Turkish baths in provincial England

Coventry: Priory Street

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

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James's Turkish Baths


At the end of 1890, Francis James fitted out his Turkish baths in a building which was originally intended as a Wesleyan Chapel but which was never used for that purpose. James, who came from Wolverhampton, had previously built Turkish baths in Halifax (1871-6) and Nottingham (1876-1890), in each case selling them on and moving further south.

The building was on the west side of Priory Street, had a 22 ft frontage, and extended back 70 ft from the street. It comprised two floors and a basement. Inside the roof space were 600 gallon water tanks 'for use in case the town water should be turned off ', and accommodation for the caretakers occupied part of the first floor. A fireproof basement housed the boiler and laundry equipment.

The main central public entrance to the baths led into a lobby where bathers paid for their tickets and removed their shoes. After this, the first and second class bathers were separated, the former passing from the lobby into a large 21 ft by 24 ft cooling-room. In the centre were couches and tables, while round the periphery were seventeen dressing cubicles, each with a couch, and a locker in which the bather could safely keep valuables while bathing.

But when the second class bathers left the lobby they went upstairs to their own changing area on a gallery 'supported by six ornamental iron pillars' and 'cut off by a heavy curtain from the lower cooling-room'. This was designed to cater for twenty bathers. Unusually, it seems that only the changing and cooling facilities were separated, all classes of bather using the same hot rooms, plunge bath, and massage room.

There were three hot rooms, and these were built with hollow walls designed to keep their temperatures at the correct levels in the most economical manner. The first hot room, measuring 20 ft by 14 ft, was maintained between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the second between 160 and 190 degrees, and the hottest, measuring 7 ft by 14 ft, between 200 and 240 degrees. After passing through one or more of the hot rooms, the bather was shampooed, took a plunge bath, and retired to the cooling-room.

In addition to the Turkish bath, there was also a vapour bath and an electric bath, 'the latter being fitted with a battery of one hundred cells'.

It was originally expected that the baths would be open in time for Christmas 1890, just over four months after the tender for building the baths was awarded to G Storer. In the event, the baths were not officially opened until 1 January, when they 'were visited by members of the Corporation and others, who expressed themselves highly satisfied with all the arrangements.'

There is much that is not yet known about these baths, such as why there was already a new proprietor, Mr E Grapel, so soon after the baths opened. But snippets of information often come from small difficult-to-find classified advertisements. For example, on 28 April 1894, the baths advertised in the Birmingham Daily Post for a shampooer who would be paid one pound per week.

Most of the information which we have about how the baths were run comes from an early advertisement published in 1904, possibly in a local directory, which was framed and hangs on the wall of the reception area at the York House Hotel in Royal Leamington Spa.

From this we learn that the baths were open daily from eight in the morning to eight at night, that the admission charges were 2/-, 1/6d, and 1/-, that Wednesdays were reserved for women bathers, and that there was a chiropodist in attendance.

Later advertisements were smaller and more concise, such as the one from the Coventry Evening Telegraph, published on 21 November 1913.

All the baths were now 2/-, and there was no longer a division between first and second class baths. Nor was there any longer a special day for women bathers, though a couple of years later, 'Ladies [were] attended to by special arrangement'.

The baths closed some time around 1920 when the whole block was demolished to make room for an extension to the Triumph works which were on the opposite side of the road.

This page last revised and enlarged 11 January 2018

This account should be treated as work in progress. Further research is needed to find out about how the baths were used, how long they survived, and why their ownership changed so soon after they were opened.

Thank you icon

  

Rayanne Byatt (Local Studies Section, Coventry Libraries & Information Services)

for help in identifying the building

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Exterior view of the front of the baths

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