Turkish baths in London

182 & 184 Euston Road

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

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Burton's Turkish Baths

Building the baths in two stages

These baths were opened by John Maxfield (the elder) 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 (see, for example, the image at the bottom of the page), that the baths were established in 1859—but this was probably due to a lapse of memory or a misunderstanding on the part of his successor, Joseph Burton, rather than any intent to deceive.

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, in 1859 Maxfield was running his Albion Street Turkish bath in Huddersfield. 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 could have suggested to a potential buyer that they had been a failure.

This would have been unlikely. Maxfield had been involved, in one way or another, with Turkish baths since their introduction into the British Isles in 1856. His original occupation, involving work with heating equipment, together with 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.

This experience was later passed on to his son, also named John, who became proprietor of Turkish baths in Exeter Place, Cheltenham (1863-72), lessee of those in Gloucester Street, Stroud (c.1873-79), and Superintendent of the public baths at Cheltenham (1879-90) and Gloucester (1891-1906).

The Euston Road 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 his 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 were on the basement and ground floors, while the upper floors comprised a private hotel. The women's baths were in what had been the house on the right, and the men's 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 had the use of the original men's baths at separate, specially designated times. Unusually, the new women's baths differed only slightly from the men's.

Owen describes them as they would be seen by someone entering from the street and passing 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.

The Burtons and E T Osbaldeston

Within a few months of their opening, the baths had a new proprietor, although it is not at present known why the baths changed hands so soon afterwards.

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.'

Nothing has been found to explain why Joseph Burton—at that time a Nottingham grocer, though one who was to build a chain of such shops—should have bought a Turkish bath in London.

It may be that he was influenced by the opening of Nottingham's first Turkish bath late in 1861. And he may have been looking for a business opportunity in London for his sister Beatrice. The upper floors of the Turkish bath may already have been a private hotel, or Burton felt they could easily be turned into one. There would have been no reason why Beatrice should not also have been able to manage a Turkish baths establishment if a suitably experienced male was appointed to look after the baths on men's days.

This seems to be what happened, because when Burton advertised the opening of the separate women's baths ten years or so later, Beatrice was named as the manageress with 'Fifteen Years' Experience.'

Burton was, as we have seen, a businessman keen to expand and immediately on taking over the baths, according to a contemporary advertisement, he made 'great improvements and alterations'.

To help him run the baths, Burton either appointed, or retained from Maxfield's employ, Sikh Buktawar as shampooer. He also 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 had no previous experience of working in a Turkish bath and could only have learned how to become a skilled shampooer during his two year stay at these baths. So it seems likely that while Beatrice was the actual manager and, as Osbaldeston himself noted in his diary, looked after the women's baths, the men's baths were looked after by Osbaldeston.

Osbaldeston did not stay long and left Burton's baths in 1864, emigrating 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 these baths, but no evidence has been found to support these claims in spite of exhaustive research into Osbaldeston's life by his great-granddaughter, Noël 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,4 the eminently readable biography by Noël 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 short, Burton remained proprietor for thirty-eight years, during which time—as we have seen—he added the separate women's baths.

After 40 years work, Burton's Nottingham grocery shop had become a large chain of shops and other businesses connected mainly with the food industry and spread around the Midlands. In March 1900, Burton decided to float the company; towards the end of the list of businesses in the company prospectus, coming after the pork butchers and before the coal merchants, appeared the phrase 'Turkish Bath Proprietors'.

Joseph Burton & Sons Co Ltd afterwards became part of the Fine Fare Group which itself later became part of Asda. But the Turkish baths, which were peripheral to the interests of a still growing food empire, were closed in 1908.

This page revised and enlarged 30 January 2018

Thank you icon

Susan Aykut, for initial help with Edwin Turner Osbaldeston's career in Australia

Jennifer Carnell, of the Sensation Press, for permission to reproduce the 1880s ad

Noël Siver, great-granddaughter of Edwin Turner Osbaldeston, for allowing me to

quote from her research, and to use material from her great-grandfather's diary.

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Plans and cross-sections of the baths

Advertisement for the Ladies Baths

Burton's Turkish or Roman Baths advertisement

Great improvements advertisement

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Other Turkish baths in London

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

 
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