Two top swimming historians who wrote the definitive book on UK pools have backed the campaign to save Bon Accord Baths.
Simon Inglis and Dr Ian Gordon, the co-authors of Great Lengths – the Historic Indoor Swimming Pools of Britain, have spoken highly of the dedicated campaigners behind the project of restoring the baths to their former glory.
In Great Lengths, Dr Gordon and Mr Inglis trace the social and architectural development of indoor public baths and pools, from the earliest subscription baths of the Georgian period to the current generation of leisure pools with their flumes and potted palms.
The historians have visited and researched an extensive line-up of swimming pools across the globe, yet when discussing the art deco building on Justice Mill Lane, they said “there is nowhere quite like it”.
“When most people think of historic swimming baths they tend to focus on the magnificent, municipal aquatic palaces of the Victorian and Edwardian eras; places like Govanhill in Glasgow, Portobello near Edinburgh or the sumptuous Carnegie Centre in Dunfermline,” Mr Inglis added.
“The best two pre-1914 surviving gems in England are the Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham and the Victoria Baths in Manchester, both, like Bon Accord, are listed Grade II* (or Category B as it’s known in Scotland).
“After their closure, both have been taken on by community-led action groups who have faced, and continue to face, huge challenges. Yet the more they get their buildings back into use, the greater the support they seem to get from locals.
“And as more and more pools from that era have been closed and even demolished, Bon Accord’s architectural status, not only in Britain but internationally, rises with every year that passes.
“Brutal on the outside, a hint of what would follow after the Second World War, yet so elegant and cool on the inside. As a critic might say, form and function in perfect harmony.”
The Save Bon Accord Baths team have been working to restore the building and are now in the final stages of agreeing an extended licence to occupy it.
Plans for the site include community spaces for lease and a restaurant.
A historic and popular site, the baths have laid empty since 2008 after Aberdeen City Council decided to close them.
Mr Inglis added: “What I also love about Bon Accord is the detail and the variety of materials and textures, from serious to playful.
“Of course I appreciate that no swimming pool has a guaranteed right to survive as a pool based solely on its architectural or historical importance. But make no mistake, pools of this era have been and are being revived in other parts of the country – the City Baths in Newcastle being the latest to re-open with a flourish.
“There’s another Art Deco pool in Paris that lay in ruins for nearly 25 years before it was successfully re-opened, and a 1930s lido at London Fields that re-opened in 2006 after being derelict for the best part of 18 years.
“Bon Accord more than holds its own with the very best of these examples.
“So it’s not too late for Bon Accord and even better, in addition to the sterling efforts of the Bon Accord Heritage Campaign, there are plenty of experts around Britain who can help in the renovation process.
“I just hope they are given a chance. The city of Aberdeen has a precious asset in Bon Accord. In 1940 the Corporation and the rate-payers went to great lengths to create this treasure. Now’s the time to give it new life.
“Dr Gordon and myself were adamant back in 2009 when we compiled Great Lengths that Bon Accord was one of the greats, and we’ve not changed our minds since.”
While Dr Gordon and Mr Inglis “desperately hope that Bon Accord can be revived”, a fundraising campaign which looks to raise £150,000 is currently ongoing.
It was launched by Bon Accord Heritage and has raised over £6,500 to date.
Dr Gordon added: “I well remember my first visit to Bon Accord in 2005, not long before it’s closure.
“I’ve been to hundreds of historic pools over the years, in Britain, Paris, Helsinki, Budapest, Berlin and Sydney, so when I use the word ‘breathtaking’ I really do mean just that.
“Certainly the current plans for Bon Accord make perfect sense. ‘Nor should we forget Bon Accord’s role in Scotland’s swimming history.
“Over the years all the greats of Scottish swimming have competed there, most notably Bobby McGregor, silver medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 1964 Olympics and David Wilkie, gold medallist in the 200m breaststroke at the Montreal Olympiad of 1976, as well double silver Olympic medallist.
“In addition, Aberdeen has had its fair share of brilliant swimmers, such as Athole Still, an Olympian in 1952 and now a leading agent for actors and footballers, and Ian Black, a triple European gold medallist in 1958 and 1960 Olympian.
“Both Neil Cochran, bronze medallist in the Olympic 200m individual medley in 1984, and Michael Peyrebrune, the first British record holder in the 50m backstroke, also trained regularly with the local club. Michael is now an elite coach in Singapore and still has very fond memories of training at Bon Accord.
“After all, it’s not the sort of building that anyone is likely to forget, once they have dipped their toes into that extraordinary pool.”