The Victoria Baths are the oldest and first swimming pools in Nottingham. They first opened their doors to the public in 1850. Here you will find specific details about the history of the building and the various extensions and refurbishments that have gone on over the years:
The General Inclosures Act of 1845 was necessitated by the appalling housing conditions prevailing in Nottingham, whose slums – created by such a density of population in such a small space – have often been described by social historians as the worst in the world at the time.
Under an “Act to encourage the Establishment of Public Baths and Wash-houses”, which had been proposed on 2 February 1844 but which was only passed on 26 August 1846, “about 120 acres were allocated to the Corporation in trust for the inhabitants, including the site of the present Victoria Park and cemetery, and the present Victoria Baths which occupy the same site as the first public baths to be built in Nottingham.” There was a covenant on the open space at Sneinton Market, which was always to be dedicated to open public use.
On 26 June 1849 a report was submitted to the Council which stated:
“Public Baths and Wash-houses are greatly appreciated and much used wherever they are established, and there probably is no Town where their value would be more felt than in Nottingham. The fact that the majority of the houses in Nottingham are without any Yards, and without any Rooms to wash or dry Clothes in, except those in which the Family sleep and live, which shows how greatly public Baths and Wash-houses might promote the comfort and health of our fellow Townsmen.”
The first baths and wash-houses in Nottingham were constructed at the present Gedling Street / Bath Street site of Nottingham, under the direction of Corporation surveyor H Moses Wood, and opened to the public on 16 December 1850. Wylie’s Nottingham handbook of 1852 stated:
“The building is of brick and one storey high; the interior is commodious and well fitted up. There are baths both for males and females, and the charges are exceedingly moderate. They are open on Sundays as well as on week-days, and the wash-houses are open on the week-days from eight o’clock a.m. to eight o’clock p.m. In the latter department there is suitable drying apparatus, and this has been of much benefit among the humbler classes of the community, whose homes do not furnish the requisite convenience for washing. Altogether the admirable situation is calculated to elevate both the physical and moral nature of the inhabitants.”
Enjoying an elevated position relative to the town centre, the building provided 24 washing tubs with suitable drying stoves, six Private Baths and two large open Tepid Baths, one for men, 52 ft x 12 ft, and the other for women 27 ft x 12 ft. The swimming bath was an open-air plunge bath 102 feet long by 44 feet wide.
Be that as it may, the appearance of the building attracted ridicule, and when in1859 it was decided to build a further swimming bath “for Females of the Working Classes” the opportunity was taken to add some “architecture” to the building in the form of a rather splendid Italianate tower complete with clock, such towers becoming a common feature on swimming baths. According to Allen’s Handbook to Nottingham, Turkish baths were added; these functioned for over twenty years. By 1876 the baths were no longer administered by the Council, but let out, somewhat unsatisfactorily it would seem since the Council on 29 December that year “instructed the Engineer to report upon the best method of improving the same… It is absolutely necessary that the older portion of the Baths should be thoroughly painted.”
By now the Engineer main recommendation was that the open-air bath “be made into a first class swimming bath by enclosing it in a new building and adding dressing boxes and other conveniences. The size of the new building will be, internally, 120 feet long by 62 feet and a half wide, and will fill up the space to the boundary of the Ragged Schools… I propose to form the roof of arched lattice ribs of wrought iron, 16 feet span, with cast iron spandrels [sic]; and between the ribs to use clean wrought-stained and varnished timber purlins, rafters and boarding, and upon the latter to lay Welsh slating. The Bath will be lighted during the day by a continuous louver, formed of wrought iron and glass, with ample means of ventilation. The interior faces of the building will be of polished brickwork; the worked iron will be open to future polychromatic decoration, and by night the lighting will be effected by ornamental gas pendants.”
The “arched lattice ribs of wrought iron” remain in situ. Following a report of 1892, the original Gedling Street baths (other than the Tarbotton work on the original open-air pool mentioned above) were declared to be dilapidated and insanitary, and pulled down in 1894 with a view to rebuilding. Renamed Victoria Baths they were reopened on 15 June 1896, a report of the Committee stating that the accommodation now comprised
– Exhibition Bath 110 ft x 35 ft
– Small swimming bath 70 ft x 30 ft. This bath reserved on certain days for Ladies.
– The old first-class Swimming Bath 105 ft x 42 ft. This Bath, for which only a small charge is made, is used principally by Boys, and is extensively patronised and appreciated by them.
– There are also 10 first class and 10 second class slipper baths for men, and 4 first class and 6 second class for women.
The “elegant and interesting” new building was provided with a Tower, into which were fitted a large clock and bells. “Behold, yon lighthouse tower” declared a contemporary writer, his words finding expression in street theatre performances which took place in Sneinton Market. This tower, nearer to the Gedling Street / Bath Street junction than the previous one, created (and creates still) a landmark, a punctuation mark clearly visible from Robin Hood Street and Handel Street and equally visible form Brook Street above the Ragged School. It reflects a time when public buildings announced their presence with towers, this one going well with the discreet classical façade beneath it.
The rebuilding was carried out under tformer assistant who had become Borough Engineer in 1880 and had been responsible for the relandscaping of Victoria Park.
Wash-houses were added in 1926, with further building work along the Bath Street elevation bearing t. The interiors are unchanged in terms of tiling etc but now house boilers and other plants.
There remains part of a Jewish bath or MIKVEH in the complex. It dates from the time of the rebuilding, ie 1896, when Jacob Weinberg endowed two such MIKVAOT, the other being at Radford Baths and no longer existent. The Mikveh at Victoria Baths survives (at least in part) as a storeroom, with a lot of original tiling though no longer to its original depth.
The 1850 Oval Pool does indeed survive under the Sports Hall floor; the pool was in use until 1973. On 19 September 1975 the Sports Hall was opened, with at the same time the new building in Gedling Street containing squash courts on the site of some derelict shops. Also opened at this time was a Remedial Suite (Turkish Bath Suite and Sauna Bath Suite). And this is the Victoria Leisure Centre we see today.