Row Turkish Baths
a Turkish today:
The Turkish baths in the basement,
designed by architects
AWS & KMB Cross, were reached from the main
staircase in the older building. They included three hot
rooms at appropriate temperatures with a complementary cooling-room,
a vapour room,
a plunge bath, a shampooing room with two shampooing slabs, and two
thermostatically controlled showers, one of which was of the fine needle variety.
Cream was the dominant colour.
inner walls were faced with glazed
earthenware tiles, the floors of the hot rooms and plunge
pool covered in non-slip mosaic (the latter relieved by a black
border) and the whole surrounded by a cream terrazzo skirting.
Hardwood blocks covered the floors of the cooling and rest rooms
while the former was clad to a height of 6ft 8in with hardwood panels.
for the Turkish bath was provided by a gas-fired air heater. A centrifugal fan
drew fresh air in from outside the
building, passing it first through a filter,
then through the heater, into the Laconicum (hottest room). There, a thermostat automatically shut down the gas if the planned
temperature was exceeded. After passing through the other hot rooms, the cooled
and, by now, impure air was finally discharged through a duct behind the seating
to a high level outlet.
temperatures in the Caldarium (hot room) and Tepidarium (warm room) were simply controlled by curtains across the communicating openings between the
rooms. The cooling and shampoo rooms, however, were separately warmed by low-pressure steam radiators and a mechanical system of
ventilation was used to ensure an adequate supply of fresh air.
Row, just outside the City, seems always to have had a reputation for
friendliness and companionship. In the late 1930s, when the weekly Turkish was a
regular part of an East Ender's routine one could find a group of
'middle-aged women huddled together for a chinwag… probably the wives of the
Yiddish-speaking jewellery shop owners and…car salesmen who helped build the
East End baths' reputation' as a suitable place for business deals.
Thirty years later,
admission was still only six shillings, the women's sessions were still
'more friendly than Porchester Hall'.
After passing through the hot
rooms at 120°, 150° and 190°F
and happily submitting to
the pummelling of
Florrie and Frances, the women's masseuses, one could still get a pot of tea
for a shilling or a poached egg on toast for 1/4d.
Prices began to rise steadily
in the 1970s. Although 11,600 bathers used the baths during 1971/72, this was an
8% decrease in the number of bathers during an equivalent period a decade earlier. Yet,
deceptively, this represented a relative increase in usage since the population
of the area served by the baths had actually decreased by 23% during this time.
By 1990, a Turkish bath cost
six pounds, but this still included a body rub. A year later this had risen to
£7.50 and the clientele was changing as a younger group took to taking a
Turkish at the end of a day's work. Indeed, one writer noted
that the 'expensive automobiles parked nearby indicate that some City fat cats like to unwind at high
temperatures' and that 'it's unlikely that they will
have to share a bench with any but the more affluent Islington
residents' who might well be 'talking about share prices and their Tuscany
Refurbished a little earlier,
the baths still had 'the ambience of a
Thirties' swimming baths--comfortable, clean and functional, but
not glamorous'. Furthermore, it had managed to retain 'a very informal, workaday atmosphere'.
As another writer put it,
the greatest pull of all is undoubtedly the company. The same women have been meeting in the same Turkish baths for years; and though they claim that they wouldn't
recognize each other with their clothes on, they know all the ins and outs of each other's lives.
Ironmonger Row obviously
succeeds in ensuring that it is easy to feel at home with friends and to be able
to relax freely in a state of nakedness. This is important since it is a
pointless exercise to enter a Turkish bath in order to generate a cleansing
sweat while clad in a clinging costume. The generation gap here sometimes shows
itself in an unexpected way. As one woman put it, 'It spoils it when the younger
ones wear swimming costumes…It makes you feel uncomfortable.'
For many bathers, the ability to relax without a stitch on in the company of
others is clearly an essential part of the Turkish bath.
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