In Haunt

Manchester’s Edwardian ‘Water Palace’ Victoria Baths is inviting people to discover hidden nature by exploring the history-laden area around it, with a special Nature Scavenger Hunt! It is free to join from Friday 11 September to Sunday 20 September as part of this year’s Heritage Open Days; England's biggest festival of culture and history, celebrating heritage. 

Victoria Baths © Andrew Billington Photography.Above: Victoria Baths © Andrew Billington Photography

This is a free self-guided outdoor scavenger hunt in the vicinty of The Baths, so anyone can take part during the dates... all that is needed is a mobile phone! Participants will be plunged into the fun of finding and scanning a series of QR codes (using their phone camera) hidden in the Victoria Baths area. Each code will unlock a ‘hidden nature’ themed clue towards the next destination on the scavenger hunt. Who will find them all? There’s also the opportunity to be added to a draw to win a Victoria Baths Goody bag! Each code will also unlock a nature-related question, and participants who answer them all can send their responses to Victoria Baths by email (enquiries@victoriabaths.org.uk) or social media private message.

The Hidden Nature Scavenger Hunt, in turn, is an ideal opportunity to consider the history of this impressive Grade II* building and the ages it has survived through – without going inside – as the building still is closed for public events, the impact of Covid-19 meaning it has had to change its usual busy programme.

The exterior of the baths, its grounds, and the surrounding area offer a heritage-rich encounter after all… and some fascinating as well as surprising examples of the natural world. Have you ever seen the stone mermaids (complete with a turbulent tide!) outside The Baths, for example? How nature inspires, emerges through and even changes a city, is a thought-provoking consideration for our current times. Hence the decision was taken to energetically engage with this year’s Heritage Open Days theme: ‘Hidden Nature’ by creating an outdoor walking experience, taking participants through an oasis of Edwardian and Victorian wonder, with some contemporary twists!

At Victoria Baths

The Scavenger Hunt will start outside the Baths itself, at the main noticeboard, and there is the opportunity to learn how nature has inspired key aspects of its design. First opened in 1906, Victoria Baths was a stand-out building of its time; with much of its ornate stained glass incorporating aspects of the natural world  such as flowers (pictured below) and especially inside the Turkish Rest Room, including the iconic 'Angel of Purity' window.

 At this time, the area it is located within – Chorlton-on-Medlock– was a varied and vibrant community with some striking architecture. This had developed as pockets of affluence came to the area, especially during and after the Industrial Revolution, with many of the  middle classes choosing to live just beyond the city centre, thus at a distance from the heaviest industry. Some of the housing located near Victoria Baths, for example on Plymouth Grove where Elizabeth Gaskell’s House is located, is particularly ornate.

Yet as well as some of the wealthier housing and design in the area, there was also a significant amount of workers’ housing. As well as Chorlton-on-Medlock, The Baths also provided facilities for residents in the nearby Rusholme and Longsight, doing so for over 80 years until it finally had to close as a functioning baths in 1993. Victoria Baths was a facility for all– a public facility – and the opportunity to explore the ‘hidden nature’ around it, reveals even more about its links to the local environment. Discover examples of hidden growth, learn about nature-inspired architecture choices and see a whole new side to this fascinating area of Manchester.

Lillies Window At Victoria Baths

Elizabeth Sibbering, Victoria Baths’ Operations Manager, added:

 “Victoria Baths is situated in what would have been one of the grandest areas of Manchester a hundred years ago, with much of the architecture still intact from the Victorian and Edwardian era.  It’s also culturally rich with museums and the former homes of some of Manchester’s famous historical residents are to be found close by, along with some lovely parks, making it a great area to explore.  Inspired by Heritage Open Days, we wanted to encourage people to appreciate their local heritage and the hidden nature to be found in urban areas, by taking part in our fun scavenger trail.”

In turn, Victoria Baths is also using the theme of ‘Hidden Nature’ to invite contributions to their Hidden Nature ZINE! Whether inspired by the tour itself, or another experience of the more secretive aspects of nature, submissions in a variety of forms are welcome on the topic; including poetry, journalism, drawing, photography, collages, recipes, cartoons, craft instructions and even just ideas! The submission deadline is Sunday 20 September and more information about how to apply is available via the Victoria Baths website.

Participating with the vibrant history and area around Victoria Baths is another way to engage with it at what is a difficult time for many in the heritage sector. To find out more and how to support  this historic Manchester gem, see the website www.victoriabaths.org.uk. Further information on the Nature Scavenger Hunt is available here  www.victoriabaths.org.uk/visit/2020/nature-scavenger-hunt/

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