Turkish baths in London

 

182 & 184 Euston Road

 

                                         

This is a single frame, printer-friendly page taken from Malcolm Shifrin's website

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

        

            Original illustrated page with chronology and notes
   
List of other Turkish baths in London

                           

 

 

Burton's Turkish Baths

 

These baths were opened by (the elder) John Maxfield at the beginning of 1861—or just possibly at the end of 1860.  It was later claimed in advertisements which appeared in the 1870s and 1880s,  that the baths were established in 1859—but this was probably due to a lapse of memory or a misunderstanding  on the part of Joseph Burton rather than any intent to deceive.

Maxwell had been running an earlier Turkish bath in Albion Street, Huddersfield, in 1859 and, on being told this, Burton might have assumed that this was when the Euston Road baths were opened. Or perhaps Maxwell wanted to give this impression so as not to appear to be trying to sell his baths so soon after building them—which might suggest that they had been a failure.

The Bell Street Turkish bath opened by Roger Evans in the spring of 1860 is well documented as being the first to open in London. Furthermore, Maxfield was still running his Albion Street Turkish bath in Huddersfield in 1859.

For John Maxfield had been involved, in one way or another, with Turkish baths from their first introduction into the British Isles in 1856. His occupation, involving work with heating equipment, and his contact with David Urquhart as a member of one of the Foreign Affairs Committees, ensured that he avoided many of the pitfalls which affected other establishments.

The baths were designed by the architect James Schofield and, more than twenty-five years later, the standard British work on the construction of Turkish baths reproduced the design as an example of how a couple of typical narrow-fronted town houses could be converted into a very satisfactory Turkish bath. Indeed the author, R Owen Allsop noted that they had been the model for 'very many commercial public baths' in the country.

The Turkish baths are on the basement and ground floors, while the upper floors  house a private hotel. The women's baths are in what was the house on the right, and the men's are in the one on the left.

Allsop describes the baths as they appeared when he was writing his book. But the conversion of the right-hand house did not take place until at least ten years after the men's baths opened. We know this because in 1873 Burton wrote to Richard Metcalfe, 'I am now building a bath entirely devoted to ladies.' So it seems most likely that they opened late in 1873 or early in 1874. Until then, women would have had the use of the original men's baths at separate, specially designated times.

The women's baths, unusually, differ only slightly from the men's baths which Owen describes as though entering from the street and seeing the manager's office.

Adjoining this is a range of dressing-boxes, and further on a cooling-room, excellently lighted by a large window forming the whole end of the apartment. From this little frigidarium a marble staircase leads to the door of the tepidarium, formed at basement level at the back of the houses. This chamber is lighted by means of a ceiling-light constructed in the form of a small, flat dome, with stained glass stars set therein. A marble seat runs round the whole of this chamber. On either side of the staircase are placed the calidarium and the combined shampooing room and lavatorium, a door from the latter forming the exit for the visitor who has completed his bath. At one end of this apartment is a chamber with the cold plunge-bath and needle-bath. A door from hence leads to a staircase conducting to the furnace chamber. A laundry is provided at the head of these stairs. The furnace-chamber is placed under the further end of the calidarium.

Within a few months, the baths had a new proprietor, although it is not at present known why the baths changed hands so soon after they opened. It may even have been due to Maxfield's death.

George Jacob Holyoake, the social reformer (and the last person in England to be gaoled for being an atheist) was a staunch supporter of the Turkish Bath Movement. His paper, The Reasoner, tried to publicise the opening of new establishments and noted, in a paragraph on the spread of the Turkish bath, that 'Maxfield's Bath in the Euston Road has passed into the hands of Mr Burton. It is well attended, and the Turkish crescent now graces the front of the garden leading to it.'

To help him run the baths, Joseph Burton appointed a plausible young man by the name of Edwin Turner Osbaldeston. It is not certain whether Osbaldeston's claim to have been appointed as Manager is correct, or whether he was only a bath attendant. Osbaldeston, who had recently deserted from the army, was given to exaggerate many aspects of his career, though it was unusual enough not to need any embellishment at all. He could only have learned how to run a Turkish bath, and become a skilled shampooer, during his two year stay at these baths. So it seems likely that the baths were managed by Joseph Burton and that, as Osbaldeston himself noted in his diary, the women's baths were run by Burton's sister, Beatrice.

Osbaldeston left Burton's baths in 1864 and emigrated to Australia, later moving on to New Zealand, in both of which countries he was involved in running a number of other Turkish baths. He also claimed to have been involved in the design and setting up of some of them, but no evidence has been found to support these claims in spite of exhaustive research into Osbaldeston's life by his great-granddaughter, Nöel Siver. True to form, his stay in each was relatively short, and the capacity in which he was involved in them is sometimes open to question.

An uncommon criminal: the extraordinary life of Edward Turner Osbaldeston, the eminently readable biography by Nöel and her brother Kenson Siver, relates the truly fascinating story of this self-promoting man and his often dubious activities. Whatever his actual role in them, Osbaldeston undoubtedly worked, as the Sivers describe, in Australian Turkish baths in Sydney, Melbourne, Ballarat, Adelaide, and also (in New Zealand) in Auckland.

And if Maxfield's ownership of the Euston Road Turkish Baths was also short, Burton remained proprietor for around thirty years, during which time—as we have seen—he added the separate women's baths. His successor, James Haley, remained for a further twenty-six years before the baths closed some time around 1908.

Page first published 15 September 2006; last revised 15 May 2017
 


  Noël Siver, great-granddaughter of Edwin Turner Osbaldeston, for much invaluable help
Susan Aykut, currently researching Edwin Turner Osbaldeston's career in Australia
Jennifer Carnell, of the
Sensation Press, for permission to reproduce the advertisement

 
 


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

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