Most people of a certain age in Aberdeen, Scotland, remember fondly the Bon Accord Baths. It was where many, including myself, learned to swim. I didn’t really appreciate the building at the time, but when I look back now, I happily remember the lovely, if understated architecture – a style I now know as Art Deco. It was a great disappointment to learn that the Baths were permanently closing in 2008, even more so when it became apparent that no-one was going to buy the building from the Aberdeen Council. So, there it sat, this iconic building, boarded up and lonely, slowly decaying.
Thankfully, however, this may not be the final chapter for the Bon Accord Baths! I was excited to learn back in September 2020, that there was to be an open day at the Baths. Who, what, why? Questions needed answering! It turned out that a group had been formed – Bon Accord Heritage – which had, for a few years, been actively trying to preserve the building and looking to bring it back to its former glory for the use of the community.
Needless to say, we attended the open day as a family, seeing some of the building’s ancillary rooms, such as the gym, and getting to view the old swimming pool, but only from the balcony. The memories came flooding back. It was great to see how much Bon Accord Heritage had done to ensure the structural integrity of the building and the many hours taken to tidy it (over the years vandals had broken in and caused countless damage, even lighting a fire in the empty pool). I was also heartened to see their plans for developing the site.
I contacted the group to congratulate them on their efforts and to see if there were any ways to help their campaign and they kindly invited me back to the Baths to see some more of the building that was not accessible during the open day.
Bon Accord Heritage are running a GoFundMe campaign in support of their ongoing efforts to reopen the building, and we would thoroughly encourage anyone wanting to see this proud building open again to donate to this campaign - https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-bon-accord-baths - or if you would like to get in contact with them directly - email@example.com
A closer look at the pool area simply confirmed to me the great potential of this building, as well as its latent beauty. There is much work still to be done and their £150,000 fund raising goal will be a challenge, but surely a worthwhile one.
(taken from Bon Accord Heritage literature)
Public bathing came to Aberdeen in 1898 with the opening of the Bathing Station at Aberdeen Beach. In the 1930s the search for a city centre site started and plans were drawn up by Alexander McRobbie of the City Architect's Dept. In 1936 the foundation stone was laid for the 'Uptown Baths'.
The Baths were completed in 1940 at a cost of £37,000 and opened by Lord Provost Sir Thomas Mitchell on 30 August 1940; a prestigious public event. The Baths were part of a trio of Art Deco buildings, along with the Regent Cinema (1932) and Capitol Cinema (1933).
In 1991, Historic Environment Scotland awarded Bon Accord Baths a Category B Listing describing them as...
"A rare surviving example of an inter-war public in Scotland and a good example of Art Deco architecture. The building has significant streetscape presence with an austere frontage achieved by articulating the Art Deco style in granite.
The interior of the building is richly detailed with the austerity of the facade giving way to an entrance lobby with curved walls lined with blond ripple sycamore timber panelling and chrome fittings.
The vaulted roof of the swimming pool, elegantly supported by large concrete arches, allows for the walls to be punctured by large windows flooding the space with natural light. This space also retains many of its original fixtures and fittings including the raked timber seating and the sculptural concrete diving board platforms.
The underwater lighting along the length of the pool is believed to be one of the early examples of such lighting."
Despite the building’s significance, the Baths were closed in April 2008 due to budget cuts and never reopened. In August 2008, the decision was taken to declare Bon Accord Baths as surplus to requirements and to put it on the market. The Baths sat dormant for a number of years while some attempts to utilise the building for other purposes did not materialise.
In 2015, the building was marketed for sale by Aberdeen City Council. This led to public protest and local campaigning to save the building as a community asset. A campaign group was formed, and market research of local residents and businesses returned a 99% approval rating for the Baths being saved, ideally as a community-run resource. A group of people keen on realising this vision came together, leading to the eventual formation of Bon Accord Heritage.
Unfortunately, the Baths had been unoccupied for some time and there were concerns that the structure of the building may not be in good condition. Investigation of this was required to see if restoration was a viable project. A DNA Structural survey of the building was completed in 2017. This returned far more positive results than had been anticipated and showed that in spite of having a number of issues needing addressed, the Baths - and in particular its domed concrete roof - was structurally sound.
A Memorandum of Understanding was subsequently signed between Aberdeen City Council and Bon Accord Heritage to allow for the exploration of restoring the Baths as a community-run facility.
Join us next time when our family adventures continue as we continue our exploration of the North Coast 500, from Nigg to Golspie. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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