Victoria Baths was built between 1903-1906 under the supervision of Henry Price, Manchester’s first city architect. It cost £59,000 to construct, almost three times what was normally spent on public baths.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, segregation in swimming and bathing both by gender and by class was the norm. Where an establishment only had one or two pools then segregation would take place by giving each class of users different days of the week to bathe. At Victoria Baths there are three separate wash baths for males 1st class, males 2nd class and females. To use the 1st class facilities you had to pay more, 6d compared to 4d in 1906.
The water for Victoria Baths came from a well which was specially sunk for the establishment. It is said that the water was first used to fill the Males 1st class pool, then it was returned to the water tanks, filtered, aerated, re-heated and used in the males 2nd class pool, then recycled again and used in the female’s pool!
Having the smallest pool and perhaps third-hand water didn’t prevent swimming from being a very popular activity for women and girls in the early 20th century. Most girls learnt to swim through the schools swimming programme and there was a separate swimming club for women and girls – the Victoria Swimming Club.
When it opened in 1906, Victoria Baths on Hathersage Road, Manchester, was described as “the most splendid municipal bathing institution in the country” and “a water palace of which every citizen of Manchester can be proud.” Not only did the building provide spacious and extensive facilities for swimming, bathing and leisure, it was built of the highest quality materials with many period decorative features:- stained glass, terracotta, tiles and mosaic floors.