The wood and stained glass panels have been lovingly restored by generous volunteers and friends of the building that was erected in 1906
Victoria Baths, a Grade II-listed building that stands proudly in the middle of Hathersage Road in the Chorlton-on-Medlock area of Manchester, has undergone its latest restoration. Since its opening over a century ago, the visually stunning building has been subject to a series of refurb projects that began in 2007 with a multimillion-pound figure, restoring the front block only; mainly the roofs, stained glass and clock tower (the building has not been in full working since it closed). The impressive works were unveiled this afternoon.
we can all agree what a stunning difference it makes to have the stained glass back
Elizabeth Sibbering, known as ‘Sibby’ is the Managing Director at Victoria Baths and spoke fondly of the building and the volunteers who had dedicated so many hours to the Gala Pool doors’ new lease of life.
“Over the years we’ve had a very dedicated group of stained glass volunteers who repaired some of our amazing internal glazing,” said Elizabeth as visitors and those that had given up their time and money to the project eagerly awaited the unveiling in the First Class entrance hall.
“There’s eight beautiful panels in these doors,” she continued, gesturing towards the curtain that was keeping the doors’ new appearance a secret for the moment. “They were made by Jenny Thompson who, at that time, was overseen by a stained glass teacher called Ian Lonsdale.”
Elizabeth then gave thanks to the generous donor who covered the costs of the refurbishment, John Lucas, who has also paid for the doors on either side to be repaired, ready for new stained glass panels to be made and fitted at a later date.
“We’re really appreciative of all our supporters who contribute in so many ways to this building, both financially and with their time. This ensures that we can continue to repair and preserve this magnificent building, to keep it in public usage - it’s what we all really want to happen.”
The baton was then handed over to contributor John, who had the pleasure of unveiling the newly reworked doors to the audience who had come to see them in all their glory.
“I think we can all agree what a stunning difference it makes to have the stained glass back.” grinned John proudly as he provided the moment we’d all been waiting for, revealing the doors to “oohs and ahhs" from the applauding onlookers.
A look at the renovation side-by-side with an image of the original doors back in 1906 shows you how accurate the modern work is. The glass has been painstakingly and intricately assembled to replicate the doors’ former appearance, making it hard to tell them apart. The Victoria Baths Stained Glass group have done a fantastic job in bringing back their charming appearance.
The double doors lead you to the poolside of the Gala swimroom - one of three magnificent and grand ex-swimming pools situated in the building. I caught up with Elizabeth after the unveiling ceremony to find out more about the building and its history.
“Manchester City Council couldn't afford to run the building anymore and shut it in 1993. There was a huge campaign of local people to bring it back into public use who then became the Friends of Victoria Baths, and then they formed a charity. Without those people and those volunteers, this building might not still be here.” explained Elizabeth
To this day, the building is still owned by Manchester City Council and has seen its fair share of limelight over the years, including winning the BBC restoration programme in 2003. It’s also featured in award-winning TV series including Life on Mars and Peaky Blinders. Late comedian Victoria Wood even visited the baths and Pep Guardiola shot adverts with Puma in the Gala pool itself.
The Gala Pool is still used for swimming, but just for one day a year due to there not being enough funding to return it back to its original state full-time just yet.
The space doesn’t go to waste, though. Victoria Baths is home to regular events throughout the year, including gigs, fayres, photoshoots and even weddings.
Victoria Baths will be opening its doors to welcome the public again on 15 April for SpringFest; an annual celebration of music and art from talented individuals across Greater Manchester and beyond. Tickets are £7 (including a £1 voluntary donation fee) - friends of Victoria Baths and those under 16 can attend free.
If you’re in the area on a Wednesday, pop in between 11am-3pm for a mooch around or bite to eat from the Tea Room. The grand tiled hallways and maze-like rooms are worth a wander around and there’s plenty to be learned from the archives that are dotted around the venue.
It’s a popular piece of Manchester’s history, hence why the Friends of Victoria Baths are so keen to keep it in working order and open to the public. They are always looking for volunteers to help keep the building in use so, if you find yourself with a spare hour or two and would like to lend a hand, get in touch.
Follow Harley Young on Twitter @Harley__Young
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