issue 15 featured a page about Levenshulme Baths, the historic swimming pool in the Manchester suburb of Levenshulme, drawn and written by John Mather, who got in contact after setting himself the challenge of swimming in each of Greater Manchester's 50-odd public pools.
His project is now complete, and the resulting guide, Greater Manchester's Public Swimming Pools: A Pictorial Guide, is out now. Mather's watery journey was a labour of love, and he fights the corner for what he terms “swimming's unique and often understated role in society” – the Guide is clear that the function of swimming reaches far beyond health and fitness to encompass social and community benefits. As well as acting as a guide to each building and each pool's facilities, Mather's book goes out beyond the pool doors to take a wider look at the people and communities they serve, taking care to include something memorable or special about each pool's location, from local landmarks to famous innovations such as Rolls-Royce (Stretford) and Stephenson's Rocket (Eccles), and show the “fascinating and diverse collection of towns and people” that is Greater Manchester. Each entry is handily annotated with essential information such as contact details, location and amenities such as parking.
The Guide is often humorous, and Mather slips in references to local celebrities, from the Rochdale Pioneers, who opened the first successful co-operative shop in the town, to Frank Sidebottom (Altrincham), John Cooper Clarke (Broughton) and George Formby (Atherton), as well as local personalities such as longstanding swimmer Sam Quinn, who has been a Broadway Baths regular for 75 years.
Pool buildings have social history written into their brickwork and tiles. Now derelict, Collier Street Baths in Salford, opened in 1856, is Britain's oldest surviving swimming baths building. Withington Baths in Manchester, which still says 'Men' and 'Women' above the entrance where the sexes would once have been separated before entering the water, took the daring step of allowing the city's first mixed bathing in 1914. No visit to Manchester's pools, of course, would be complete without a reference to Edwardian water palace Victoria Baths (despite the current lack of water!), and Mather considers the past, present and future uses of the building.
Central Baths, which were still in use as recently as this summer, have now been demolished. The futures of Levenshulme and Chorlton Baths are both uncertain, and there are plans to close the historic, much-loved Royton and Crompton pools in Oldham (Crompton Baths is the oldest Baths in Greater Manchester still serving its original purpose) in order to replace them with a single, modern facility.
Greater Manchester's Public Swimming Pools: A Pictorial Guide can be purchased for £5.99 at www.lulu.com/shop/john-c-mather/greater-manchesters-public-swimming-pools/paperback/product-20441129.html.