Chapter 23 Leisure Services is now online

Read chapter 23 here.


The portfolio of Leisure Services covers a wide range of things that are often highly valued by the public. Manchester City Council owned and was responsible for parks and gardens, public baths and laundries, sports halls and leisure centres, public halls, including the city’s major concert venue, the Free Trade Hall, plus libraries, art galleries, museums and theatres. The Committee also had responsibility for allotments, cemeteries and crematoria and the organisation of a range of festivals and events.

In the period 1984 to 1997 that this chapter covers, the services were the subject of numerous changes to the management and committee structures, driven in parts by CCT and the overall budget cuts required. Repair and maintenance needs, beyond the funds available, led to closures and public outcry and protests. The protests for Victoria Baths were particularly well organised. The chapter also has a large section about Heaton Park, the franchise for the golf course proving particularly challenging on a political level, but also initial proposals being objected to strongly by the public.

Editor’s Comments

I found this chapter troublesome to split into sub-sections because of the so many different strands. I have ended up using an extra layer of sub-headings because I felt it useful to highlight the changes of subject area, but in some cases a sub-section only has a paragraph. It feels to me that the section about Heaton Park could almost be a chapter in its own right, especially if Kath is right that this series of events were what led to Graham Stringer’s loss of leadership. However, although she says that is her belief, I don’t feel she has really got across why that would be so.

On a personal note, what Kath hasn’t mentioned about Victoria Baths is that when she first moved to Manchester, when I was eight, that was our nearest swimming pool, via a walk through Whitworth Park. The house we moved into didn’t have an inside toilet or a bathroom – that was in 1973. We had a mortgage and a grant from the Council. The grant was to put a bathroom and toilet inside the house. I remember while the work was being doing when we first moved, we had to go to Victoria Baths to have a bath. They had cubicles that had a standard bath inside and coin machines for the hot water, like you still sometimes get at camp sites. The four of us of – two adults and two children – went and used one bath full of water (not all in it at the same time!).

We also used to go swimming there regularly, by bus from school, but also in the holidays a group of children would go by ourselves on foot through the park. When I have done the route as an adult, I feel it’s quite a long way for children under 10 to be going by themselves, but it wasn’t thought anything then. I remember very clearly one school swimming lesson having to sit out at the side because Mum had sent me to school with my PE kit not my swimming kit. Later when I was a masters student at UMIST in 1988-90, I went to the Turkish baths there a few times with my friend, on a ladies only day. It was such an experience and is an amazing building. I’m not surprised that there was an outcry and passion for it to be saved.

Further Reading

Image credit: Victoria Baths Females entrance CC-BY Karen Cropper

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