Wednesday, July 27th 2016
Manchester is always a fascinating city with plenty to fascinate the visitor, especially such as we who have an interest in history and architecture. For today’s trip we had a particular goal in mind, as the title indicates.
For trips like this where we travel by train, we make use of our railcard which gives us a third off the normal ticket price. It is called the Two Together Railcard and, as the name suggests, you have to travel together in order to qualify for the reduced price. On weekdays, the card is valid on journeys after 9:30 am but at weekends and on bank holidays, you can travel as early as you like.
Because today is Wednesday and we travelled after 9:30, we were a little pushed for time and so we set out for our main destination as soon as the train reached Manchester Piccadilly Station. Even so, we could not ignore the historic and often beautiful buildings that we encountered along the way and often stopped to admire and photograph them. Above is a very large but handsome warehouse that still proudly bears the name of the firm that owned it, Joshua Hoyle & Son, traders in cotton goods. Designed by Charles Heathcote & Sons and built in 1904, it now has a deserved Grade II listing. These days the building houses the Malmaison Hotel and Smoak restaurant.
This building – or I should say, façade – was already hard enough to photograph because of its size. Even taking it at an angle, it was necessary to stitch several photos together. Even so, the joke was on me because I discovered only later that this ‘building’ is in fact only a part of the whole complex. The complete design is a triangle, so there are two other façades that I didn’t see and photograph! A creation of architects Woodhouse, Willoughby and Langham, it was built 1901-6, though the inscription ‘ERECTED ANNO DOMINI MDCCCCV’ suggests a completion date of 1905. This Grade ii* listed building is referred to as the Fire and Police Station but it in fact included a number of other services as well, including an ambulance station, a bank, a coroner’s court and a gas-metre testing station. (They don’t do things by halves in Manchester!) Perhaps on another visit I will manage to photograph the other façades and complete the set.
This is a local primary school and it opened in 1906. Apparently, classes were originally divided by floor, with Infants on the ground floor, Girls on the first floor and Boys on the second. More information about the school, and its recent addition, together with reminiscences and photos of past times, see the article Plymouth Grove Primary School on the Longsight Memories Website.
Despite these various distractions we eventually arrived at our destination, the magnificent Victoria Baths. In the late Victorian period, personal hygiene came to be seen as an important social, as well as individual, concern. The homes of poorer people, and even those of the more affluent classes, were not provided with bathrooms. Local councils began to build bathing and laundry facilities for the use of citizens to promote good health and also for reasons of civic pride.
Manchester responded to this need by building the magnificent Victoria Baths. Few other towns produced baths even approaching the beauty of these. We arrived during a sunny interval and were able to photograph the building as it shone in all its glory.
The baths were designed by the city surveyor, T. de Courcy Meade and opened in 1906. They continued in use until 1993 when they finally closed. Efforts are now being made to secure funds to restore the baths to their original glory and this worthy project has made a promising start. For more information, see the Victoria Baths Website and this Wikipedia article.
Though cleanliness and the means to achieve it were for all, class consciousness still played an important part in the design and running of the baths. It seems that women were less concerned about class than the men because there is only a single entrance for ‘females’ and a single pool for them to use. Not so, for the males, however.
Male bathers were divided by the simple stratagem of levying two entrance charges. This is the entrance for ‘Males 2nd Class’. Men entering here paid 2d (two old pence) and were given access to the smaller of the two male pools. Also, the cubicles in which they changed lacked doors.
The entrance for ‘Males 1st Class’ is no different in appearance from that for the 2nd class but admission here cost 4d (four old pence). The pool was larger and was later also known as the Gala Pool and was used for swimming events and competitions. The cubicles here were provided with doors.
Later on, the strict segregation of the sexes was relaxed on Sunday mornings when mixed bathing was allowed so that families could enjoy the facilities together.
While admiring the elaborate façade, you might easily miss this discreet entrance. It is not for the public but gives access to the private apartment of the Superintendent of the Baths. This role was a prestigious one and the size of the flat and its position on the top floor reflect this.
We arrived before the official opening time but were allowed to come in and wait. We were admitted by the old 1st Class Males’ entrance and found the ticket booth and turnstile still in place. Notice too the beautiful tiling and the high-quality stained glass.
There was to be a guided tour of the baths but in the meantime we were admitted to the Sports Hall which can be hired for events. (I think the balloons were left over from a birthday celebration.) There is also a cafe in this hall.
The building can be hired for various purposes as a reasonable way of earning money for the restoration. In our case it was slightly unfortunate that several locations were being used for rehearsals by a dance group and as they were juveniles, we were asked not to take photos in areas where they were present. This cramped our style somewhat.
This is the pool that was used by female customers. You can see how the glass roof provides plenty of natural light. The railings on the upper level are original but those around the pool are temporary ones, necessary to prevent people from falling into the empty pool. As is standard, the floor of the pool slopes so that there is is shallow end and a deep end, the latter being 6 feet (approx. 1.8 metre) deep.
Natural light is used wherever possible though, inevitably, some areas are darker than others. The green tiling appears everywhere and is both ornamental and easy to clean. Great attention has been paid to the layout of all areas and all features, such as stairs and doorways, are well proportioned and aesthetically pleasing.
The floors are made of mosaic which is easy to clean but can also be worked in beautiful and appropriate patterns and pictures. In this passageway, the floor motif is fish.
One of the more remarkable features of the Victoria Baths is the amount of stained glass. This is to be found everywhere on both external and internal windows and screens. I have collected some of these and present them as two slideshows below:
Some of the glass windows and screens represent sporting activities while others show flowers or imaginary scenes and figures. It was then, as it is now, unusual to find so much stained glass and of such quality outside religious buildings. Perhaps the intention was to convey the message that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ but I also think that beauty was an end itself.
The establishment also included a full set of Turkish Baths, complete with hot and cold and cooling-off rooms. Here, as throughout, the same attention to detail and to aesthetic concerns is to be seen.
On leaving, we went into the yard and had a look at the tall chimney for the boiler house and the big water tanks. When the baths closed in 1993, everything was left less more or less as it was and the hope, therefore, is that a full restoration can be achieved to bring these magnificent baths back into operation and to be once more a venue and facility of which the people of Manchester can be truly proud.