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MANCHESTER'S VICTORIA BATHS ACHIEVED NATIONAL FAME IN SEPTEMBER 2003 when they beat nine other entrants in the BBC television show 'Restoration' and won over £3m of restoration money. In this Eyewitness in Manchester we take a look at the building in 2003, 2001 and 1998 and find out why so many people all over the UK voted for the baths.

THE ORNATE FACADE OF THE VICTORIA BATHS overlooks Hathersage Road, formerly High Street at the southern end of the once well-known district of Chorlton-on-Medlock, close to Rusholme, Longsight and Victoria Park. 'Manchester's Water Palace' was built in 1906 by Manchester Corporation. In 1993, despite many protests, Manchester City Council, successors of the Corporation, decided for financial reasons to close the baths. Since then the Victoria Baths Trust has been working towards having the baths restored and reopened. In August 2003, the building featured on the BBC tv programme 'Restoration' and was voted into the final by viewers all over the country.

EWM says: I still find it amazing that a precious amenity of both health-giving and historical value could be shut down and left to rot in the way it was. The Victoria Baths website (address below) gives a very informative personal account of the closure of the baths, and the campaign to restore and reopen them.

INSIDE THE VICTORIA BATHS the First Class Males pool stands empty of water, though the tiles and brickwork appear remarkably well-preserved. This is the grandest and most imposing of the three pools. The Manchester Corporation coat of arms takes pride of place above the central archway. Despite appearances, the metal beneath the brickwork is corroding and needs urgent attention.

EWM says: When I first entered this area in 1998, the floor of the pool was covered in bird droppings, some of the windows were smashed and pigeons fluttered about the rafters. Thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the Victoria Baths, the floors are now clean, the shell has been made secure and the birds have been permanently excluded.

THE FIRST CLASS MALE POOL is here filled with water - virtual water created in Photoshop. The tiles, brickwork and coat of arms look remarkably well-preserved after 97 years. Unfortunately, there is more deep-seated structural damage to the building, though nothing that can't be repaired with sufficient time and money - £15m is the estimated cost for the complete restoration of the building.

EWM says: In the grand scheme of things, £15m is not a lot of money. The Urbis Centre cost £30m, the proposed roof of Victoria station £27m.

THE FIRST CLASS MALES POOL as seen from the front right hand corner of the viewing gallery in May 1998. The pool is empty of water. Through the three arches at the far end are the showers. The Manchester Corporation coat of arms takes pride of place above the middle arch.

EWM says: I attended the nearby Xaverian College from 69 to 76 when it was a boys grammar school. I remember maths teacher Mr Bacchus organising swimming galas - which he pronounced 'gaylas' - here at the baths, which he referred to as 'Hathersage Road Baths'.

THE STAINED GLASS BAY WINDOWS at the front of the building have coloured designs in the Art Nouveau style. Here a woman in a purple gown with butterfly wings rises up over a blue pool with reeds, waterlilies, giant orchids and songbirds.

EWM says: The building is full of the things which contemporary buildings lack: charm, beauty, eccentricity, a pleasure in the swirling forms of nature. These embellishments were intended to enhance the experience of using the building and give a sense of civic pride.

STAINED GLASS WINDOW POSTCARD featuring three of the windows at the Victoria Baths, all in the Art Nouveau style. The left hand window is oval shaped and features houses and woods. The centre windows overlook the No1 pool on the first floor and have a design with pods, red berries and green leaves. The right hand window has a windmill surrounded by flowers leaves and parchment scrolls.

EWM says: I have a higher resolution version of this image which is available to anyone who promises to SUPPORT THE CAMPAIGN TO RESTORE AND RE-OPEN THE VICTORIA BATHS!

VICTORIA BATHS STAINED GLASS WINDOW with medieval galleon and floral designs. The swirly lines inspired by flowers and plants and the pale pastelly colours are characteristic of the Art Nouveau style, made famous by Alfons Mucha and other artists in the late 19th century.

EWM says: It's worth restoring the building for the stained glass windows alone.

THE CLOCK of the Victoria Baths are frozen at five minutes to five. Zooming in on the details of the exterior the clock face seems quite well preserved, though the brown and white paintwork on the corner sections is cracked and peeling off.

EWM says: I wonder if there is any significance to the time showing on the clock - the big hand pointing to the eleventh hour, the small hand pointing to five, the end of the working day.

THE CLOCK TOWER SHOWS five to five, though I took the photo at 7.40pm on 12 August 2003. Beneath the unlit clockface are the words 'Well loved' in large handwritten illuminated letters. The sign is a work of art created by Alison Kershaw entitled 'Bienamada' Spanish for 'Well loved'. Like fairground or advertising signs, the letters flash on and off and grow brighter and dimmer.

EWM says: The sign is great, expressing what we, the local people, feel about this amazing building. I took the photo just before joining other supporters in side to hear the results of the Restoration viewer poll. Thanks to a 52% vote from the British public, the Victoria Baths won a place in the final.

 

All photos and articles © Aidan O'Rourke

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