Building Secrets: Stretford’s Long-Lost Victorian Public Swimming Baths

Opening back in 1885, the baths stood for just under 100 years...

I was at a gig a couple of weeks back of the Untold Orchestra at the Stretford Public Hall on Chester Road and so naturally, I started looking into the history of the building and found some treasures.

Not only was the building’s construction funded by one of Manchester’s most famous sons, it was also home to a swimming baths for just shy of 100 years – something I never knew, but apparently – lots of you lot remember.

Let’s start things off with how the Public Hall came to be and then we can move onto the swimming pool(s) round the back.

John Rylands – what a beard!

The man behind it was John Rylands, someone who most of you will have heard of at some point or another living in Manchester, you’ll find his name everywhere, and he’s one of the city’s most famous sons, and was actually it’s first ever multi-millionaire.

He made all of his money in textile manufacturing, learning how to weave and then moving into manufacturing hand-looms. He eventually moved into the wholesale trade and made some serious till, employing a workforce of 15,000 in 17 mills and factories across the region, producing 35 tonnes of cloth a day.

Rylands is well noted in the city for his philanthropic endeavours, helping many of the city’s civic projects get off the ground and actually funding many of them himself.

He helped get the Manchester Ship Canal built, he established and maintained orphanages, and he provided a town hall, public baths and a library to the people of Stretford, where he lived in his massive house in Longford Park.

He commissioned the ‘Town Hall’ of Stretford in 1878, roping in architect N. Lofthouse to create a grand building in a mixed gothic revival style for the cost of £30k all in.

It was initially to be used as the town hall, as well as a library with 3,000 volumes (a first for Stretford) and best of all – a public baths which was plonked on the back of the building and accessible from an entrance on Cyprus Street.

There was a brief dispute following John’s death in 1888, as the people of Trafford decided to move the Town Hall duties to the current Trafford Public Hall on Talbot Road, and shortly thereafter, his widow Mrs Enriqueta Rylands placed the building at the disposal of the public, charging a small rent for the privilege.

When she died in 1910, the Hall was sold for £5,000, a very generous gift from Rylands and a building that has been in the possession of Stretford Council (now Trafford) until 2014.

But what about the Public Baths round the back!? Well yes, they were very popular indeed, open for just shy of 100 years until the building itself fell into serious disrepair.

The entrance to the baths on Cyprus Street

There were actually two pools here at Stretford, with the larger pool being added later on in 1913 “for the gentlemen”. At a time when mixed bathing was severely frowned upon, two pools were necessary to ensure that the many people who wanted to go swimming actually could do so without bumping into the opposite sex.

Looking for information on the baths I came across this fantastic exchange between two commenters on the excellent Chorlton History blog…

Unknown, 8 October 2018 at 10:43

“Does anyone know what happened to the wonderful old Stretford Baths on Cyprus Street? Girls on one side, boys on the other. I learned to swim there around 1950 and got a certificate for 25 yards breast stroke. I lost the certificate and would like a replacement copy please.”

“I remember walking back after getting the electric train back from the baths at Stretford, from Warwick Road station to Kings Road with a bunch of other local lads, all smelling of chlorine with damp hair and damp towels rolled around our “costumes”, and another nosey group of local yokels asked us; “Had we been swimming??!!” Met with appropriate derision of course!”

steven forde31, January 2019 at 12:19

“Knocked down”

What a lovely exchange. The fact ‘steven forde31’ couldn’t even be bothered with any grammar, or to type the words “it’s been” makes it even more touching.

In 1940 the new Stretford Library was opened on King Street, and the Public Hall’s books were carted over there, rendering the building pretty much surplus to requirements.

The only pictures of the baths left

It re-opened in March 1949 as the Stretford Civic Theatre, with a well-equipped stage for the use of local groups and musicians, and then when the Stretford Leisure Centre opened in 1977 – now Stretford Sports Village – the Cyprus Street Baths’ time was up.

By 1978 the building’s boiler was becoming unreliable and repairs to the building were needed. In addition, the larger pool was declared unsafe and closed, leaving just the smaller pool for people to use.

On 31st March 1982 the Cyprus Street baths were closed to await demolition. The boiler had apparently “blown up” a few days earlier and all of the local swimmers were forced to move over to the Sports Centre on Great Stone Road. It wasn’t long until the building was demolished, replaced by social housing.

The Public Hall itself was also suffering from the same disrepair as the baths round the back, and even though it was designated as Grade-II in 1987 – not much was done with it for the next decade.
Trafford Council gave it a bit of a refurbishment to use for offices in 1995, until finally they vacated the building altogether in 2014.

It’s at this point when the Friends of Stretford Public Hall secured the freehold on the Hall and began in earnest it’s most extensive renovation works to date. The whole community helped raise the necessary funds for the renovation, creating a new community space on the ground floor and reinforcing the Ballroom floor upstairs.

The ballroom itself has been lovingly restored following a major fundraising drive that began with a successful community share offer in 2017.

Over 800 local residents and organisations invested over £250,000 in the hall, to undertake essential work to renovate the ballroom and adjacent spaces as part of local volunteers’ plans to transform the hall into an active community hub.

Further grant funding of over £500k was secured for the ballroom’s restoration, which has visually transformed the space alongside modern improvements such as fully functioning and versatile kitchen areas, accessible toilets, a new heating and ventilation system (including traditional cast iron radiators), and adaptable LED lighting.

With most of the work taking place during the series of lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, Friends of Stretford Public Hall have begun to finally invite the community and the people of Manchester to come and enjoy the stunning space.

For more information on events and booking events at Stretford Public Hall, head on over to their website right here…

www.stretfordpublichall.org.uk

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