The Origins of Victoria Baths
In the early 20th century, when Victoria Baths was first built, few houses in the surrounding area had bathrooms of their own. As such one of the primary purposes of the baths was to provide washing facilities for the local people. They were designed by Henry Price, Manchester's first City Architect, in 1902, and opened in 1906 with 64 public wash baths.
These only took up a small portion of the building however. Elsewhere it boasted three olympic-size swimming pools, a Turkish baths with three hot rooms of varying temperatures and a wet steam room (the Russian bath).
The building was decorated outside with an impressive brickwork and terracotta facade and inside with glazed tiles from floor to ceiling and stained-glass windows. All this was pricey however, the bathhouse having been built for the princely sum of £60,000 (about £9.33m in today's money).
The Life and Death of Victoria Baths
The swimming pools were to begin with designated separately for first-class males, second-class males, and females, but in 1914 mixed bathing was cautiously introduced and by the 1920s families could swim together weekly on Sundays. During the winters the main pool was floored over for dances. In 1952 the country's first jacuzzi was installed at the bathhouse. It was a Manchester hub for hygiene, exercise and leisure, but t was expensive to maintain and this lead to its closure in 1993. After 86 years of serving the local people it was to shut its doors for good.
The Reincarnation of Victoria Baths
In 2003 the bathhouse won a bid to be restored on the BBC show Restoration. As a result it was awarded £3.4m in lottery money and a grand reopening scheduled for 2006. Unfortunately a survey later revealed that a lot more time (and money) would be needed than originally thought. The main pool got filled in 2006 and a centenary celebration held, but this was only a temporary reopening.
A new phase of refurbishment began in 2008 but the bathhouse is still waiting to be returned fully to its former glory. In the meantime it has been used as a concert venue, exhbition centre and shooting location for the likes of Life on Mars and Sherlock Holmes. The building can be visited for free every Wednesday between 11am-3pm, with guided tours available for £8 at 1pm.
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