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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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Hastings and St Leonards on Sea Public Baths
& Aquarium Company Limited
Company baths: HASTINGS: White Rock Road

Please note that, as handwriting is often unclear, people's names are indicative only.
When accuracy is important, visitors should consult the original documents;
TNA:PRO references are to The National Archives (Public Record Office, Kew)


Although one of the initial objects of the company was to erect Turkish baths, they were not started until well after the swimming baths had been opened. These occasions were marked with grand celebrations—that for the men's pool on 31 May 1878, and that for the women's pool on 14 July the following year. Next to be built and opened were what the company called Private Baths. These comprised slipper baths, showers, and douches for both men and women. By contrast, the Private Baths were opened on 16 August 1880 with very little fanfare, though by the standards of the day they were extremely well fitted out.

Ample space had been left for the Turkish Baths but there seemed to be a marked disinclination to build them. And there is some evidence that the company had to be persuaded to go ahead. The East Sussex Medico-Chirurgical Society, for example, sent a memorial to the company about the urgent need for Turkish baths in Hastings.

But the company's finances were not as good as had been expected due to the cost of overcoming some of the difficulties arising from siting the baths below ground level.

Section and plan of the chimneyThe construction of Turkish baths right on the sea front presented the company with a major planning problem: how to clear the smoke and fumes from the boiler needed to heat the baths when the building of a tall chimney in such a position was quite unacceptable.

The solution adopted was to build it right next to the side of the cliff, connecting it to the Turkish baths by means of an underground tunnel 5'6" high and over 130 ft long. This was built underneath the beachside road, the path on the other side, and the existing premises on the seafront.

To facilitate this unique construction, the company had to negotiate a passage for the flue by a Deed of Arrangement between itself on the one hand and Elias Coussens of 32 White Rock (the owner of the premises) and a baker, Walter Stride Addison (the lessee), on the other:

And Whereas the Company are now constructing certain Baths and other buildings on the sea-beach opposite the said messuage and premises but separated therefrom by the public roadway and the site of the said baths and buildings is about to be leased by the Corporation of Hastings to the Company for a term of 500 years And Whereas the Company require for the purposes of their said baths and buildings a chimney shaft of considerable size and height and being unable to erect such a shaft on the said beach they are desirous of erecting the same at the rear or north west side of the said messuage and premises and of connecting the same with the boiler house in their said baths and buildings by a flue running under the said Public roadway and under the said messuage and premises.

In return for their agreement, Mr Coussens received 10 fully paid up shares, £104 cash, and a further 5/- per year, while Mr Addison was offered 15 shares, or £150 cash in total.

Building the baths turned out to be the least of the company's problems. Although the actual running of the baths was, from the start, undertaken by a series of lessees, the company was never really free from financial problems.

Twenty years after opening the Turkish baths, the company was already trying to sell them.

In 1901, Hastings Councillors considered a letter dated 28 March from Mr Bailey, Secretary of the company. He indicated that although the baths were running successfully, the company was finding it difficult to repay their mortgage. They were considering the possibility of closing the baths which, he claimed, would be a great disadvantage to the citizens of Hastings. The letter continued,

it is moreover obvious there are advantages in the Municipality having control of such an establishment as the Baths and that if the Council would agree to entertain the matter his Directors would be prepared to negotiate on reasonable terms.

The matter was referred to a subcommittee of seven who met some weeks later. The Town Clerk was instructed to ask the Directors what sort of offer they would consider.

Bailey replied that they were looking for £40,000 (bearing in mind that the baths had originally cost £60,000),

and that if the Company's mortgagees so require, it would be one of the conditions that the present mortgage of £13,000 at 4½% should not be paid off for a period of seven years from the 29th June 1897.

The Subcommittee was not prepared to recommend the purchase at such a high price.

The following year, on 22 January, the Council wrote with an offer of £20,000, a sum which included £13,000 to cover the mortgage. This was rejected, two months later, as being too large a sacrifice for the Directors to be able to recommend it to their shareholders. They would, however, be prepared to recommend £30,000, pointing out that,

The average annual income of the last seven years after paying working expenses was nearly £1,100 more than the sums required to pay 3% on the money which the Council would have to borrow to purchase at that price.

Further, they wished to remind the Council,

of the great public improvement which was made in the widening of the esplanade towards the expenses of which the Corporation contributed but a small sum.

It must be admitted that in watering places such as Hastings and St Leonards, public baths are a necessity. If the Baths now under offer, 'the finest in the United Kingdom', were not in existence the Corporation would probably find it necessary to incur an expenditure greatly in excess of that now proposed...

As a result, the Town Clerk was instructed to submit a report on the provisions of the Baths and Washhouses Acts as they might affect the proposed acquisition, and the Borough Engineer was asked to provide a rough plan showing what was included in the site. The Town Clerk's report dealt mainly with the need to ensure that the correct number of baths for specific classes of bathers was provided, and that the various admission charges complied with the acts. But the report concluded:

I may state that I find the Solicitors to the Municipal Corporations Association expressed the opinion in 1899 that Turkish Baths are outside the scope of the Baths and Washhouses Acts.

This view, widely expressed by legal advisers to several local authorities, arose from the omission of any mention of Turkish baths in the original acts which pre-dated the building of the first such bath in 1856. Several authorities—Southampton, for example—had nevertheless built them, avoiding any adverse reaction, perhaps, by calling them vapour baths, which were permitted.

The subcommittee visited the baths on 10 June, and at their next meeting were informed by the Borough Engineer that it would cost £5,000-6,000 to put the baths into a proper state of repair. The Members decided that the Chairman and the Town Clerk should interview the Local Government Board to check on the implications of the Baths and Washhouses Acts.

During this meeting they received assurances that the letter of the law regarding classes and prices need not necessarily be wholly binding. Accordingly, they resolved to recommend the purchase of the baths at £25,000 after two amendments offering £21,000 and £23,000 had been defeated.

More than a year elapsed, and another inspection of the baths by the Borough Engineer (on 24 February 1904) revealed that the condition of a number of roof girders made them dangerous. The subcommittee asked for further negotiations on the price.

By June 1906 the company had repaired the girders at a cost of over £500 and the Borough Engineer was asked to examine the baths again. This time he found that new girders and struts had been added to support the four dangerous girders, and that the remaining girders had all been strengthened. The new work was 'excessively strong' and he reported that there was now 'no fear whatever as to the portion of the Baths roof where the strengthening has taken place.'

All now seemed set for the Council to purchase the baths, but this was not to happen for some time.

Progress in the sale of the baths seems to have been affected by a separate dispute (involving their respective solicitors) between the Corporation and the baths company. The details need not concern us here but problems had arisen over payments by the Corporation for gas and rent for the town bandstand. This was built on the roof of the baths, on land leased by the company from the Corporation. Another dispute arose over of a fee, to be paid by the Corporation, for the company to place chairs around the bandstand on their behalf, for hire by the public.

Meanwhile the company's financial position continued to worsen.

Accounts table

The situation was not helped when, in 1911, it became necessary to spend over £650 on the installation of a new boiler. This was financed by means of a temporary loan, but when this was not repaid, the mortgagee sold the company's lease in June to a Mr A D Thorpe and the baths were closed.

Hastings Corporation eventually bought the baths from Mr Thorpe in 1925 when work started on their reconstruction.

The company was dissolved in 1913. In 1935, ten years after Mr Thorpe sold the baths to the Corporation, he became Chairman of the Hastings Baths Committee.


TNA: PRO: BT31 2060/9077 All unfootnoted information is taken from this file.

1875 Memorandum of Association: 1 January
Objects include: Erecting and maintaining a Turkish Baths
Capital: £30,000 divided into 3,000 shares of £10
Shareholders include:
Bagshawe, Frederick (Physician)
Barkers (trading as Beechings) (5 shares)
Brassey, Thomas, MP (5 shares) (4 St George St, Westminster)
Chapman, Jane (2 shares) Housemaid (54 Porchester Terrace)
Cross, Alfred (20 shares) Architect
Shuttleworth, James, MP, & Mary Shuttleworth, (5 shares)
Registered Office: 23 Havelock Road
Secretary: Henry George Baily
Articles of Association: 1 June
Directors:
Baker, Henry Moore (House agent)
Brown, Joseph (Plumber)
Clement, George (Gentleman)
Cridland, John (Gentleman)
Gausden, Charles Henry (Auctioneer)
Langham, Frederic Adolphus (Solicitor)
Thorpe, George Archibald (Boot Manufacturer)

1880 Capital increased to: £50,000 divided into 5,000 shares of £10
Average number of shareholders: 225, holding 4315 shares. The largest shareholder was Major Thomas Brassey, MP with 1850, but the next largest holding was 100 shares and most shareholders had 10 shares or less.

1881 Issue of Debentures: for £15,000 in Bonds of £50 each

Debenture









Frederick Rosher's
Debenture No.36

1890 Directors include: Thomas Brassey, Baron, KCB

1893 Directors:
Baker, Henry Moore Brassey,
The Rt Hon Lord Brown,
W E Langham,
Frederic Adolphus Pearch,
G H Working, H

1910 Directors:
Brassey, The Rt Hon Lord GCB (Ch)
Brown, W E
Northey, H (Deputy Ch)
Pearch, G H

1911 New boiler and fixing cost £653.14.0 (3 March)
Still owing £393.1.6
To preserve the Company's property agreed to temporarily borrow £393.1.6 and costs of borrowing to carry interest at 4% secured by 1st mortgagee (Mr H V Bathurst).

1911 Lease sold by the mortgagee to Mr A D Thorpe in June

1912 Extract from letter from Henry E Baily, Late Secretary, to the Registrar of Companies:
'When the baths business was handed over on the sale by the Mortgagee last June [ie,1911], there was only sufficient to pay our debts by the Directors forgoing a portion of their fees.'

1913 Company dissolved Clause 242(5) on 29 August


This page last updated 25 August 2017 and is still being revised

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