the direction of the General Superintendent of
Baths, J. Derbyshire. One last-minute alteration was the insertion of a staircase
into the Turkish bath to give access to the basement, where a lower room was
utilised as a cool room and decorated, according to The Builder (September
15th 1906) in ‘Oriental style’. Henry Price gave consideration to seating and
standing arrangements for the gala pool, noting that such a facility had often
been asked for in the past, and the baths were finally opened on the 7th of that
month. An account of the baths appeared in the Manchester Evening News that
day. It was reported that the in the Turkish and Russian baths featured
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‘everything that the most fastidious person may require in the way of douches
and sprays’. The report noted that the building was equipped with a coffee
room, bicycle storage room, and complete system of telephones and electric
bells. The provision of footbaths and showers was noted, for use of
‘workpeople going straight from their employment to the baths.’
Ground Floor Plan by the Architectural Department under the control of Henry Price,
the first City Architect
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2.3.2 Contractors and suppliers
The minutes contain details of various contractors and suppliers for the
project. In most cases the firms named undertook the work, but it is possible
that there were variations which were unrecorded. In other cases, such as the
stained glass, the suppliers are not named. The firm C.H. Normanton was
appointed as the main contractor. The subcontractors were: joinery, Hill &
Heys of Manchester; stonework John Marshall of Manchester; terracotta and
facing bricks, J. Edwards of Ruabon; ironwork, Manchester Iron & Steel Co.;
slating Thomas Murthwaite of Ardwick; plumbing, Robert Heyworth & Co. of
Manchester and plastering Owen Corrigan of Sale. Mr R. Thomas was
appointed clerk of works. All the engineering works were overseen by L.
Holme Lewis, the Waterworks Committee’s hydraulic engineer, who was
based at the hydraulic pumping station on Whitworth Street.
The tenders for engineering
separately and in September
1903 the following firms
were appointed: tanks, girders
columns pipes etc., R. & J.
Dempster. Messrs Galloway
Ltd, provision and fixing of
Pump House 1906
Lancashire boilers, superheaters, economiser, feed pumps, etc. The air
compressors, air lift device, valves, piping, etc. were provided by W.J. Ellison
& Co. Rolled steel joists and girders, Dorman Long & Co., Middlesborough.
Engineering components were supplied by the following: well pipes, Stewarts
& Lloyd, Birmingham; stop valves, Glenfield & Kennedy, Kilmarnock; boiler
plates and steam and other pipes, Spencer & Sons, Newburn; furnace fittings
(steelite), Ed. Newbold, Gatley & London; fusible Plugs, National Boiler and
General Insurance Co., Manchester; economiser and engine, E. Green & Son,
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Manchester and Wakefield; feed Pumps, Clarke Chapman & Co.; injectors,
Gresham & Craven, Salford; filters, Rankines Patent Filter Co., Liverpool;
steam dryers and steam traps, Royles Ltd, Irlam; mica covering, Mica Boiler
Covering Co.
Tenders were also obtained for heating the Turkish baths. J. Constantine &
Son were chosen after members of the Subcommittee visited the Turkish
Baths incorporating Constantine’s system in the Midland Hotel, Manchester,
which were considered to be superior to municipal facilities. In October it was
decided to substitute Pattesons mosaic and terrazzo for floor coverings of
Derbyshire spar. Later the committee inspected samples of tiles and decided
on those of Williams & Co., though it is not clear which part of the building
the tiles were for.
In 1904 the committee reported that it was ‘strongly in favour of adopting a
system by which water is pumped from the deep end of the swimming baths to
an overhead tank where it is aerated and filtered and then returned’ being
reheated on the way back ‘by means of the exhaust steam from the pump used
to lift water to the tank’. Royles of Irlam were asked to supply the system.
Tenders for a clock and bell were accepted from J.B. Joyce & Co. using a bell
cast by Taylors of Loughborough. J B Joyce & Co claims to be the oldest firm
of tower clockmakers in the world, originating in 1690. The firm supplied
clocks for many churches, public buildings and stations in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. Taylors was founded in 1839 and is now one of only two
bellfounders in England. Thomas Bradford & Co. installed a water chute and
diving board in the gala bath. The chute is recorded as being 12ft 6 in from
water level.
2.3.3. Decoration and architectural style
The building is highly decorative both inside and out, the most elaborate of
any of the municipal baths in Manchester. It is not clear who designed the
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
details of the exterior scheme as no elevational drawings made prior to Henry
Price’s appointment as City Architect have been identified, however the
general appearance, architectural style and the exterior materials and colour
scheme, had been settled upon by 1901. It is probable that existing designs
prepared by the City Surveyor’s Department were worked up by Price and his
team. The use of external terracotta became widespread for buildings during
the Edwardian period. In big cities like Manchester, where pollution
blackened buildings within a few years, terracotta created the opportunity of
cleanable colourful display which allowed the buildings to stand out from
their neighbours. Other large municipal schemes in Manchester incorporating
the material in the early twentieth century include the Municipal College of
Technology (UMIST) and the London Road Fire Station.
It is clear from council minute books that the terracotta detailing was designed
by Henry Price’s team. Although terracotta suppliers did produce catalogues,
special commissions with the detailing designed either by in-house specialists
or by architects or sculptors were common. Two good local examples are the
London Road Fire Station in the centre of Manchester, where the sculpture
was designed by the Manchester sculptor J.J. Millsom and the terracotta
produced by Burmantofts, and the Regional College of Art (now the
Grosvenor Building, Manchester Metropolitan University) where the
decorative terracotta by Doultons was designed by the firm’s head of
architecture W.J. Neatby.
The firm J.C. Edwards of Ruabon was founded in 1870 by Edwards, who has
been described as the ‘greatest manufacturer of terracotta in the world’
(quoted in M. Stratton, The Terracotta Revival, 1993, p.20.) He started out as
a brick maker and eventually employed around a thousand men in five works
near Ruabon in North Wales. The firm would have been experienced in
undertaking contracts of the sort required for Victoria Baths.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
detailing is typical of
the time. Renaissance
popular in the late
nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, in
combining various
Front Elevation 1906
European sources. Some of the detailing of the baths has a northern European
feel, drawing on English and Low Countries Renaissance sources. The tall
shaped gables, in particular are a typical motif. The use of polychromatic
finishes had been popular in England from the 1860s and 1870s, drawing on
European Gothic precedent. The possibilities offered by bright durable
terracotta and hard red brick allowed the designers to create a colourful
composition in a style often seen in Edwardian buildings for popular
entertainment such as theatres, billiard halls, gin palaces, and a little later,
The interior decorative
especially those used for
staircase hall of the firstclass entrance and the
first-class or gala pool.
The floor is finished in
First Class Entrance 1906
mosaic. It has an exceptionally attractive design of water creatures, including
fish, shells, eels and starfish. The pattern is more elaborate in the entrance
foyer, with the scheme in the staircase hall employing some slightly different
motifs. The maker was probably the Manchester firm of Patteson, who are
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
named in the council minutes as suppliers of the floor surfaces. The firm
started as stone masons in the early nineteenth century. By the early twentieth
century they had branched out into architectural sculpture, tiles, ironwork and
mosaic. It is not known who was responsible for the actual design. It could
have been an artist at Pattesons, and there would have been in-house expertise
as the firm frequently designed sculptural tomb and war memorials. It is quite
likely, however, that Henry Price’s team or even Price himself may have done
it. The scheme seems to be influenced by Roman mosaic and the design is
unlike that of any other mosaic identified in the Manchester area.
The minute books mention that tiles by the firm Williams & Co. were
approved, but it is not clear if these were tiles for specific areas, or for the
whole scheme. It may be that there was a (unrecorded) change in the choice of
supplier. In any event research by the Victoria Baths Trust has shown that
some of the tiles were supplied by Pilkingtons, and designs produced by F.C.
Howells of the firm have been identified as those used for the high dado in the
first-class entrance hall. While it was common for terracotta to be produced to
specific designs drawn up outside the firm, tiles were usually chosen from
catalogues produced by the suppliers.
The decorative glass falls into three main categories. Windows evidently
designed specifically for the baths show sporting and other themed scenes.
Small panes with conventional floral designs are incorporated into doors,
screens and so on. It may be that the same firm supplied all the glass,
alternatively the glass in the screens and doors may have originated with the
firm which provided the joinery. Although it is attractive, with designs of Art
Nouveau influence, it is typical of the glass supplied in joinery for use in
domestic and public buildings in the Edwardian period. Another type of
decorative glass appears in the men’s first-class washing baths area and in the
Superintendent’s flat. Designs are picked out in the leading but colour is not
used. The detail is suggestive of an interwar date, and may reflect a minor
phase of alteration undertaken during the 1920s or 1930s. In addition to this
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
the Superintendent’s flat includes coloured glass with designs of helms and
heraldry unrelated in design to other glass of the complex.
The glass which was almost certainly designed specially for the baths
illustrates sporting scenes (though not swimming) in the entrance foyer and
pay booth areas. In the Turkish baths there are landscape scenes and a large
colourful window with a figure which has been called the ‘angel of purity’.
This is a female figure with colourful butterfly wings grasping white lilies and
standing on a lily pad in a pool. Much of the glass painting has become faded
so that a degree of detail has been lost. This is a feature frequently seen in
glass of the Victorian and Edwardian period which is often caused by faulty
firing methods or use of impermanent materials.
The glass may have been produced by the workshop of William Pointer, who
was a glass merchant and stained glass painter (research by Victoria Baths
Trust). The firm was established in 1892, and William Pointer (1866-1919),
glass stainer, first appeared in the local directories in 1893 as a partner in the
firm of Cundiff & Pointer trading in the Ardwick Green area. In 1906 they
moved to 118 Grosvenor Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock. At the end of the year
the partnership was dissolved and the firm of Frederick Cundiff & Sons was
working from a London Road address and William Pointer from Grosvenor
Street. William Norman Pointer (1893-1965) took over after his father’s death
in 1919.
The copper plaque commemorating the opening of the baths was produced by
the firm of George Wragge. Wragge’s was a local firm which specialised in
the decorative arts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
including stained glass, metalwork and so-on.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
2.3.4. Details of structural, decorative, and technical changes
Various alterations have been undertaken at different times. The first-class
baths have had original stone steps, edging and rails removed and replaced,
perhaps for safety reasons. The introduction of textured floor tiles in various
places probably reflects similar concerns. The second-class baths have been
floored over. Changing cabins and gallery-level baths have been removed. The
first-class wash baths have apparently had windows reglazed, possibly in the
interwar period or during the 1950s. Doors to the main foyer are replacements.
They have been subdivided, the baths removed, and wall surfaces covered
with artex or similar. The womens’ entrance foyer and pay booth has been
altered with the insertion of a sauna and showers. Subdivisions beneath the
women’s stairs and at the south end of the complex were made to provide
facilities such as a first aid room. Another intervention in this area was the
installation of an Aerotone bath in 1952.
The Baths were fitted with a filtering and aeration system probably during the
1930s; certain anomolies with the dating of these changes are covered in
Gifford and Partners Ltd Engineering Condition Survey, March 2004. The
pool dosing equipment in the basement was added in the 1950/1960s.'
2.3.5. How the bath’s complex was used and how it functioned
The baths were open
females and strict
architectural design.
Mixed bathing was
introduced in 1922.
First class pool 1906
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Bathers used separate entrances with separate foyers and staircase access to
galleries. Interconnecting doors between the galleries were strictly for use by
the attendants. There was a sliding scale of charges.
The pools all had
changing cabins and were equipped with showers, footbaths and lavatories.
The males first-class pool was also the gala pool in which events took place,
and seating was provided in the gallery for spectators.
Wash baths were positioned in the galleries of the female and second-class
pool. The baths were of porcelain, and were in individual cubicles. Few
ordinary people had separate bathroom at this time, so the Corporation
facilities not only offered comfort, as the baths were larger than many
available in the home, but also privacy, a precious commodity in crowded
working-class dwellings. First-class baths were arranged in a separate block in
front of the gala pool, since the gallery area was designated for seating.
Turkish baths are based on a system of dry heat, while saunas and Russian
baths use steam. Users are exposed to gradually increasing temperature and
then pass through rooms of decreasing temperature, and finally to a room
where a shampoo and massage is given. The ideal of Turkish baths cutting
across class boundaries is given some credibility by oral history research
conducted by the Victoria Baths Trust. Users recall a mixture of people from
different walks of life and ethnic origins using the baths in an atmosphere of
According to research by Malcolm Shifren, the baths were used by all classes
and both sexes at different times of the day and week. ‘During the year 191314, when the total population of the baths' catchment area was 97,967, the
Turkish baths were used by 4,643 bathers, of whom 3,406 were male and
1,237 were female. By comparison, 163,897 bathers used the swimming pools
during the same period. However, in making this comparison, it is important
to remember that, as in most other places, only adults were admitted to the
M.R., Victorian March 2004)
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Swimming and water sports clubs were an important feature of bathing, and
some clubs were based at the baths, such as the Longsight Men’s Swimming
Club and the Victoria Ladies’ Swimming Club. embers benefited from
reduced entrance charges. Water Polo, children’s and schools clubs,
swimming instruction, life saving instruction. Competition swimming – large
size of gala pool made it useful for training. The relatively large size of this
pool made it useful for
training and it was used
Sunny Lowry, who went
on to swim the English
Olympic swimmer John
First Class Pool 1906
Swimming pools were often boarded over during winter months and used for
sporting and recreational purposes. Some pools were converted to gymnasia or
for indoor bowls, and many to dance halls, including Victoria Baths.
2.3.5. Decline and closure
By the time that mixed bathing was the norm the design of nineteenth and
twentieth century baths became an anachronism. It was usually the smaller,
women’s baths which closed first, and this is a reason for the better state of
preservation of the women’s pools at Harpurhey baths as well as Victoria
Baths. Improvements in housing meant that houses without bathrooms
gradually became a thing of the past and public facilities were no longer
required. Similarly, relative cheapness and availability of domestic appliances
meant that laundries, too fell into decline. Manchester City Council closed all
its laundries in the early 1980s. At Victoria Baths swimming and the Turkish
baths remained popular, however, but the building is large, with complex roof
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
patterns and parts of it were effectively redundant by the 1980s. The baths
were closed by Manchester City Council on 13th March 1993, though the
Council continued to own the building.
Many local people opposed the closure and the Manchester Victoria Baths
Trust, a buildings preservation trust, formed in 1993, started to consider ways
in which the baths could be run independently. In 1998 the Trust formed a
partnership in with the City Council, CHRC Ltd (a voluntary sector company)
and Central Manchester Healthcare Trust (an NHS Trust). The Victoria Baths
Partnership made bids from 1999 to 2001 for grant aid from the Heritage
Lottery Fund and the New Opportunities Fund towards the restoration costs.
These bids were refused in 2002. In 2003 the baths featured in ‘Restoration’, a
series of television programmes made by the BBC to highlight the plight of
historic buildings at risk in Britain. The public was invited to vote for the most
deserving case and the building was subsequently chosen to receive funding
towards partial restoration.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Historical and architectural significance
Victoria Baths are historically significant as a little-altered example of early
20th century public baths which retain almost all the essentials of plan,
including ancillary buildings and a forecourt with walls and gates. They retain
a little-altered interior decorative scheme, with a high proportion of fixtures
and fittings surviving in little-altered or intact condition. They therefore
exhibit a high degree of completeness.
In terms of architectural quality the baths are a good example of Edwardian
design, which, while adopting features and finishes typical of the date and
building type, represents a good, largely intact example. The interior
decorative scheme represents a particularly rich ensemble and is a noteworthy
example of an Edwardian municipal interior scheme.
The baths appear to be one of the most intact and richly decorated surviving
example of a municipal baths facility in England in the date range 1880-1915,
and a combination of desk-based research and selected visits has failed to
identify a comparable or better example in terms of completeness and
decorative richness. Desk-based research suggests that there are probably in
the region of eight or ten comparable examples (listed below).While there are
several examples of baths designed by well-known architects, some of which
are arguably of greater architectural merit, it does not appear that these
examples display the same high quality of interior decorative schemes and are
as intact.
Victoria Baths are listed grade II*. Planning Policy Guidance Note 15 states:
‘Grades I and II* identify the outstanding architectural or historic interest of a
small proportion (about 6%) of all listed buildings. These buildings are of
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
particularly great importance to the nation's built heritage: their significance
will generally be beyond dispute.’
In terms of local significance the baths are the most ornate and complete
example of a 1880 - 1915 municipal baths facility in Manchester, and as far as
can be ascertained, the North West Region. They illustrate the achievements
and ambitions of Manchester Corporation in architectural and social terms,
since they represent a public facility aimed at ordinary people which enjoyed a
very high standard of architecture, technology and decoration. They are one of
only a very small number of surviving pre-First World War baths in
Manchester, and the richest and most intact of surviving examples. The baths
are part of a group of significant public buildings erected by the Corporation
in the early twentieth century. Of that group they are the largest and most
ornamental example outside the centre. The Fire Station on London Road and
the Municipal School of Technology (now University of Manchester Institute
of Science and Technology) on Whitworth Street are examples in the centre of
town. Victoria Baths illustrates late nineteenth and early twentieth century
ideas about public facilities and segregation and they are a demonstration of
the type of public facilities provided by the Corporation.
National and regional comparatives
A desk-based overview of municipal swimming baths in England has shown
that there are in the region of thirty comparable listed examples in the date
range 1880-1915. It is possible that the English Heritage information sources
are not completely up to date, meaning that examples could have been altered,
added or removed from the list, or regraded to a different listing grade.
Facilities outside this date range have not been considered and neither have
those which were primarily associated with spas or brine baths, or private
baths and those built for institutions such as schools or colleges. Building
complexes which have lost their pools, or with later replacement pools, have
not been included. Examples which have been converted with total or near
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
total loss of interior features have also been excluded. Around half of the
sample are known to have been wholly or partly converted for another use.
Fewer than ten are thought to be relatively intact. In the cases of baths which
appeared to be comparable contact was made with the conservation officer of
the relevant local authority where possible in order to ascertain the current use
and condition of the building. Where the conservation officer could not be
contacted, attempts were made to speak to another planning officer. In some
cases local architectural historians with knowledge of the buildings were
contacted for information.
Listed municipal baths which seem to be broadly comparable appear below.
Current use has been checked as far as possible with the relevant local
authority or local information sources.
Public Baths, Cambridge Street, Batley. Listed grade II (1993). Designed by
Walter Hanstock in 1893. The description suggests that they are Baroque or
Renaissance style, and retain some interior features despite alterations and an
inserted ceiling in the pool hall, though pictures of the main pool suggest that
little original detail survives. In use as baths (2004).
Public Baths, Gibfield lane, Belper. Listed grade II (1979). 1910 for Herbert
Strutt (and therefore perhaps not strictly municipal). Stone, Neoclassical or
Renaissance, no details of interior. Converted to a club, no longer in use as
Balsall Heath Library and Public Baths, Moseley Road, Birmingham. Listed
grade II (1982). The baths date from 1907 and were designed by William Hale
& Son. They are described as having a ‘lavishly terracotta dressed
symmetrical façade, in colour and more conventionally Flemish-Jacobean in
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
detail.’ [sic] The interior is not described. These baths were vsited and are
described in more detail below.
Bournville Baths, Bournville Lane, Birmingham. Listed grade II (1980). The
baths are of considerable architectural merit externally. They were designed in
1902-4 by G.H. Lewin, and include a striking attached clock tower and a
sculptural panel by Benjamin Cresswell. The interior is reported to be
relatively intact but rather utilitarian. Disused, basic repairs of fabric being
undertaken. (2004).
Small Heath Public Library and Baths, Green Lane, Birmingham. Listed grade
II (1982). A large complex of 1893-1902 by J Henry Martin of Martin &
Chamberlain. Gothic Jacobean style, and very striking architecturally as a
complex, with a prominent clock tower. The interior is described as having
‘cambered iron trusses paired with trefoils and cast iron stiff leaf capitals,
columns and shafts. All the windows retain good leaded patterned glazing with
some tinted glass’. However it has been converted to a Mosque and it is
thought that many of these features may not have survived (2004).
Public Baths, Woodcock Street, Birmingham. Listed grade II (1982). Circa
1880. The exterior is screened by a 20th century extension, the interior
described as intact with terracotta arches, changing cubicles, a gallery, stained
glass and polychrome tiles. The baths are now part of the University of Aston
Sports Centre, and a photograph of a pool hall shows similar arched iron roof
trusses as those of Balsall Heath Baths. Original cubicles survive. (2004).
Two more listed municipal baths in Birmingham appear to be smaller and less
lavish. They are Nechells Public Baths on Nechells Park Road, listed grade II,
1910 by Arthur Harrison (converted), and Stirchley Public Baths, Bournville
Lane, listed grade II, on which very little information is available. They are
reported to have been disused for many years and to be in very poor condition
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
St Lukes Pool, St Luke’s Terrace, Brighton are listed grade II (1995). By
Thomas Simpson in Arts and Crafts Free Style. There is no interior
description. In use, interior modernised with inserted ceiling, modern tiles etc.
Bristol North Baths, Gloucester Road, Bristol are listed grade II (1994). 1912,
Edwardian Baroque style. The interior includes an ornate entrance hall and a
pool hall with many original features. The list description concludes: ‘A
complete Public Baths with considerable architectural attention to both the
front and inside’. In use 2004. These baths were visited and discussed below.
Hotwell Baths, Jacob’s Well Road, Bristol, are listed grade II (1977). 1881-7,
designed by Josiah Thomas. Northern Renaissance style, with much elaborate
decoration. The pool hall, or one of the two pools, was converted to a dance
centre in the 1980s. They are described as ‘A very fine example of their type’.
Public baths, Union Street, Chester. Listed grade II (1972). Designed by John
Douglas, 1898-1901. A complex with two pools, a wash bath wing and a
caretaker’s flat. The description suggests that the exterior is executed in
timbered C17 style, one Douglas is well-known for. The interior description
gives little information other than to report a gallery in the large pool hall
which has an iron or steel truss roof. John Douglas was an architect of renown
who worked extensively for the Duke of Westminster, and the exterior
architectural characteristics are likely to be of high quality, though the interior
is reported to be relatively plain. The relatively early date of listing for a
building of this type and date suggests the building has particularly good
architectural qualities. Disused
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Laurie Grove Baths, Laurie Grove, Deptford. Listed grade II (1991). 1895-8
by Thomas Dinwiddy. No full description available, but the baths, according
to the list description, have been converted to studios retaining many original
interior features.
Public Baths, Chelsea Manor Street, Kensington and Chelsea. Listed grade II
(1984). Circa 1900, English Renaissance style. No interior description. Part of
the old Town Hall complex designed by Leonard Stokes. The Buildings of
England volume describes them as: 'Part
of the town hall complex; 1877, rebuilt
1907 by Wills & Anderson, with
appropriate brick and stone Renaissance
front. Converted to a sports centre 1978'
These baths were visited and are
discussed below.
Brentford Baths, Clifden Road, Hounslow. Listed grade II (1980). 1895-6 by
the District Surveyor, T. Nowell Parr. Northern Renaissance style, and very
distinctive, though relatively small. Interior: ‘ original doors with leaded
coloured glass, women’s slipper baths…superintendent’s office, committee
room has original fireplace … pool extended at deep end … original wooden
gallery … men’s slipper baths converted to gymnasium’. Disused (2004). The
English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register 2003 states: ‘Public baths and
swimming pool of 1895-96. Closed 1990. Sold by London Borough of
Hounslow in November 1998 at auction. Application for re-use as offices and
residential refused by Borough, but subsequently approved on appeal in early
2002. Works now in progress’
Haggerston Baths, Whiston Road, Hackney. Listed grade II (1988). List
description not available. Described as English Renaissance style, designed by
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Alfred Cross (of Spalding & Cross) a leading public baths designer of the day.
Opened in 1904, cost £60,000. One swimming bath, wash baths, laundry.
Source: Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, June 27 1904. The baths were closed
in 2000. The exterior is fairly elaborate architecturally; photographs suggest
the interior is not particularly ornate.
Groundwork Trust Offices, Wells Way, Bermondsey. Listed grade II (1972).
1902 by Maurice Adams. The exterior appears to be ornate. Adams was a
notable architect who designed a number of public buildings including the
Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. There is no interior description but the
building has evidently been altered and part of it at least converted to offices.
Public Baths, Manor Place, Bermondsey. Listed grade II (1996). 1895 by E. B.
I’Anson. Arts and Crafts and Flemish Renaissance. The interior retains some
original features, including a ‘very large bathing hall’ and some tiling and
stained glass. I’Anson was an accomplished architect, and the striking design
of the building reflects this. Used as a storage depot. Awaiting information
from Southwark BC. English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register 2003
reports: ‘Baths, walls, piers and railings built in 1895. Former pool area used
for storage of machinery; front offices are unoccupied. Local authority looking
at options for reuse. Listed building consent has been granted for the bathing
Tottenham Public Baths, Town hall Approach, Tottenham. Listed grade II
(1988). 1905 by A.S. Taylor & R. Jemmett. Edwardian Baroque, a design of
some distinction. Two pools now converted to a community hall. No interior
description, but there have evidently been reasonably extensive alterations.
St Pancras Public Baths, Prince of Wales Road, Camden. Listed grade II
(1974). 1898-1900 by T.W. Aldwinckle, a well-known London architect.
Renaissance or Baroque with Art Nouveau detailing and a lavishly decorated
exterior with statuary, cartouches, bas relief scenes, etc. No interior
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
description. These baths were visited and are discussed below. In use as baths,
Dulwich Leisure Centre, East Dulwich Road,
Dulwich. Listed grade II (1993). 1890-2 by
Spalding & Cross. Queen Anne style. Converted to
a sports hall, but retains interior features such as an
elaborate stair, gallery and warm baths with
original fittings, according to the listed building
description. The architectural practice is well
known for its large municipal schemes of this
period. Alfred Cross was a leading expert on the
design of public baths who published on
the subject , and the firm Spalding &
Cross was a well-known firm which
designed many public buildings. These
baths were visited and are discussed
below. In use as a baths and leisure centre
Camberwell. Listed grade II (1993). 1890 by
Spalding & Cross. Renaissance/Queen Anne style.
The interior has been partially converted but
evidently retains a range of features including pools
with viewing galleries. The architectural practice is
well known for its large municipal schemes of this
period. Alfred Cross was a leading expert on the
design of public baths who published on the subject. One of his is his earliest
surviving bath complexes. These baths were visited and are discussed below.
In use as a baths and leisure centre (2004).
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Public Baths, Beverley Road, Hull. Listed grade II (1990). 1903-5 by the City
Engineer A. E. White. The description suggests ornate Baroque style. ‘Interior
has a sumptuous entrance hall and foyer with extremely fine quality Art
Nouveau tiling, which extends to the corridors and baths. Individual bath
cubicles retain all their tiling and original baths. 2 swimming baths also
balconies and tiling.’ In use. One of the
two pools has been decommissioned and
the hall converted for the heating system.
A separate vapour baths block is up for
sale (2004). These baths were visited and
are discussed below.
Municipal Baths and Transport depot, Caton Road, Lancaster. Listed grade II
(1998). No list description available. This may be identifiable with baths
known as Kingsway Baths in Lancaster which are disused and appear to be of
low-key design.
Bramley Baths, Broad Lane, Leeds. Listed grade II (1996). 1904, restored in
1992. Ornate classical exterior. The interior was not inspected at the time of
listing, but it is reported to have a very good, ornate interior and remains in
use. The baths were visited and are discussed below.
Picton Sports Centre, Glynn Street, Liverpool. Listed grade II (1985).
Probably Early C20 by T Skelmerdine. The description suggests a Baroque
style; the interior is not described, but it is thought to be fairly utilitarian.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Victoria Baths, Hathersage Road, Manchester. Listed grade II* (1983). By
Manchester City Surveyor and Architect ‘s Department, 1906. Renaissance
style, with an ornate exterior of terracotta and brick. Exceptionally wellpreserved and elaborate interior scheme including a Turkish bath suite.
Harpurhey Baths, Rochdale Road, Manchester. Listed grade II (1994). 190910 by the City Architect, Henry Price. Exterior with Baroque motifs. Interior
is fairly ornate, though much less so than Victoria Baths, and partially intact
but in very poor condition. Disused.
Public Baths, Gibson Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. Listed grade II (1987).
1906-7 by F.H. Holford. Renaissance Style. No interior description. Disused
Swimming Baths, Blackfriars Street, Salford. 1890 by the Borough Surveyors.
Renaissance style. Disused. No interior description, but it is thought to be
fairly utilitarian.
Public Baths, The Boulevard, Tunstall. Listed grade II. (1993). 1889. Rather
plain Jacobean style. No interior description, but thought to be without good
decorative schemes.
Victoria Baths, Promenade, Southport. Listed grade II (1976). The baths look
late C19 or early C20 in date, French Renaissance style. No interior
description. The baths were converted to a private leisure centre circa 1999.
Three pools are said to survive, as well as some original features such as
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
changing cubicles. Much of the original interior detailing, particularly that
relating to the entrance block, is reported to be greatly altered or lost (2004).
Public Baths, Knightstone Island. Weston Super Mare (no detailed address).
Listed grade II (1991). 1904, Edwardian Baroque style, described as a striking
composition. Minimal interior description mentions cast-iron columns, gallery
and iron trusses in main pool hall. Disused. A development plan is in
preparation (2004).
Public Baths, Lawson Street, Wallsend. Listed grade II (1986). Municipal,
1908 by E.F.W. Liddle & P.L. Brown. Baroque style. No interior description.
Disused (2004).
All the listed, broadly comparable establishments, according to current
information, are listed grade II. Baths listed grade II* or grade I are not strictly
comparable. Those listed at grade I have Roman origins or relate to ancient
and eighteenth century buildings. Apart from part of a Roman bath in
Leicester (Jewry Wall) they are all in Bath. Four examples falling into these
categories are listed grade I.
Grade II* listed baths include private and pithead baths, and as well as spa or
hydro establishments. The public baths listed at this grade are not strictly
comparable to Victoria Baths in Manchester as they are earlier in date. The
two nearest in date, interestingly, are both in the North West. They are the
public baths at Ashton-under-Lyne and those on Collier Street in Salford. Both
are imposing architecturally, but in both cases the interiors have been severely
compromised by alteration, removal of fittings and decay.
The following baths appear to have particularly good exteriors, in some cases
designed by architects of note.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Bournville Baths, Birmingham
Union Street Baths, Chester
Manor Place Baths, Bermondsey, London
St Pancras Baths, Camden, London
Baths, Chelsea Manor Street, Kensington and Chelsea.
Unlisted baths include those at Lister Drive, Liverpool, which are in use as a
pet shop. These are probably early twentieth century in date and retain some
good interior features including tiles designed by C.F. A. Voysey (Victoria
Baths Trust research).
Tiverton Road Baths, Bournbrook, Selly Oak,
Birmingham (in use) are reported to be a reasonably good example, perhaps of
borderline quality for listing. The same is true of the baths at Reddish, near
Stockport, which are in use. Numerous other unlisted late Victorian and
Edwardian Municipal baths exist. It is possible that some examples are of
listable quality, but it is unlikely that any comparable to Victoria Baths could
have been overlooked.
3.2.1 Baths visited for comparative purposes
Balsall Heath Library and Public Baths.
This facility is an extremely good and
relatively intact example of Edwardian
distinguished exterior with an interior
retaining many interior features. It forms
part of a memorable and impressive civic
scheme, including the adjacent library and former School of Art building
opposite The first-class baths are disused but appear to be substantially intact,
with galleries with decorative ironwork fronts, elliptical ironwork roof
supports and changing cabins. The second-class baths remain in use and retain
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
some original features including elliptical ironwork roof supports. Slipper
baths also remain in use, but access was not possible at the time of the visit.
The entrance hall has original pay booths and decorative terrazzo floors, and
much of the original glazed brickwork remains visible, and there is an original
stair. This is a very fine example with a good range of original interior
features. The interior decorative scheme is not as rich as Victoria Baths, in that
it lacks the range of stained glass seen at the latter, and the floor and wall
surface treatments are less decorative,
of terrazzo and glazed brick rather than
mosaic and decorative tiles. This
example, however, is the best of those
inspected and the only one to approach
Victoria Baths in terms of quality and
List Description.
The library of 1895 designed by J H Cossins and Peacock with the Baths
added to south in 1907 by William Hale and Son. The Library block consists
of a large collegiate type hall flanked to north by a prominent entrance tower.
Flemish and Renaissance details combined with some Arts and Crafts motifs,
all lavishly executed in buff terracotta contrasted with red brick walls. Deep
terracotta plinth carried up to level of 3 great hall windows with mullioned and
double transomed depressed arch lights (leaded with good decorative work to
heads). These windows are contained in terracotta banded pier arcade with
inner arch in moulded terracotta, spaced terracotta voussoirs carried into brick
outer arch. Above the windows the parapeted wall head is raised in terracotta
shaped gables with segmental pedimented aedicule niches. Flemish
Renaissance doorway at foot of tower with banded bulbous columns,
curvilinear terracotta gable-pediment swept above entablature to relief plaque
of city arms. The tower rising above has curved chamfer corners with
terracotta banding, the crowning clock stage and dome pinnacled short swept
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
spire is entirely terracotta faced with banding, pilasters, cornice and
balustraded niches, the spire capped by a miniature cupola. A rich, carefully
balanced design, the subtly varied scale within the overall composition
highlighted in the small extension with side entrance to the right of the main
entrance and in the detailing of the tower. The Baths follow the same idiom,
but with more lavishly terracotta dressed symmetrical facade, in colour and
more conventionally Flemish-Jacobean in detail. Three bay centre with oriel
below aediculed gable. Ogee heads to lights of mullioned windows. The
doorways emphasised by octagonal flanking towers, their terracotta cupolas
rising from oculi pierced bell stage. The central doorway has its swept-scrolled
pediment surmounted by a large polychrome statuary presentation of the City
Arms. To the rear north side of the bathe rises a tall cylindrical chimney stack
with deep arcaded neck beneath the crown. A commanding group of public
buildings in the street picture and epitomising the civic pride of the period.
Beverley Road Swimming Centre Kingston Upon Hull
The Beverley Road Baths in Hull are a very good
example of early C20 public baths in Edwardian
Baroque style with a strong Free Style slant and
the exterior has suffered relatively little alteration.
The interior retains a good entrance sequence
although only one of the three main entrances is in
use. The foyer and entrance hall retain original
decorative tiling on all the walls and there are
copper and tile plaques commemorating the
opening. Here the floor is in mosaic with the Kingston upon Hull arms. The
main entrance hall has terrazzo floors with some decorative features and
designs of water creatures. There is a barrel roof. A late C20 pay booth has
been installed in this area. Some original doors survive, many with decorative
stained glass panels with conventional Art Nouveau motifs. One pool remains
in use. This has a roof structure of iron with some decorative motifs. The
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
whole of the pool level appears to have been retiled and the pool has been
modified to create a separate shallow pool at one end. Late C20 fittings have
been installed. The upper level has (probably) original tip-up seats on all sides
and decorative balcony railings. The walls here are polychromatic brickwork.
A room beneath an arch at one end has been converted into a gymnasium.
Stairs up to the galleries are utilitarian in character.
The other two baths are no longer in use.
The women’s bath has been removed or
floored over and the area subdivided and
altered for vapour baths, etc. The other
men’s bath is now in use for heating and
filtration systems and access to it was not
possible. Other areas were inaccessible and
it is possible that both the pool hall and upper floor accommodation retain
original interior schemes.
The exterior is a good composition which, while adopting a different
architectural style and exterior finishes to Victoria Baths, is certainly on a par
in terms of quality. In contrast the interior does not retain the original entrance
and circulation arrangements, and has been substantially altered. Although
what survives of the original decorative scheme is good, it is essentially less
elaborate and complete than that of Victoria Baths. The treatment of the floor
surfaces is less elaborate and the stairs are utilitarian. Although there was a
vapour bath suite this was in a separate building being offered for sale and it
was not possible to inspect it.
In conclusion the baths in Hull are a very good example of some architectural
distinction with a sequence of entrance spaces with original lavish decoration,
fully deserving the grade II listing. It is clear that there have been significant
alterations since the building was listed in 1990, including loss of interior
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
features in the main pool. The interior is significantly less complete, less
elaborate and more altered than the Victoria Baths interior.
Listed Building Description.
Swimming baths. 1903-05. Designed by AE White, City Engineer. Red brick
with ashlar dressings and copper and slate roofs with 2 coped ridge stacks.
Chamfered ashlar plinth, sill bands and moulded cornice. Main front has a
central square tower, 3 stages, topped with an octagonal cupola with angle
scroll brackets and a copper dome with iron weather vane. On the first floor a
tall canted bay window with ashlar surround and arched hood. Above it a
small circular window under a deep eaves cornice which arches over the
window. Below, steps to the main doorway, with Ionic columns supporting an
open pediment, and panelled double doors. To the right, a gabled block, 2
storeys, with ashlar flanking buttresses and gable topped with a pediment. 7
small windows with short Ionic pilasters between them, and above, a Venetian
window. Beyond, on either side, a slightly recessed bay topped with a
segmental pediment, with steps to round-arched ashlar doorway with panelled
doors and overlight. To the left, a block, 2 storeys plus attics; 5-window range.
Central shallow canted bay window flanked by single wider bay windows, and
beyond, single narrow windows. Above again, 2 pedimented dormers with
scroll brackets. Below, to left, an entrance with glazed double doors. To its
right, a narrow bay window, then a wider bay window and finally a narrow
window. At the left corner, a single bay, 2 storeys, topped with an octagonal
cupola with copper dome. Left return, to Epworth Street, has 2 facing gables
with segmental pediments, and 3 doorways, all with prominent ashlar
surrounds with segmental hoods on brackets. Various windows, also with
ashlar surrounds. At the rear, a tall panelled chimney stack, formerly with a
decorative cap. INTERIOR has sumptuous entrance hall and foyer with
extremely fine quality Art Nouveau tiling, which extends to the corridors and
baths. Individual bath cubicles retain all their tiling and original baths. 2
swimming baths also survive, with their original roofs, balconies and tiling.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Bramley Baths, Broad Lane, Leeds.
This is a good example of the type,
smaller in scale than Victoria Baths,
but forming a fine ensemble. The
Edwardian Renaissance style, and
there is a good entrance sequence with
original doors and a pay booth of
timber with decorative stained glass. The floors have been retiled or recovered
throughout, as far as it was possible to see. There is a brass plaque
commemorating the opening in the entrance hall, and the wall finishes here are
of glazed brick. There is only one pool, and this retains original galleries with
decorative iron balustrades and coloured glass windows at either end of the
pool hall with a design with a landscape, birds, fish etc. The glass is fairly
simple in style and loosely Art Deco in inspiration, though close inspection
was not possible and it could possibly be late C20 replacement glass. The
pool, pool sides and lower walls have been retiled, though the original stone
pool edges survive. Changing cabins have been replaced. Original utilitarian
iron roof trusses survive. The wash bath hall has been converted to a
gymnasium retaining the original decorative cast-iron columns and double
roof. The former laundry has been
converted to a hall but appears to retain the
leading to the baths from the entrance hall
is top lit with decorative glass panels.
Russian baths remain in use but have been
altered with retiling etc.
Bramley Baths are a good example of a baths complex of the period though it
is smaller in scale than Victoria Baths. The decorative finishes are neither as
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
extensive or elaborate as those of Victoria Baths and there has been loss of
detail and original finishes.
Listed building description.
Public swimming baths. 1904, restored 1992. Coursed gritstone and ashlar,
slate roof, part glazed. Corner site with 2-storey, 3-bay entrance block and
single-storey baths complex with chimney. Classical style. The entrance block
has double doors and fanlight under ornate scrolled hood supported by console
brackets; flanking square windows, 4-light mullioned window right, 3 twolight windows to 1st floor; Dutch gable over bays 1 and 2 with Leeds coat of
arms and 'PUBLIC BATHS 'in recessed panels; owl and ball finials, hipped
roof and corniced end stacks. Moulded strings at 1st-floor level are continued
across the single-storey range at window lintel and wall top levels. To right of
the entrance: gateway with double wooden gates, square piers with cornice
and ball finials; to right again a 2-storey gabled engine-house block with
segmental-arched entrance, double wooden doors, wrought-iron scrolled panel
in overlight, round-arched window in gable above; to rear the tapered square
chimney has moulded stone brackets and deep cornice. The baths complex to
left of entrance has 2 two-light windows in ornate pedimented surrounds with
aprons below and small moulded round-arched pediment rising above parapet.
On left return (Calverley Lane) there are 2 projecting entrance bays with
keyed round arches, pediments with scrolled plaques, ball finials and pyramid
roofs, 4-light mullioned window with pediment between. The gable of the
swimming baths roof rises to rear and has a keyed round window, scrolled
kneelers, gable coping, raised triangular pediment over a carved band with
central plaque and scrolls. INTERIOR: not inspected but reputed to contain
fine stained glass, tiling and decorative features retained during extensive
restoration. 8 public baths were built in Leeds during 1899-1904; this is the
only complete example surviving.
Swimming baths in Bristol and London.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Bristol North Baths were visited and found to have quite a good unaltered
exterior, but a relatively workaday interior. Four late C19-early C20 baths
complexes were inspected in London; those at Camberwell, Dulwich, Chelsea
and Camden. The Camden and Chelsea examples have good exteriors,
especially the St Pancras Baths in Camden. The Dulwich and Camberwell
examples have substantially complete and little altered but rather plain
exteriors. The baths are not described in detail since none has an interior
comparable to Victoria Baths or the other examples discussed in more detail.
All the interiors were relatively utilitarian, though most had at least some
decorative treatment to the main pool hall galleries. All have been fairly
substantially altered and although those at Dulwich, for example retain
original pay booths, none has any notable stained glass, tiled surfaces, mosaic
or other decoration comparable to the examples described in more detail.
3.2.2 Conclusion
The desk-based survey sought to review the existing stock of comparable
buildings and to place Victoria Baths in a national context with regard to
similar establishments in England. The survey identified examples which
appeared to be broadly comparable and this was refined again through
discussion with those with first-hand knowledge of the buildings. This
produced a short list of baths, which were visited. Of the those visited Victoria
Baths is the most intact example with the most lavishly decorated interior.
This suggests that it is probably the most intact and lavish example of its date
and type in the country.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
The Victoria Baths complex is a Grade II* listed building that is owned by
Manchester City Council. The baths were operated by the Council until 1993
when the decision was taken to close the doors to the public. At this time the
Manchester Victoria Baths Trust and Friends of Victoria Baths were formed in
recognition of the high level of local opposition to closure.
Several attempts have been made to raise money to repair the buildings since
this date. In 2002 English Heritage assisted the Trust by granting money to
undertake emergency repairs.
Success in the BBC sponsored series ‘Restoration’ has underlined the need for
a number of studies of the baths. This conservation plan is one of those
Conservation Plans research the history of a place, endeavour to understand
the nature of the development of the site and gauge significance. The authors
then use this information to raise and consider issues and vulnerability that
affect the structures and site and suggest policies to assist any development
that may take place. The most pressing considerations for Victoria Baths are
the maintenance of the listed structure and the assessment of the significance
of the elements of the building. This will in turn allow the options appraisal to
address the site in an informed manner and to put forward ways to develop it
in the least detrimental but most viable way.
Inevitably Conservation Plans are unable to offer solutions to often intractable
problems. The aim must be to table a series of policies which will aid the
decision making process – even if the assistance is in the form of constraint.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
For the plan to succeed it is important to ensure that the stakeholders and the
wider public are able to give their support.
Issue – Ownership
The Baths are currently owned by Manchester City Council. During the nine
years since closure the decline in the building was continuous until the
injection of funding from English Heritage for emergency repairs. However,
due to rampant dry rot and badly laminated steel sections both joinery, timber
structure, steel structure, floors, walls and finishes have been seriously
affected and some instances lost. The emergency repairs are a temporary
solution in an attempt to stem the water penetration into the building until a
future use is found. The aim in 2002 was to safeguard the fabric for a period
of 3-5 years. Various ownership hybrids are being debated as part of the
options appraisal and it is recognised that ownership of the baths in their
current condition may well be seen as a liability.
However, one key to the successful future of Victoria Baths is the establishing
of a legal entity to be responsible for the safeguarding of the building.
Policy –
To develop within the options analysis an appropriate method of retaining or
transferring legal responsibility to an appropriate body capable of responsible
stewardship of this fine listed building.
Comment – This is not a straightforward issue and it maybe that any new
owner of this would either expect to be given/or be expected to provide a ring
fenced fund for future maintenance.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Issue – The future of the site
The future of the baths is at the very centre of the current debate. It is clear
that the ideal would be to identify a use (or uses) for the various parts of the
complex that imposes minimal impact on the built fabric and remain
sympathetic to the original purpose of the site.
It is also clear, given the geographical location and nature of the building, that
reuse without substantial intervention may be impractical. This dilemma is the
major challenge for the design team. Victoria Baths has a national profile as
witnessed in the TV programme ‘Restoration’ and by visitors on open days
travelling from as far a field as Somerset, Scotland and the Home Counties.
Policy – The successful solution to the reuse of this building must incorporate
a flexible approach that fully respects the areas of highest significance.
Comment – The solution may involve the modification of any proposal to suit
the building in the primary areas but should also allow a degree of adaptation
of the building to support the new usage in others.
Issue – New Development and Major Change to Existing Fabric
There is an immediate prospect for significant alterations to the Victoria
Baths complex. This immediately places the listed structure in a vulnerable
Policy – The design and construction of any new structure or alterations to
Victoria Baths will involve reconciling the new work to the old so that the
significance of the old is maintained and not diminished. Any new building
work or major alteration within the original site should be of a standard and
quality at least commensurate with the historic building.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Alterations and new work should be preceded by an impact assessment and
justification statement which sets out:
The proposed work.
Relevant policy considerations (LBC, Planning, Conservation Plan).
The significance of elements affected.
The impact upon them.
Consideration of alternative options
experienced in work to historic buildings should be appointed for any work.
Issue – Retention of the Elements of the Victoria Baths site that are of
greatest significance.
The various studies that are underway at present are charged with drawing up
a scheme that respects the architectural and historical interest of the site and
provides long term economic viability.
These two requirements can be seen contradictory and certainly achieving full
self-funding is likely to involve compromise with the fabric.
Policy – Certain elements of the Victoria Baths must be retained without any
destructive modification (High significance). Further areas are slightly less
critical but modification would have a detrimental effect on the character of
the high significance areas and therefore the Baths complex as a whole
(Medium to High significance). Other areas can be seen as less important
(Medium significance). Further ancillary spaces may be able to accommodate
considerable alteration (Low significance)
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Please refer to the gazetteer for comprehensive plans and significance ratings
for each space.
Set out below are descriptions and examples of this
hierarchical assessment:
High significance – extremely sensitive elements where justification
for any change would need to be very robust.
Hathersage Road elevation and external forecourt (Gazetteer ref
EX1 and EX5).
Males First class entrance hall and pay office (Gazetteer ref G1-3)
Male First class pool hall and gallery (Gazetteer ref G4 and G5).
Turkish Bath suite (Gazetteer ref G16-23).
Female pool (Gazetteer ref G14).
B. Medium to High significance –sensitive elements which support areas of
high significance and contribute to the overall coherence of the complex’s
spaces or character, justification for modification would need to be very
Male Second class pool hall and gallery (Gazetteer ref G10 and
Male Second class and Female entrance halls (Gazetteer ref G7,
G8, G9 and G13).
Boiler house, pump house and chimney (Gazetteer ref – Boiler
House, Pump House)
West elevation (Gazetteer ref EX2).
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Medium significance –sensitive elements where justification for
change would need to be strong, and particularly shown to contribute
to the retention and successful use of areas of higher significance.
North, and East elevations (gazetteer ref EX3 and EX4).
Committee room suite and superintendent’s flat (Gazetteer ref F17, F9, S1-5, S8 and S9).
Laundry (Gazetteer ref Laundry)
Low significance – areas that are not of overriding importance and
where sensitive modifications would be admissible.
Club rooms (Gazetteer ref G25, G27 and G29).
Basement store and support rooms (Gazetteer ref B1-8).
Issue – Access
Victoria Baths, like many buildings of historic interest, was constructed
without consideration of access for all.
Whilst the ground floor is
predominantly at one level the entrances and access to the basement (apart
from external ramps), first and second floors is by staircase only.
Policy – To determine which areas can accept intervention to allow access for
disabled persons whilst accepting that the essence of current legislation lies in
‘reasonable’ levels of accessibility. Victoria Baths is a building of special
Architectural and Historic Interest and this interest will need to be balanced
against the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act and Part M of
the Building Regulations.
Comment – It is hoped that intervention by insertion of major structure
associated with lifts can be limited and carefully located. It must be accepted
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
that as part of the process of reuse alterations of this type are essential.
However, the constraints which are part of the existing fabric at Victoria
Baths should be assessed and gauged.
One method of undertaking this
assessment is an Access Audit which would lead to an access plan.
Issue – Resources
The problem of funding is well known to the Manchester Victoria Bath Trust
and to Manchester City Council alike. However, the resource problem at the
baths exists on at least three levels.
The current process is aiming for approval from funding authorities to
proceed with the complete external overhaul of the front block and
reinstatement of the Turkish Bath suite limiting work to the rear of the site to
enveloping work only.
The subsequent challenge will be to identify the partner with whom to move
the project forward to include the pool halls, boiler house and remainder of
the site. This work will cover the reinstatement of the pool hall. However, it
is well recognised that the work to the rear of the site must be programmed
and resourced prior to undertaking the work to the front block.
Finally, consideration must be given to ongoing management and
maintenance in the expectation that this building will require continuous
significant financial support.
A prudent provision may be to establish a maintenance fund to be in place to
allow further work to the building to be logically programmed around the
established use.
Policy – To ensure that any funding solution caters for both the immediate
securing of the whole external envelope and Turkish Baths complex whilst
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
also looking forward to the development of the entire site and support for the
fabric in the longer term.
Comment – Creation of secured funds for buildings that demand a high level
of maintenance with periodical major capital expenditure is a method used
successfully elsewhere in similar circumstances.
The revenue to cover any operating shortfall is equally difficult but – as
established in early Council minutes – the baths required subsidy from the day
they were opened.
Issue – Maintenance
Buildings deteriorate rapidly when left to the ravages of nature and the
elements. Complicated buildings with complex methods for shedding water
from roof to ground tend to deteriorate more rapidly.
Victoria Baths has suffered from a regime of limited and expedient
maintenance during the 1980s and early 90s followed by little or no structured
maintenance until 2002.
This building is extremely vulnerable to
deterioration and, as was clear by the extent of dry rot attack, be the subject of
a detailed regular maintenance programme.
Policy – It is essential to have an effective detailed structure wide system for
planning, approving and undertaking maintenance and repair work.
One authority should be responsible for – and should ensure that – all work is
undertaken to an agreed standard that is commensurate with the importance of
the building.
Comment – This building has suffered from extended indecision about its
future. If the building is now, finally being recognised as being of national
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
significance a complete change in the approach to safeguarding the baths is
essential. The historic fabric must be retained and any work undertaken to
any element of the building must identify and be sympathetic with the nature,
materials and workmanship of the original construction of the building.
Issue – Public Safety
The Victoria Baths complex is identified by the Trust as a building which is
dangerous. This is clearly explained to all visitors at each open day and tours
on such occasions are always accompanied (although visitors can also
circulate in all areas of the building deemed to be safe). The dereliction of the
exterior is less worrying at present as the building has been worked on in the
last eighteen months.
Internally, however deterioration does continue
although it is well monitored and where possible arrested.
In the longer term health and safety checks for the building structure will be
Policy – The suitability of the site for public access must be assessed on a
regular basis whilst the current preparatory process is underway. A straight
forward risk assessment undertaken by a structural engineer or building
surveyor prior to each public access or opening would be prudent.
Beyond the current process a full health and safety audit will be required.
Comment – A note of caution must be sounded here. Slipping glazing to the
rooflights, extensive (although hopefully arrested) dry rot growth, heavily
rusting and laminating sections to floor structures are all present at Victoria
Baths. Without overreacting the current condition of the failing elements of
the structure must be appraised prior to any public access.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Issue – Inappropriate Structures
There are within the curtilage a number of inappropriate interventions which
detract from the site as a whole.
Inevitably these structures have all served some purpose and in some ways
add to the overall appreciation of the development of the site. However, this
development process should give an opportunity to reassess their contribution.
The structures include:
Aerotone in current location
The concrete sheds in the yard.
The wooden garages.
The modern changing cubicles.
First aid room in female pool entrance area.
Policy – In the drawing up of any reorganisation of the site inappropriate
structures which hardly relate nor add to the whole should be considered for
removal or remodelling.
Comment – It would be entirely appropriate to assess the value of the
extensions and alterations to this set piece. Largely these modifications have
not been undertaken to the exacting standards of the original development.
Issue – Structurally Weakened Structures (see also 3.4 Retention of
The condition survey has identified that the laundry has failed foundations,
above ground structural problems, failed roof and damaged secondary
elements such as doors and windows. (See gazetteer entry for laundry).
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Policy – It is clear that a disproportionate cost will be associated with the
retention of the laundry building. This building – which is now thought to
have been built with the main baths complex – may need to be sacrificed.
Comment – This structure, whilst interesting, is a separate, stand alone
building which is located centrally in the yard to the rear of the baths.
It is thought that the sacrifice of the structurally weak laundry thus opening up
the yard is acceptable in the context of the whole.
Issue – Statutory Considerations
Listed Building consent is required for any works that affect the architectural
or historic character and special interest of the building.
The criteria by which such applications are judged are currently set out in
Planning Policy Guidance Note 15 (PPG15) and in particular in Annex C of
the PPG ‘Guidance on Alterations’.
Justification and impact assessment statements are required to support any
application to modify the subject building.
Listed building consent for private owners is granted by the local planning
authority in consultation with English Heritage.
Applications for listed
building consent lodged by a local planning authority are determined by the
regional Government Office with the advice of English Heritage.
Planning Permission will also be required to support any material alteration
to the building.
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
Policy – English Heritage and the Council’s Conservation Officer should be
consulted at an early stage about any proposals for changes of use, alterations
or extensions to the existing buildings.
Comment – The heritage status and significance of the building must be taken
account of in any interpretation and/or implementation of regulations or
Issue – Understanding and Record Keeping
The early history of Victoria Baths is fairly well documented and understood
in general terms. However, the building has been altered a number of times
and there has been deterioration which together have conspired to erode the
original clarity of the plan and uniform quality of the interior. The current
options analysis may well entail further destruction of the remaining fabric.
There is currently no consistent record of work undertaken and fabric
Policy – Drawn and photographic records should be kept of all alterations to
the building. The record should relate to the scale of the work and should be
maintained in a single suitable public archive as well as with the building
Comment – It is important that a complete record of the significant elements
of the existing building be kept to assist in repairs and to inform future
proposals for change.
Issue – Interpretation
The understanding of how Victoria Baths functioned and its place in the social
history of Manchester at the beginning of the twentieth century is both
Victoria Baths Conservation Plan
important and fascinating. Furthermore, successive generations are becoming
further detached from this municipal solution to the cleanliness and
healthiness of the population.
For example, the concept of three pools was challenged as early as 1918 (just
12 years after Victoria Baths opened) as women began to share facilities.
Poolside changing and public hygiene bathing are now also largely things of
the past.
Policy – The proposals should allow for the collecting together of all the
research work of both this document and the last ten years work of the Trust
and the Friends. Accommodation should be made available for a small visual
display to enable and encourage the understanding of the Baths in their
Comment – The nation’s fascination with this water palace has been made
clear by both the television programme and the number of visitors.
In order that the history of the place survives a small ‘shrine’ to the past
should be included in the proposals, supported by discreet local boards where
Issue – Vulnerability of site
The Victoria Baths site has been exposed to lengthy periods of neglect over the
last twenty years.
Lack of maintenance has led to the worst of the
deterioration but vandalism and security have been issued that arrived on the
back of the neglect. The surrounding area is going through change at present.
There are major initiatives underway along Plymouth Grove.
The local
community is involved in the baths and does seem to have a spirit of
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Policy – To continue to engender local support as the current project develops.
To ensure that the final scheme offers tangible, accessible benefits to the
people who live around the building as well as developing a wider audience.
To establish a maintenance programme (see 3.7 maintenance).
To ensure that proposals meet current security recommendations both for the
safeguarding of the structure and its users.
Comment – The identification of a usage for the baths that will allow and
encourage local access whilst maintaining a special attraction for those from
afar will be a difficult balance to achieve.
Issue – Building Services
The successful introduction of the high levels of comfort and servicing that is
now required in building of this nature will be extremely difficult to achieve in
the Edwardian Victoria Baths.
Policy – The depth of thought and research currently involved in the early
stages of this project will need to continue throughout development and
construction of the services package. Compromise will have to be accepted
but it must be clear that, as with architectural interventions, all alternatives
have been considered before any solution is accepted.
Comment – There is always a fear with work to historic buildings that the
mechanical and electrical servicing does not receive the same level of design
attention as the structural interventions. Victoria Baths will be a very highly
serviced building and it will be critical that careful route planning for
pipework and cabling is undertaken.
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Published sources
Cunningham, C. and Anderson, J., eds., The Hidden Iceberg of Architectural History,
Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, 1998
Manchester Corporation, 1945, City of Manchester Plan
Manchester City Council How Manchester is Managed, a record of Municipal Action,
annual publication, 1925-1939
Campbell, A, Report on Public Baths and Wash-houses in the United Kingdom,
Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (Edinburgh), 1918
T.R. Marr, Housing Conditions in Manchester and Salford, 1904.
Stratton, M, The Terracotta Revival, 1993
Taubman, A., Webb, P., and Wetton, J., 1990, Everyone’s A Winner The History of
Sport in and Around Manchester
Architects and Building News 'Manchester and District Plan', 10 & 17 August 1945
The Builder, September 9th 1905 p282; September 15th 1906, p.328
Building News, 12 October 1877, p. 356
Manchester Evening News September 7th 1906
Royal Institute of British Architects Journal A.H. Tiltman, ‘Public Baths and Washhouses’ February 11th 1899, p169-202
Unpublished Sources
Manchester Corporation Baths and Wash-Houses Committee minute books Vols 7-18
Ramsden, S., Baths, Wash-houses, swimming pools and social history: a case for
conservation. University of York MA dissertation, 2001
Research files, Manchester Victoria Baths Trust
Shifrin, M.R., Victorian Turkish Baths March 2004