Victorian Turkish Baths Picture of the Month for April 2009

Grange Road Turkish Baths, Bermondsey, London:
the cooling-room, 1927

Bermondsey cooling-room
< Photo: Souvenir of opening of New Central Baths, 1927

When the baths were opened on 24 September 1927, the Daily Mirror definitely did not like the provision of new baths on the rates when there was a shortage of good housing in the area.1  Its report of the previous Saturday's opening ceremony lost no opportunity of criticising the Labour council for such publicly funded luxury, and especially for the inclusion of Turkish baths.

Its front page carried two pictures. The first, its own photograph of the cooling-room, was captioned 'The luxurious Turkish baths, where the charge will be 3s. 6d.'

The second, showing the outside of the building, was captioned:

Bermondsey's palatial new baths, built by the Socialist-controlled Council at a cost of over £150,000, and described by the mayor, Mr G Catchpole, at the opening ceremony on Saturday, as 'better than the best.' The building comprises marble halls, first and second-class swimming pools with stained-glass windows, private, Turkish and Russian baths, a recreation-room and baths for babies. The rates in Bermondsey are 22s. 6d. in the £.

The Turkish baths were in the basement, and comprised three hot rooms, a steam room, plunge bath, shower room, a shampooing room fitted for two shampooers and furnished with the usual shampoo slabs and bowls. The cooling-room had thirteen cubicles, each one containing a couch and a small table. 2

By the 1950s, the Turkish baths had become recognised as a gay meeting place, 'achieving literary fame in Rodney Garland's The Heart in exile' and high praise from Kenneth Williams in his posthumously published diaries. 3

The baths were closed in 1973 because of 'structural defects' and demolished two years later.

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 1. 'Bermondsey's new £150,000 palace of baths'     Daily Mirror    (26 Sep 1927      [ return]
 2. 'Bermondsey—and Hackney'     Municipal Journal and Public Works Engineer    (30 Sep 1927)   [return]
 3. Queer London: perils and pleasures in the sexual metropolis, 1918-1957 / Matt Houlbrook. — Chicago : Univ Pr, 2005. — pp.97-8     [return]