Epsom Municipal Baths
The Urban District Council of Epsom, adopted the Baths and
Wash-houses Acts in 1897, allocating a site for the
building in Church Street. But it was not until 18 June 1935
that the council (now the Borough of Epsom and Ewell) appointed
a special committee to investigate the cost of building and
maintaining baths to meet the needs of the locality.
In due course the council appointed Messrs A W S & K M B Cross
as architects for the new Municipal Baths. This was a long
established architectural practice which had been designing
baths and Turkish baths for many years and one of the partners,
Alfred W S Cross, was the author of a standard work, Public
baths and wash-houses, published in 1906. It was agreed that
a fee of £50 was to be paid if the project was abandoned.
On 13 January 1936 the architects submitted a full report
proposing a scheme for building the new baths. As the original
site had by then been used for the local fire station, a new
site in East Street was chosen.
The council needed the sanction of the Ministry of Health in
order to borrow money, and a public local enquiry was held on 3
The decision to include Turkish baths was strongly influenced by
the suggestion that they would be well-used by many of those
involved in the Epsom Races because, at that time, the nearest
establishment was in London. It was to be built in the basement,
reached by a staircase to the right of the entrance hall.
And in a move that would have pleased the Victorians, men and
women were each to be provided with a suite of twelve slipper
baths after the enquiry was told that there were
approximately fifteen hundred houses within a radius of one mile
from the site of the baths which still, in 1936, had no fixed
The borough was given permission to borrow the £64,834 needed to
build and equip the baths, and invitations to tender were sent
out. The contract was won by a local firm, Messrs H H & F Roll
of Ashley Road, who submitted the lowest tender at £52,634, and
construction finally started in September 1937.
The official opening ceremony was held on 15 March 1939,
complete with civic dignitaries, bouquets and speeches, swimming
and diving displays, a water polo match, and the singing of God
Save the King.
The exterior of the building was faced with multi-coloured
bricks and Portland stone dressings, while the roof was covered
in dark red pantiles.
The building had a number of interesting features: during the
winter months, the swimming pool could be covered over by a
scaffolding- supported wooden floor, so that the hall could be
used for boxing matches, dances, and stage performances.
The Turkish bath seemed to be well-equipped, and comprised its
own changing room with lockers, five cubicles, and an
attendant’s counter; there were three hot rooms, a vapour
(steam) room, a shampooing room with three slabs, a shower room,
a plunge pool, and a cooling-room with ten couches and a
There was also a suite of three Zotofoam baths, precursors of
whirlpools, such as the Jacuzzi™,
which are now so popular in health spas.
The wall tiles in the Turkish bath were glazed and those on the
floors, with the surprising exception of the changing and
cooling-rooms, were impervious and non-slip.
The Turkish baths suite had its own heating equipment
immediately adjacent to the suite. The system was designed by
Messrs Walter W Nobbs to maintain the correct temperature for
each area, twelve hours a day, three hundred days in the year.
The annual heating costs were originally estimated at £50 for
coke, £115 for gas, or £160 for electricity. Wisely, the Baths
Committee, after due consideration, chose gas.
The Turkish baths were heated by a gas-fired air heater with a
boiler for the vapour bath. The separate system was designed to
ensure that there would be no demand, estimated at 120,000
BTU/hr, on the swimming pool plant, other than hot water supply.
A Baths Superintendent was appointed at £300 per year, rising
annually by £12.10.0. to a maximum of £350. But he also had free
accommodation in a self-contained flat at the rear of the
building, together with free coal (rather than gas!) and
The staff comprised 2 male masseurs, each earning £3.8.0 per
week, 2 female masseuses, each earning 25 shillings per day; and
1 male youth and 1 female youth, each earning 15 shillings per
week as bath attendants.
The baths opened for a few hours only on Sunday mornings, but
from Monday to Saturday, they stayed open from eight in the
morning till eight in the evening, with Wednesdays being set
aside for women.
The charges varied according to the time of day, a Turkish bath
costing either 3/6 or 2/6. A massage cost 2/6, and a Zotofoam
bath—by appointment only—3/- or 2/-.
Surprisingly, considering the previous experience of the
architects, there were many teething problems: a curtain rather
than a door had been specified for the entrance to the hot rooms
and had to be replaced at the suggestion of the
heating engineers; the pump in the plunge pool was defective;
difficulties were experienced in maintaining the correct
temperatures in the hot rooms; the fresh air duct appeared to be
faulty; the shower sprays were defective. All of which goes to
show that our ideas of a past golden age when workmen took a
pride in their work and did the job properly might need a little
The fifty-two bathers who used the Turkish baths during the
first week seemed to know far more about how they should be run
than those actually running them. They were not slow to suggest
For example, initially there were no weighing machines, and the
bathers made it quite clear that they shouldn’t be charged for
using them when they did arrive. They asked for floor coverings
and canvas chairs for the hot rooms, for curtains between the
shampooing slabs, a carpet for the cooling-room,
and a free supply of cold drinking water.
Yet all these suggestions had been standard practice in Turkish
baths for over 80 years.
But the Baths Committee did put their collective foot down on
being asked for, and firmly refusing, the bathers’ request for a
bridge table. In spite of this, the
average weekly number of bathers using the Turkish baths had
risen from the initial 52 to 75.
And the bathers' request for floor coverings and carpets was
met, later on, by a decision to provide bathers with slippers.
And so, ninety years after the Baths and Wash-houses Acts, Epsom
had its very own Turkish baths. But it was not a propitious time
for new leisure facilities. On 3 September, less than six months
after the grand opening, war was declared and the baths
immediately closed. The main halls were used to accommodate the
Hook Road ARP Staff and the swimming pool remained closed until
the middle of the following year. But the Turkish baths
re-opened after only a couple of weeks, probably helping the war
effort considerably by de-stressing its customers.
In 1989, the baths were remodelled as part of what was now
to be known as the Rainbow Centre, managed on behalf of the
council by Civic Leisure Ltd. Admission (£5.00) gave access to
the use of the three hot rooms (113-194˚F),
steam room, sauna, plunge pool and cooling-room. In addition to
separate days for men and women, the baths were also open to
mixed couples (wearing costumes) on Sundays.
During the sixty years of their existence, the Epsom Turkish
baths were enjoyed by thousands of local people until they were
finally demolished in 2001 to make way for a new facility.
During its final years, the phrase 'Turkish Baths' was changed
on the board outside to read 'Health Suite', and often the
assistant at the reception desk did not know what a Turkish bath
was, let alone that she was charging admission to it. So, like
other councils had done elsewhere, the public was being prepared
for a forthcoming unpleasant shock.
It would be nice to be able to continue by describing the
superbly equipped Turkish baths in the brand new leisure centre.
But it never happened. Saunas and prefabricated steam rooms may
be pleasant—even if sometimes rather claustrophobic. But they
are quite different from the traditional Victorian Turkish bath,
both in manner of use, and in overall effect.
They have replaced the Victorian Turkish bath simply because
they are cheaper to operate.
Curator, Bourne Hall Museum, Ewell, for his kind help
The original page
and thumbnail pictures which can be enlarged.
All the enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.
Exterior of building
Slipper bath cubicles
Zotofoam bath at Hastings White Rock
Zotofoam baths at Epsom
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