Thursday, 8 July 2010

Victoria Baths - spa of the past and future

A couple of months ago, I was commissioned to copywrite a series of case studies for Togetherworks, a social enterprise network for Greater Manchester. One of my subjects was Victoria Baths, the spectacular partly-restored Grade II listed Edwardian public baths on the edge of Longsight. Manchester residents may remember the building from the BBC's Restoration programme, presented by Griff Rhys Jones, which Victoria Baths won in 2003, giving a huge boost to both its public profile and the fund-raising campaign.

The best-known parts of the Baths are the three swimming pools (one of them now covered over to form a sports hall), with their glass roofs and original, seaside-blue changing stalls. But more exciting to me, and more pertinent to this blog, is that fact that the old Turkish Baths, with their glorious coloured tilework, have now been largely restored, and may even be the first part of the building to be brought back into public use. As well as the various hot and cold rooms of the Turkish baths, with their long tiled and wooden benches for relaxing on, there are also a pair of 'Aerotones,' the first public jacuzzis installed in the UK (in 1952). They look to me more like my Grandad's old twin-tub washing machine and not something I'd want to climb into for pleasurable purposes, but they're not likely to be on offer in a hurry.

After years of fund-raising and wading through the bureaucracy of restoring a listed building, the Victoria Baths Trust, which is licensed to look after the Baths on behalf of the owners, Manchester City Council, is only now in a real position to think about how to make the facilities available to the public. According to Mike Franks of the Victoria Baths Trust, they're hoping to find a similarly environmentally- and socially-minded organisation, perhaps a not-for-profit, to run the operation for them. Fingers crossed the find one soon. In the meantime, anyone interested in the building and its history can join a range of tours and open days.

As part of the case studies, Dave Gee, a marvellous Manchester photographer, took a range of photos of the Baths. Here are some of the thumbnails:

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