West Hill Turkish Baths
A fire was responsible for the opening of a Turkish
bath in St Leonards-on-Sea.
After the accidental burning down of Mr Groslobb's Russian Bath on the
West Hill, there were many expressions of regret that St Leonards should
have been thus deprived of so valuable adjunct to its health restoring
In order to rectify
this deficiency, a company was set up to build a Turkish bath on the same
site. This was designed by a London architect, Mr H Burton, and Mr Groslobb was
The design went out to tender and the
builders' quotations were included in Brett's History, a
multi-volume manuscript history of Hastings and St Leonards now in the
Hastings Local History Library. The contract went to Mr Palmer, a local
builder, whose quotation at £997, was the lowest. The overall cost
including the land and the existing property was around £2,500.
visiting the baths a few days before they opened, described what a bather
would see when paying a visit and thereby enabled us to discover how the
building was arranged.
the main entrance, the Manager's office and a Gentlemen's waiting room
were on the left, while a waiting room for Ladies was on the right. The
carpeted cooling-room had a row of five changing cubicles along one side,
each fitted with crimson curtains and cushions, with the temperature
maintained at between 80ºF and 90ºF.
The building was
relatively small, and there was only one hot room (caldarium). This was
heated by means of hot air passing through ducts under the floor. Three
levels of bench seating, along one side of the room, allowed bathers
to experience different air temperatures. At the lowest level, this would
be about 120ºF
to 130ºF, and each of the upper levels
gave a rise in temperature of about 5ºF.
While not unique
in a Victorian Turkish bath, this method of achieving hot areas at
different temperatures is relatively unusual. The architect has adopted
the arrangement common in a Russian banya, or steam bath, which was
probably how Mr Groslobb's earlier Russian baths had been arranged.
maintained at 100ºF,
was provided for those who preferred a lower temperature, or those who
wished to cool down gradually. There was a separate shampooing room, and a
washing area with needle shower, douche bath, and a shower bath,
in connection with which Mr Groslobb has introduced an
invention of his own, whereby the water can be instantly made hot, tepid,
While there were no separate first and second class baths, Mr Groslobb
did provide a private bath for invalids (and also, presumably,
for his more reserved patrons).
Patients can drive up to the door and be at once conveyed
to the private dressing room, which communicates directly with the private
caldarium and water rooms, without coming into contact with the public
Also hidden from
public view, the boiler (and its ancillary equipment) was housed in the
an open space was retained at the rear of the building for the intended
installation, at a later date, of a swimming pool—a facility which was not
added until the baths had closed, and the building had been purchased by
The baths seem to have been
very expensive. Advertisements placed in the local papers when they opened
tell us that 'Ladies only' would be admitted on Tuesdays and Fridays from
8.00 am till 4.00 pm at a charge of five shillings each. This was reduced
to 2/6d from 4.00 in the afternoon till 8.00 in the evening.
Unusually, the entrance charge was
cheaper for men. They could bathe from noon till 6.00 pm for 3/6d.,
while there were two less expensive sessions: from 8.00 am till noon for
2/6d., and from 6 pm till 8.00 pm for only 1/6d. But even these
were high and there did not appear to be any reductions for
purchasing several tickets at a time.
All these prices included the
use of two towels and a sheet for each bather. But if this was not
sufficient, additional towels were
available at 1½d each and extra sheets at 3d each.
Suggesting, perhaps, that the company was unsure how much use would be
made of the baths at each of the various sessions, the advertisement
The Company does not bind itself to keep the baths
open permanently on the day or hours above specified but due notice will
be given of any alteration.
Such doubts were
only too well founded. The directors appear to have overestimated how many
potential bathers were wealthy enough, even in St Leonards, to be able to
use the baths regularly enough to support their continued existence.
company went into liquidation in 1879 and the baths were closed. The
building was sold to nearby Uplands School, and an indoor swimming
pool built at the rear. This card was posted in 1909, but the
photograph is older, and shows how the building looked soon
after it was purchased by the school in 1871.
The chimney at
the back of the building (on the right of the image) is part of boiler
house built to heat the water in the swimming pool. The chimney at the
front is part of the original building and was built to extract the smoke
from the boiler heating the air for the Turkish bath.
intriguing, as can be seen in the
enlarged image, is that no attempt was
made to match the appearance of the two chimneys.
Yet the design
of the Turkish bath chimney seems in a strange way to echo the
minaret-type protuberances at the corners of the roof and over the
doorway. While another oddity is the way in which the apex of the doorway
breaks through the dentil which runs the whole length of the building.
Would the four
minarets, the broken dentil, and the top of the Turkish bath chimney be
enough to support a hypothesis that the original building was more
saracenic in appearance with, perhaps, ogee windows and door? Would it be
very far-fetched to suggest that this façade
was too Islamic for the Christian Ladies College which purchased the
building? That when the swimming pool was built, and the central
balustrade blocked in, the shapes of the windows and door were altered to
make them more Christian in appearance?
Turkish bath building, with its boarded over swimming pool extension, is
empty now (2006). Towards the end of World War II it was a temporary
church, and since then has been a factory and a workshop. Both chimneys
have long disappeared, the balustrades replaced with crude blocks, and
the original decorative brickwork on the façade
On 27 November 2006, the Department for Culture,
Media and Sport added the baths to the
list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest situated
in the Borough of Hastings.
account should be treated as work in progress. Further research is needed
to determine whether the external façade of the building was, as
suggested above, altered when it was bought by Uplands School.
first published 3 August 2006 and last modified on
15 May 2017.
Ion Castro for helpful
information and permission to use his postcard image.
The staff at Hastings Local History Library (East Sussex County
Council) for much help during several visits.
page includes thumbnail pictures. Two of these can be enlarged.
The All the enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.
baths building in 2006
The Turkish baths
building soon after 1871
The smaller images can also be found at:
the chimney and 'minarets'
of the page