Turkish baths in London

New Broad Street / 8 Bishopsgate Churchyard

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

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New Broad Street Turkish Baths

Early baths on the site

This is one of the more unusual buildings in London. Not only did it survive the London Blitz in the 1940s, but–in some ways an even greater miracle–it survived the massive office redevelopment projects which took place in the last decades of the 20th century.

It was erected in 1895 by Henry and James Forder Nevill to house a new Turkish bath. The Nevills already owned more establishments in London than any other company. This would be their fifth in total–their second in the City of London.

There had been baths of one kind or another on this site since 1817. By 1847, Dr Robert James Culverwell was providing Medical Baths here (and a year later also in Argyll Place, just off Oxford Circus). Both these establishments, known as the Argyll Baths, were continued for about eight years or so after his death in 1852 by his widow, Ann Eliza Culverwell.

Then, by March 1860, they were both owned by Argyll Baths, who added Turkish baths and renamed them The Argyll Turkish Baths and The New Broad Street Turkish Baths. They changed hands again some time before 1883, this time coming under the ownership of a firm called Jones & Co and, in 1885, they refurbished both establishments:

Better baths have replaced the now obsolete forms, and the rooms have been enlarged and thoroughly ventilated, thereby removing all those drawbacks which passed muster in bygone years, but which are now no longer up to the present scientific standard.

The baths were open from seven in the morning till nine at night and a 'plain hot-air bath, with shower' cost 3/6d and the 'complete process' cost 4/-. Also available were perfumed vapour, Russian vapour, Vichy, and sulphur vapour baths. There were scented showers, together with ascending, descending and spinal douches.

The New Broad Street Turkish baths

We can't be absolutely certain of the exact date, but it seems likely that both were sold again some time between 1886 and 1889. The Argyll baths were bought, or perhaps leased, by Alexander Paterson, and The New Broad Street baths were bought by Henry and James Forder Neville, probably as going concerns.

Although The New Broad Street Baths had been refurbished in 1885, they were nearly fifteen years old, and would have been much inferior to those which the Nevilles had specially designed and built in 1884 in Northumberland Avenue. Some time around 1893, therefore, they decided to close and demolish the old baths in order to build afresh.

The new building was very attractive, though much smaller than that in Northumberland Avenue, and it does not appear to have been open for women bathers. It was designed by the architect, G Harold Elphick, and opened by City of London Alderman Treloar on 5 February 1895.

Architectural journals of the day described the baths in glowing terms, praising both the overall decorative scheme and quality of fittings, and also the imaginative manner in which a very small ground level area was utilised. In 1895, before many of the streets in the area were renamed, the main entrance to the baths was in Alderman's Walk (now Bishopsgate Churchyard), just as more recently it has been the main entrance to a series of restaurants.

The baths themselves were partly underneath the original New Broad Street House (now demolished), and partly underneath Alderman's Walk. The entrance forms part of a kiosk in the upper portion of which were water tanks, masked by a Moorish style wall, and surmounted by a similarly styled onion shaped cupola, decorated with a star and crescent.

Entering the kiosk, the bather went down a winding staircase, lined by tin-glazed earthenware (fäience) to the entrance vestibule, where he bought his ticket.

Three of the Nevills baths (they omitted the final letter e of Neville when naming their baths) charged 2/6d before 6.00 in the evening and 1/6d afterwards. But the newer baths at Northumberland Avenue were rather more expensive–3/6d before 7.00 in the evening and 2/- afterwards–so it is possible that, so close to the Stock Exchange and Lloyds, the Nevilles thought that City gents could afford the higher rate at their New Broad Street establishment also.

Inside the Turkish baths

After paying, the bather continued on to a cooling-room decorated in the style of the Alhambra in Spain. A fountain of cold filtered water, with a Doulton basin, reinforced the Moorish ambience of the interior.

The room was divided into a series of divans, or cubicles, each of which was provided with couches, an elaborate mirror, and an occasional table. The ceiling was clad in cream tinted panels with coloured borders, and the floors were covered with soft richly patterned carpets.

Leading off the cooling-room were three hot rooms, each with marble mosaic floors, and tiled walls and ceilings. Marble seats, stained-glass windows, and wall alcoves in fäience, gave the rooms a comfortable and luxuriant air. The calidarium (the hottest room) could be raised to a temperature of 270°F, the tepidarium to 180°F, and the frigidarium to 140°F. All were lit by electricity.

As in other Nevill's establishments, fresh hot air came through a grated opening below the ceiling, while the stale air was extracted through ventilators in the seats near the floor level, or gratings in the floor itself.

There was also a vapour bath of marble with hot water pipes (under the seat) throwing out fine jets of steam, producing instant perspiration for those bathers unaffected by the dry heat of the Turkish bath. The adjacent shampooing room was also fitted with marble slabs, and tiled throughout. The bather then had a choice of showers (rose, douche, needle, or spiral douche) after which there was a cold plunge pool, 30ft. long and 5ft. deep, lined with marble, mosaic, and tiles, with a decorative frieze (no pun intended!).

The ceilings of the hot rooms and the shampooing room were of enamelled iron upon a solid roof of cement, and the windows were treble glazed to prevent rapid transmission of heat. The design and colour of the various apartments differed, and a richly modelled stalactite cornice surrounded the cooling-room and the other main rooms.

At the top of the oak staircase leading to the baths below, and throughout the relaxation areas, were walnut screens with panels of coloured leaded glass in peacock blue and gold.

Throughout the interior of the building, the walls, beams, and columns are encased with fäience and tile-work. Even the joints are worked in to form part of the design, the tiles being made in various interlocking shapes, in the Moorish manner, for this purpose.

They were manufactured at Jackfield in the Ironbridge Gorge by Craven Dunnill to the designs of the architect, Harold Elphick (who had the shape of his interlocking tiles registered).

Nevill's Turkish Baths Ltd

At the end of July 1908, the two Nevilles floated a company, Nevill's Turkish Baths Ltd, with an capital of £75,000. In addition to the New Broad Street Baths, the company was to 'acquire and take over as going concerns the business of proprietors or keepers of Turkish, Electrical, Light, and other Baths and appliances, carried on by James Forder Neville' at Harrow Road, Northumberland Avenue, Commercial Road East, High Street Whitechapel, Wool Exchange, and Railway Approach at London Bridge.

At this time, the lease on the New Broad Street basement still had 46 years to run at an annual rent (in 1908) of £395. The baths remained open until the expiry of the lease in 1954 when Nevill's decided not to renew it.

The number of bathers using the baths had been declining steadily since 1950. Devaluation, 'extreme tension both in the political and business world', a tough 1952 Budget, and increasing fuel costs led to its closure. Employees were given £200 each in compensation, and some bathers transferred to Nevill's London Bridge establishment.

The baths were used for storage for some years, followed by a series of restaurants. We must be grateful that its Listed Building status has preserved so much of the original building for our delight today at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

This page reformatted and slightly revised 23 November 2018

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Dawn Edmonds, for information about the Culverwells

The original page includes one or more enlargeable thumbnail images.
Any enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.

Robert James Culverwell

Price list in the 1960s

Eastern elevation

The baths in the 1960s

Onion-shaped cupola


The cooling-room at the beginning of the twentieth century

Doulton fountain

Vertical tile panels of tiles

Mantel tiles

Tiles on the stairwell

Doorway tiles

Elphick's interlocking tiles

Star-shaped window

Vertical window

Detail of frieze over the windows

Booklet published by Nevill's, c.1908

Cooling-room areas when the baths opened

Elevation drawing by Elphick

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