Some conversions of old buildings to new uses are an uneasy compromise – cinemas converted into apartment blocks, places of worship adapted as pubs.
The former Lister Drive Baths in Liverpool is an example of reuse as pure genius.
Lister Drive, connecting Newsham Park with Green Lane, was laid out in the late 1890s and furnished with a series of Corporation buildings, all of them overseen but not all designed by the City Surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine.
At the west end of the Drive, nearest the Park, was the tramway electricity generating station (c1902, demolished), to the east Green Lane Council School (1907, demolished) and Thomas Shelmerdine’s Green Lane Carnegie Library (1904-05, currently being restored), and in the centre the Lister Drive Baths, designed by the Corporation Baths Engineer, W R Court (1901-04) on the basis of “sketch designs” by Shelmerdine.
The Baths is an essay in terracotta, inside and out, in what is described as a “free English Renaissance” style. The tiles and bricks were supplied by Pilkington & Company, including fish and leaf designs by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857-1941). The layout provided first- and second-class plunge baths for men (60ft × 30ft and 75ft × 35ft respectively), first-, second- and third-class private baths for men, and women’s private baths. Women were allowed access to the first-class men’s bath on certain days.
Hot water for the baths was supplied by the nearby electricity generating station.
The Baths were closed because of bomb damage during the Second World War, and were repaired and reopened in August 1949. They finally closed in 1987 and were appropriately adapted as a welcoming pet shop, with the first-class pool given over to koi carp.
During opening hours the public are welcome to look around, without any obligation to buy so much as a packet of bird-seed. And if you have a pet, it seems the Lister Fisheries & Pet Centre has everything they might need or want: http://www.listerpetcentre.co.uk/index.html.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.