BBC viewers choose Manchester's water palace for £3m restoration

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The Independent Online

The future of the Victoria Baths, the ornately designed "Water Palace" of Manchester, was secured last night after the building was voted the winner of the television series Restoration.

The Grade II-listed structure was one of 30 architectural treasures across the country profiled on the BBC2 programme. After attracting more than 280,00 votes from the public, the baths will receive £3m of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, enabling them to open after more than decade.

Liz Forgan, the chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: "Now that we have a winner, the hard work really starts. We will be working with the fund to make sure that the public's dream for Victoria Baths becomes a reality, opening it up for everyone to enjoy."

The announcement was the culmination of 10 hour-long programmes in which 30 buildings were profiled.

The public voted for properties or monuments which they believed were most worthy of being saved. A shortlist of 10 was drawn up, and each property was represented by a celebrity advocate. Lissan House in Cookstown, Co Tyrone came second while Wentworth Castle near Barnsley, south Yorkshire, came third.

But it was the Victoria Baths, represented by the actor Richard E Grant, which won the public vote. The property was opened in 1906 to give the residents of inner-city Manchester a place to swim, while promoting better health and hygiene.

Opulently designed with stained-glass windows and ornate tiling, the building contained three pools, 64 wash boats as well as Turkish and Russian baths.

However, the property, once hailed as the "Water Palace" of Manchester, was closed down 10 years ago.

Grant said: "It's not a graveyard, it's not an historical castle, a big country fancy house where there are ropes telling you where you can and can't walk, what you can and can't touch, what you're supposed to admire. This is something you can use on a daily basis. You can go in there, take all your clothes off, get fit, flirt with people, snog somebody, restore all your aches and pains, and you can use it on a daily basis."

The Victoria Baths will also receive £386,000 raised by Endemol, the television company which produced the series, from its phone charges. This will enable the restoration of the Turkish bath suite.

During the programme last night, a recorded message from the Prince of Wales was broadcast. He urged viewers to help rescue thousands of period buildings lying in ruins across the country. "It is ... well worth remembering that beyond the 30 structures featured in the programme, there are many more priceless historic buildings which for a variety of reasons are lying abandoned and derelict and in danger of being lost to future generations," he said. "Our history is all around us, though often we only recognise the true value of a building ... once it has gone and is no longer that friendly neighbour."

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