Inside Victoria Baths, Manchester

Everywhere you look in Victoria Baths reveals flashes of glory, glimpsed through a patina of old age and gentle neglect. A century after its Edwardian inception the building still stands elegant and ornate on Hathersage Road, wearing the rigours of degradation and dereliction remarkably well. The Baths are being slowly and lovingly restored, so while the character of the buildings remains, the fabric is being delicately reconditioned.

I first visited these Baths in 2003, ten years after their doors were finally closed to the public. For some time I’d been taking an interest in some of the less well-known spots in Manchester that weren’t benefiting from the redevelopment elsewhere in the city. A workmate and I used to drive around the ‘twilight zone’ in the south, east and north of the city during our lunchbreaks. Victoria Baths was one of the most intriguing buildings we came across. From the outside the building looked beautiful but neglected: when I found out volunteers had a series of open days I couldn’t wait to glimpse what lay within.

Later that year, Victoria Baths won first prize on the BBC’s ‘Restoration’ programme, which marked the start of a long process to restore parts of the building. The Turkish Baths have now been partially restored, and the ongoing process of renovation continues. The building was open to the public as part of the Heritage Opendays programme this September, and I was impressed at how much more clean and cohesive it felt after six years.

View 1: Ladies Pool

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Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash, or for more info in Google Earth and Wikipedia.

View 2: The Aerotone Machine

I love this room: the shining, retro futurism of the Aeratone sits oddly against the grandiose Edwardian surroundings.In 1952 the first municipal Aeratone therapeutic bath (effectively a jacuzzi) in England was installed at Victoria Baths. It was unsurprisingly very popular, and was used right up until the Baths closed in 1993. The control console looks like something from the set of a 50s sci-fi movie, and the experience of being enveloped in a glistening, warm well of bubbles must’ve seemed like the height of swank and luxury. I look forward to the day when I can have a go…

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Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash, or for more info in Google Earth and Wikipedia.

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