Thomas North, universally known as Colonel North, the Nitrate King, was
the self-made son of a coal merchant. He made the first of his fortunes
in Chile during and after the Great Pacific War between Chile and her
two northern neighbours, Bolivia and Peru. He returned to England in 1882 and the following year took out a ten
year lease on an empty house at Avery Hill at Eltham, Kent (now part of
bought the house in 1888 and, though it was by no means small, he
decided to enlarge it in order, amongst other things, to build an
painting and sculpture galleries to house his art collection.
leaving for a visit to Chile in 1889, North commissioned the architect T W Cutler
to make £40,000 worth of alterations and additions to the house. On his
return, he found that Cutler had commissioned £100,000 work of work and
the architect was dismissed, being replaced by his assistant J O Cooke.
time the house was completed, North had also added a fernery,
conservatory and a huge dome-covered Winter Garden. The separate stable
block, like the mansion itself, was centrally heated and lit by
electricity generated in an engine room to the west of the main
white Sienna marble staircase with a white and gilt orname
iron balustrade led from the inner hall to a first floor corridor,
eighty-foot long and hung with crimson velvet and lit by windows with
stained glass panels. Opening off it were the sixteen principal bedrooms
and dressing rooms.
them all in sheer extravagance was the three-roomed Turkish bath which
caught the attention of architectural correspondents in the 1890s. A
small lobby with double doors led into the frigidarium, which was lined
with red and white marble and furnished with a large wardrobe, a WC,
washbasins and spray bath. Beyond it the caldarium was furnished with
marble benches and like the third room, the tepidarium, was lined with
grey and white marble. Surmounting the complex was an octagonal roof
supported by arches lined with Burmantofts faience in white and two
shades of red.'
North lived in his completed house for just a little over five years.
He died suddenly in his City office on 5 May 1896. His family almost
immediately put the house on the market, but it was two years before
they found a buyer, at a price much less than it had cost North. The new
owner never took up residence at Avery Hill and the house remained empty
for another eight years. It was bought with twenty-eight acres of
parkland for £25,000 by the LCC in 1902 and four years later it was
opened by its education committee (later named the Inner London
Education Authority) as its first residential training college for
With its tiled walls, marble floors, and door fittings of silver plate,
North's private Turkish bath was surely unique and, before it was
destroyed during a Second World War bombing raid, outshone either of
the other two extant private baths,
Wightwick and Cragside.
Alison Goss, Archive
Assistant, University of Greenwich
The original page
and thumbnail pictures which can be enlarged.
All the enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.
Thomas North, universally known as Colonel North
in Colonel North's private Turkish bath
supported by arches lined with Burmantofts faience
Plan of the Turkish bath
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